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1 The Imported Past Foreign Sources of Power
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Batavia and the Dutch Colonial Project

Dutch traders and colonial officers remained a distant presence for the Sumbanese until the beginning of the twentieth century. Like the early rulers of Java and Bima, they claimed dominion over the island but for a long time made no moves to impose state control. When the colonial army finally arrived to enforce rules against slave trading, regional warfare, and the plundering of foreign ships, they were greeted as "the foreign mother and stranger father" (inya dawa, bapa ndimya ), whose paternalistic power was conflated with that of earlier kingdoms that had intermittently legitimated local rulers in return for tribute. The Dutch came bearing prestigious gifts, gold and silver staffs of office that were conferred on prominent Sumbanese, to create the offices of raja or bestuurder (ruler) and raja kecil or onderbestuurder (subruler).

The goals of Dutch colonial policy for Sumba were not articulated until the late nineteenth century because the island was judged to be of little economic value, remaining "scantly regarded and neglected" (Fox 1977, 164). In the provincial capital of Kupang, the first person to pay much attention to the island was Resident Gronovius, who wanted to expand the horse trade and bring Dutch planters to settle the land, giving them land on credit to cultivate coffee, sugar, cotton, pepper, and tobacco. Although the project was never realized, his suggestion that Christian Indonesians from other islands be encouraged to migrate to Sumba was prophetic:

To the idea of colonizing the Sandalwood Island, I still remain devoted. My stay there and my travels through the island convince me that such an undertaking would be crowned with success. There would be great blessings in this for the development, civilizing and protecting of a dumb but good-natured population, who are now the prey of usurious traders, pirates and insignificant but vexatious rajas. I would hope that if the Government agreed to such an undertaking, a colony of Rotinese and Savunese would be transferred to Sumba.
(Gronovius, cited in Fox 1977, 164)


Christian Savunese began to settle on Sumba in the 1800s, though not initially because of Dutch policy. A royal marriage alliance between rulers on the two islands was the reason for the first colony, established at Kadumbu on the northeast coast in 1848 (Wijngaarten 1893). Only a few Rotinese ever came, but later in the nineteenth century a considerable number of Savunese mercenaries were brought by the Dutch to help "pacify" the island and control wars between local rulers.

Dutch policy at the turn of the century was based on an assessment of the "character" of different populations on the islands and their usefulness for carrying out the colonial project. The Savunese had developed a reputation for bravery and skill in battle and so were recruited into the army. It also seems the Christian converts on Savu may have been pressured to leave the island and seek their fortunes elsewhere (Fox 1977, 172). Although armed and often uncooperative, they appeared to the Dutch more controllable than the Moslem Endehnese. But the Savunese settled only in the region of Melolo, where they maintained a bounded, endogamous community, while the Endehnese continued their predatory expansion throughout the western parts of the island, cementing military alliances with local rulers by intermarriage.

The Sumbanese of this time were often depicted as naive victims of the two invading forces. The Dutch resident Humme in 1876 described the Sumbanese as "timid and cowardly . . . never having left his island, [he] considers any foreigner a dangerous wild animal from which he quickly takes flight" (cited in Fox 1977, 171). Unfamiliar with firearms, the local population was quickly terrified into leaving the territories conquered by the Savunese and was unable to take them back. Soon, however, Sumbanese were purchasing firearms from both the Endehnese and Savunese, as well as hiring foreigners as auxiliary troops in wars between domains. The Sumbanese rulers were described as living "mainly from warfare which they conduct in an inhuman fashion," intent on capturing slaves for export (Koloniaal Verslag 1877, 37).

The Dutch policy of encouraging Savunese migration after 1890 should be interpreted as part of the wider Islampolitiek , which aimed to produce a buffer between Dutch-dominated areas and areas where Islam had diminished Dutch influence (Bigalke 1984; Kipp 1990). The Dutch feared the political power of Islam and did not trust any of the Moslem seafaring peoples in the region. They therefore allied themselves with the Savunese, defending their presence on the island with military power. In 1875, the ruler of Batakepedu tried to drive both the Dutch and the Savunese from his territory. After an attempted negotiation, the Dutch gave the Savunese ruler a gunboat to transport armed men and weapons; they crushed the


Sumbanese rebels, forcing them to accept the presence of foreigners along the coasts (Fox 1977, 172).

