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Social Units in Kodi Society

People locate themselves in time by means of the categories of the kinship system. In Kodi, these categories are preeminently those of ancestors, descendants, and affines. Kinship and alliance are constructed as temporal modes of connection. One mode of connection is established along the patriline, which defines locally resident groups and the worshippers who gather in each ancestral village. A second mode is established along the matriline, with people belonging to named but dispersed social groups somewhat vaguely connected to notions of shared substance, personality,


or attributes. Affinal relations constitute a third mode, coursing through the patricians and matriclans as the "flow of life" by which women are moved to new homes and bear children to continue the descent line into a new generation.

The House

The house (uma ) is the starting point of each individual's location in time. Born as a member of a house in an ancestral village, a man will remain attached to that house throughout his life, will make offerings to its ancestors and heirloom objects, and his bones will come to rest in the stone tombs that circle its central ritual plaza. A woman will, at some point, be transferred by marriage into another house and will come to worship the ancestral community of her husband, but she will retain strong ties to her natal house. Members of the "house of origins" (uma pa wali ) provide blessings of health, fertility, and well-being for her and her children, remaining obligated to continue friendly exchanges until the final gifts of death, when they finally take back the life they have given to the village by carrying the body of the out-marrying woman and her children to the grave.

The house is both a physical structure and a social group. The tall thatched towers of Kodi ancestral houses rest on a wide bamboo frame that slopes down to a raised floor of unbroken bamboo poles. Many houses are without walls but have inner partitions and platforms for the storage of heirloom objects, which hang from the peaked ceiling. The roof and floor of each house must be rebuilt every decade, and the obligation to "keep the house standing" is the most prominent ceremonial obligation shared by the "people of the house."

The house represents an unbroken line, extending vertically back in time, connecting the current inhabitants with their predecessors and successors. At the top of this line is the founding ancestor, named and propitiated on all ritual occasions, and below him are arranged all that has resulted from his life: his descendants, possessions, ritual offices, followers, and captives. The "masters of the house" (mori uma ) are those directly descended from this ancestor or else formally incorporated into the house by completing exchange payments (for wives or adopted children). The other "people in the house" (tou ela uma dalo ) are affiliated to the house through debt, capture, or default, and thus are not part of the house as a corporate unit but only "sheltered" by it. The term is usually used as a euphemism for slaves and dependents, who have no formal membership, cannot participate in house rituals, and must "sit at the edge of the veranda" (londo la hupu katonga ) when the ancestors are directly addressed.


Ancestral villages (parona ) are made up of a minimum of four ranked houses and usually contain between seven and thirty named house plots, each connected to a defined descent group (although fewer houses may actually stand in the village plaza, some of which may be in poor repair). A village name always refers to its location ("large hill" "rocky cliff," "edge of the land") or the tree planted in the center of the plaza, which serves as its altar ("leafy banyan," "wide-trunked kapok," "tamarind skull tree"). Direct descendants of the founder are called the "fruits and flowers, sprouts and shoots" (wu wallada, kahinye katulla ) that grew from this great trunk, the male descendants being the seed-bearing "fruit" (wuyo ), the females being the "flowers" (walla ) who go off to bloom in other villages. The female term is anterior but ephemeral; the male one provides continuity into the next generation.

The house built by the village founder stands at the head of the central plaza (kataku nataro ) and faces the next-ranking house at the "base" (kere nataro ), with the following two at the "right" and "left" wings (kapa lawana, kapa kaleiyo ). This division into four quadrants establishes an order of precedence followed in all sacrifices and offerings, as a share must always be given to the four "main houses" (bei uma ). All other houses originated as the "children" (ana uma ) of these four founders but may have developed other complex relations to each other in the division of ritual tasks. The houses are given individual names derived from their founder ("Byokokoro's House," "The Foreigner's House"), their ritual tasks ("The Drum House," "The Slaughtering House"), or idiosyncratic characteristics of their appearance ("High-roofed House," "House with Side Posts").

The ancestral village as a unit is exogamous, except for a few exceptionally large villages, which have split into two moieties that can now intermarry. Marriages are negotiated between members of different ancestral villages, and the exchange of bridewealth (livestock and gold from the groom's side, cloth and pigs from the bride's) should ideally involve all the members of a house. The house also owns land and heirlooms collectively and must meet as a corporate group to decide any shifts in its properties.

Houses are associated with genealogies; most persons can recite the names of several important ancestors, which situate them in one of the houses and indicate how they are descended from the founding ancestor. Kodi genealogies are not, however, limited to human forebears. The sacred litany that is repeated at each house ritual, the li marapu or "voices of the ancestors" is not only a list of personal names, but also a naming of sacred objects and sacred places important in the history of the house. The "time


line" thus extends the notion of "family history" to incorporate possessions and landmarks that, too, are seen as important predecessors in the shared past of the community.

Patrilines and Matrilines

Genealogical memory is relatively shallow, usually extending back no more than four or five generations. Even members of important families could not remember the names or relationships of people in their great-grandparents' time, although they might remember the name of certain important predecessors. The head priest of the calendar, the Rato Nale or "Lord of the Year" knew the genealogical links that bound him to previous holders of the office back to the beginning of the twentieth century, but not before. Descendants of the first two Dutch-appointed rajas could not produce the legitimating genealogical documents (silsilah ) that their colonial masters required. The last Kodi raja, H. R. Horo, hired my teacher Maru Daku to construct an account of his own family history to justify his right to hold office.

The few important elders or ritual specialists who had detailed knowledge of genealogies were often called in to resolve legal disputes centering on rights to land or heirloom valuables. Their task shows that in an important way time is measured through exchange transactions—the careers of objects—and not through the simple succession of generations. It also shows that the passage of "natural time" cannot be estimated from genealogical evidence alone. A counting of generational intervals is routinely used to measure the period of time that has passed in planning a feast or negotiating a new alliance, but since certain predecessors are often "forgotten" these accounts serve more to legitimate claims to a longstanding position than to estimate an actual time span.

Kodi stories about ancestors share the property noted by Paul Bohannan with regard to Tiv myths and legends in that they often do not distinguish between the founder of a lineage and his group of descendants. Bohannan (1967, 265-27) explained that "myths are told as explanation of social process, not as 'history.'... There are a relatively few stock incidents which can be applied to any instance of the social process to be illustrated." If we do not try to use genealogies to reconstruct a Western chronology but rather to gain insight into an indigenous one, we can make this "explanation of social process" the focus of analysis, probing the unfamiliar shape and constitution of the Kodi li marapu to garner clues about a different construction of time and history.

The house provides the location and the connection between the person and his or her ancestors, through the li marapu or time line that extends


back to the founding ancestor. The body, especially the blood, contains the substance that links the person to the matriline and a cross-cutting network of "relatives" (dughu ) who neither live together nor worship in the same house. The term for matriline, walla , means "flower" and refers to the "flowering" of a woman's descendants in many different directions. Each walla is a named, exogamous group, associated with personal characteristics such as a fondness or intolerance for particular foods, personality traits (brashness, trustworthiness, duplicity), and secret knowledge (the tricks of indigo dyeing, herbalism, love magic).

The walla bears the personal name of an ancestress (Loghe, Mbera, and so forth) or the region from which she came. Stories about the origin of matrilines are told in a tone of gossip and scandal, since they usually concern an infraction or violation of a taboo. Walla Gawi, for instance, is descended from a woman who copulated with a goat, Walla Mandaho from one who eloped with a swordfish. The name Walla Wei Kanikiwikyo ("the urine descent line") comes from an infant who urinated on her mother's lap, was severely beaten and finally cast off. Two walla are named after related shrubs, Ro Rappu and Cubbe ("potato leaves" and "potato shrub"), which influenced the fetuses of women who developed yearnings for them during their pregnancies. The most dangerous walla , Walla Kyula, bears the name of the black witchcraft bird, whose song is an omen of approaching death. Marriage with a woman from Walla Kyula is extremely hazardous, as she is believed to be able to assume the shape of wild animals, fly around at night to prey on the internal organs of her enemies, and suck vital energy from her own husband and children.

Because wallas carry many unsavory associations, a person's matriline is often kept secret, to be disclosed only in a giggling whisper behind the house. It provides a link to the past, but a shady past full of suspicion and doubt, not the glorious past celebrated in the li rnarapu . The question of walla affiliation surfaces most often in the context of marriage negotiations, where questions of the bride's rank, blood lines, and personal characteristics can become an issue. The rules of walla exogamy are much stricter than those of the patrilineal house or village. Because the walla is seen as based on a unity of blood, violations of the exogamy rule can provoke not only social sanctions but a rebellion in the body itself. If a woman should be given in marriage to a dughu , a member of the same walla , the very blood of her womb is said to "rise up in protest," producing high fevers and hemorrhaging. The reaction cannot be mediated in any way, and difficult childbirth, chronic illness, and even death could result.