The Savunese settlement in Melolo carved out an ecological niche on the parched northern coastline by tapping the sap of the Iontar palm. Associated with Christianity and education, the "Savunese foreigners" (dawa haghu ) traveled to the western part of the island as schoolteachers and village evangelists, bearing a religious message in the form of the Malay Bible. Local Kodi perceptions were that the supernatural arsenal of the Savunese included black magic and witchcraft (marango ). Because of these suspicions, to this day few Sumbanese will eat the small brown patties of lontar sugar produced by the Savunese. Their link to an alien faith practiced by white people also supposedly gave them access to magical procedures that made the skin invulnerable to bullets, caused abortions and miscarriages in one's enemies, and involved sacrifices to the spirit of wealth.

Mistrust, however, is combined with a recognition of a shared cultural heritage and a long history of contact between the two islands. Of all the foreigners, the Savunese were and still are the closest to the Sumbanese. Savu is also often referred to as the "younger brother" of Sumba, for it is said that after the ancestral migration across the stone bridge at Sasar, one junior member of the party continued on to Savu. It should be noted that the younger brother in these narratives is usually more clever and more enterprising than his seniors. While Sumbanese commentators acknowledge the industry and ambition of the Savunese, they often disparage their relative deficit in honesty and loyalty. Haghu, the local designation for Savu, is a common name given to Kodi children; it is also the name of the hero of a series of entertaining tales about a crafty younger brother who makes his own fortune, rising from abject orphanhood to great wealth.

In Kodi oral tradition, the arts of metalworking and indigo dyeing were brought to the island from Savu as part of a complex of occult techniques passed down through the generations. A number of Kodi ancestral villages contain a house named Uma Haghu ("Savunese House"), where Savunese ancestors are recognized and metalworking and indigo dyeing are practiced. The spear used in divination is addressed as mone haghu , or "Savunese man"; it is told to "cut through" to the source of trouble and root out the reasons for ancestral displeasure (Hoskins 1988a). The secret combination of dyes used to make the darkest form of indigo is a heritage from a Savunese woman, whose "blue arts" included knowledge of herbalism, contraception, and infertility cures (Hoskins 1988b).

As they gained a greater knowledge of Sumbanese society, Dutch visitors began to speculate that the power of the wealthy warlords was coun-


terbalanced by that of an indigenous spiritual authority, the ratu . Several hundred years of more intensive involvement in the related polities of Flores, Timor, and Roti had prepared them to encounter the recurrent social phenomenon of dual leadership and established a pattern for incorporating it into local administration:

A common feature of many of the political systems of the Timor area is dual sovereignty—a division between a person endowed with spiritual authority and one or more persons who exercise political power on behalf of this spiritual authority. . . . In the signing of treaties, therefore, it was often the executive figures of these various territories who obtained the recognition of the Dutch as rulers and legitimate representatives of their states. Not infrequently, these recognized rulers did not have the authority to command the recognition of inhabitants of their own territories, who either opposed them or recognized some higher traditional figure. Local legends to this day abound with stories about this kind of confusion over legitimate rule.
(Fox 1977, 68)

Reading the accounts of the earliest administrators, Roos and Couvreur, in fact, we often see them struggling with local categories and trying to understand how they could be used for the purposes of colonial administration.

Both Roos and Couvreur were concerned to determine the relationship between military power and genealogical precedence as bases for leadership, and each provides a somewhat different view of the raja as either the head of a descent group or a master of force. Roos (1872, 8-9) argues that descent is an important criterion for social and ritual status, but real leadership must be achieved through conquest:

The rajas should be considered not so much as kings but as the most important person in the domain, where the aristocrats and wealthy warriors remain the main actors, as long as they can remain in power through the control of slaves. The Raja of Tabundung, the head of the so-called royal line from which the most important rajas are descended, is poor. He lacks the power to enrich himself at the expense of others; he is not feared. But the rajas of Batakapedu and Kawangu (Sudu), who rule through robbery and murder, are feared and obeyed, and there are many others like them.

Couvreur (1917, 215), by contrast, argues that the power of the conquering rajas was balanced by a different kind of hidden, supernatural power


exercised by the ratu , saying colonial officials had to be especially cautious in dealing with this figure:

The ratu . . . performs ritual offerings that can bring calamity to the community, so it is necessary to treat him as a friend. . . . In everyday life, he is completely ordinary, a poor little man whose appearance gives no clues of his importance. . . . But the ratu can, if he wants, act as the medium of mystical power in its supreme form, exercising a great influence, greater even than [that exercised by] the chief of the domain; hence, if the chief seems personally weak, or the times are troubled, one should keep a close eye on the ratu's actions. During these periods, colonial authorities on Sumba have discovered that it was not the weak chief of the domain but another person, who never showed himself and was always in the background, who had the greatest influence. That was correct; the authority had simply stumbled onto the ratu's existence, since the ratu in West Sumba is always isolated or in seclusion.

The power of the "hidden ratu " was mysteriously associated with the power of the indigenous population to resist outside domination. The conventional interpretation, presented by the missionary Wielenga and endorsed by Couvreur in his colonial policies, was that there had been a diarchic division of powers between the "priest" (ratu ) and "noble" (maramba ):

The ratu was originally the sovereign. He was the authentic ruler, but then the spiritual and worldly functions became split. The ratu was obligated to live in mystery and isolation, and thus lost his worldly power. He delegated it . . . to another related family or descent line, but in the same clan. . . . So the marapu of the ratu mangu tana are found in a subordinate house in Middle and East Sumba, but in the west they are not subordinate.
(Couvreur 1917, 217)

In the end, though, it is difficult to reconcile this version with the diversity of ritual divisions found in Sumba today, where a clear division between "spiritual" and "worldly" functions is not so clear.

The role of the ratu was, even in these early accounts, concerned not so much with "spiritual" affairs as with agriculture and the calendar. His office expresses the concerns of the whole population to avert plagues, provide rain, and assure the success of the rice crop. He was opposed to the warrior, the master of force, who was not purely "worldly" in his orientation, since he used a vast array of magical weapons, potions, pray-


ers, and charms to enhance his skill in battle. What distinguished them was the fact that the ratu's power was based on concerns shared by everyone, having to do with fertility of the land and crops, while the warrior had the differentiating attributes of a conqueror, who stands out from his companions by his skills in battle.

An important difference between the eastern and western halves of the island, which operated with fundamentally different political institutions, came into play here as well. In Kodi, an independent priesthood maintained a certain autonomy alongside the various military leaders. Because the smooth operation of the complex calendrical cycle was essential to the well-being of everyone, the Rato Nale retained the highest ceremonial rank in the domain—if only by means of a relatively fragile and diffuse form of ritual authority. In the eastern domains where the Dutch had had greater contact with local rulers, this independent priesthood had largely been incorporated into the political power of the nobleman. In Umalulu, the ratu retained only a few shreds of their former autonomy (Kapita 1976b); in Kapunduk, they were assimilated to slaves (Adams 1974); and in Rindi, the priestly function had almost completely merged with other duties of the nobility (G. Forth 1981).

The program to bring "civilization" (beschaving in Dutch) to the island had to begin, therefore, with a change in its leaders, who had to become convinced of the necessity to submit to a central administration and cooperate with it in efforts to control the local population. As Couvreur (1917, 219) states, "Once we know who and what these leaders are, we understand that we can only rule with and through them. The rajas, noble chiefs, and heads of descent groups (kabisus ) must have our full attention, and also the ratu . The first three to be used in governmental administration and information, the ratu only as a source of information, since he can play no direct role in government." The Dutch decision that the authority of the ratu was not "governmental" despite its great importance, was crucial to future interactions with figures such as the Rato Nale, who controlled the center of the Kodi polity through control of the calendar.

As the first civil administrator to take effective control of the western part of the island, Couvreur implemented a colonial policy that shifted the meaning of diarchic terms and brought them more closely into line with Western notions of the division of church and state, religion and politics. As the origin narratives of chapter 3 show, the precolonial division had a quite different foundation, for the ratu was the guardian of important objects and the passive center of the cycle of time. In Kodi, the polarity was established between the passive ritual authority of the rato marapu , the priest whose seclusion within the village protected the crops and the


rhythm of the seasons, and the rato katoda , the war leader who used his magical powers to raid neighboring peoples and appropriate their vitality for his own people. The competition for life and political power was played out between domains through the taking of heads and the capture of prisoners. The power of the Sea Worm Priest was centrifugal: it spiraled outward from him, the unmoving center that held together the round of seasons and agricultural activities. The power of the headhunting leader, by contrast, was centripetal: it turned inward to the center, bringing the trophy heads back into the domain and placing their fertile, vital energies at the disposition of the victors.

In making contact with the peoples of West Sumba, the Dutch tried to displace the value of the ratu and the "founding objects" which represented the indigenous polity, by offering their own alternative: the gold staff of the office of raja. In doing so, they were implicitly playing upon a contradiction that existed within the ritual objects controlled by the ratu —for many of them were imported, appropriated objects, taken from an acquisitive, conquering power, then used to contain the threat of external domination and reabsorb its charismatic power into the center of the polity.

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1 The Imported Past Foreign Sources of Power
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