The patrilineal house and village are socially created corporations united in the worship of a specific group of ancestors, objects, and places. Since


patrilineal groups have political, ritual, and jural authority, membership can be transferred by legal fictions and ritual mediation. It is possible, for example, to adopt a potential bride into a new house and village, if necessary, to allow two members of the same village to marry. The problem involves the direction of marriage payments, and thus the definition of social groups through exchange relations, rather than the primordial ties of blood. Violations of walla incest provoke supernatural sanctions that threaten the health of the offenders. Violations of incest prohibitions in the house or village can be resolved by the payment of kanale , a legal fine that is also used in cases of adultery or a broken engagement.

These contrasts reveal a marked difference in the way relationships through men and women order Kodi society. The patriline provides a vertical axis for Kodi social life in three senses: (1) it links people back through time by delimiting lines of descent that organize the transmission of ritual prerogatives through the generations; (2) it relates the human order to divinity and to ancestral origins, providing a cosmological justification for the contemporary division of land and powers; and (3) it dramatizes hierarchical relations in both human and spirit worlds at large-scale ceremonies and feasts. The matriline, in contrast, orders social life along a horizontal axis: (1) it links people of different patrilineal houses and villages across space because of membership in the same walla ; (2) it forms a personal network of matrilineally related people said to share a common substance (blood) but no ritual or corporate functions; and (3) relationships traced through women work against notions of rank and lineage opposition by providing a cross-cutting system of kin ties that are essentially egalitarian.


Alliance links houses and villages and serves as a conduit for the transfer of women, animals, objects, and ritual prerogatives. It is a form of social cooperation and mutual assistance that not only is still hotly contested in Kodi social life, but has provoked a number of interesting contests in the scholarly world as well.

Marriage systems in Eastern Indonesia have long been the focus of research and analysis, ever since Van Wouden's famous characterization of them as "the pivot on which the activity of social groups turns" ([1935] 1968, 2). Early work concentrated on prescriptive asymmetric alliance, which was believed, in the famous "Leiden hypothesis" to be paired with double descent in the original proto-Austronesian form of dual organization. Kodi played an important role in the deconstruction of that original hypothesis. Reports of double descent, "in which both patrilineal and


matrilineal clans operate side by side in the organization of the tribe" ([1935] 1968, 163), suggested that the original system might have survived in its most "intact state" there.

Van Wouden himself did two months of fieldwork in the region in 1951. He found, to his chagrin, that the Kodinese differ from many other Sumbanese peoples in that marriage is not governed by a categorical prescription. Thus, a crucial argument in his original thesis had to be modified. His initial disappointment brought him to a more sophisticated formulation of the nature of variation in Eastern Indonesia, stressing the different directions that descent and alliance had taken in societies of the region. While he noted that opposing systems still shared a certain "structural coherence," their historical divergence had become a question "so complex and encompassing that it is doubtful it could ever be properly posed, let alone answered" (Van Wouden [1956] 1977, 219).

Van Wouden's article on Kodi remains an ethnographic classic, not only because it is the earliest description of the region, but also because it signaled an early "opening up" of Dutch structuralism. The goal of comparative research was no longer the working out of a single model (a goal supposedly anterior to the great diversity of present practices), but the understanding of relationships and systemic change along a number of dimensions (Fox 1980a, 6). Recent fieldworkers who have studied asymmetric systems have shown how alliance is essential to the constitution and definition of social groups (G. Forth 1981; Lewis 1988; Traube 1986; Valeri 1980; McKinnon 1991) and the structure of descent is a product of the pattern of marriage.

Although sharing a clear kinship with these societies, Kodi alliance is still "looser" and less consistently articulated than other social institutions. In Lévi-Strauss's terms (1969a), Kodi marriage forms a "complex" system, not an "elementary" one, and it has become increasingly clear that the same is probably true of the majority of Eastern Indonesian societies (Fox 1980b, 329-30). Since alliance is not directed by a categorical prescription, it is endlessly negotiated on the shifting terrain of intergroup relations. Rather than being frozen into an authoritative and enduring "totalizing system," it becomes the focus of local politics and the marker of individual achievement.

The relation of wife-giver and wife-taker in Kodi is asymmetric. The direct exchange of sisters (pandelu lawinye ), accordingly, is strictly forbidden. The most harmonious marriage is said to be with the cross-cousin (anguleba ), a category that does not distinguish the mother's brother's daughter (MBD) from the father's sister's daughter (FZD); in both cases, the marriage is valued because it involves a "return" of descendants to the


house. In MBD marriage, the son "returns" to the house that his mother came out of, "following her tracks, retracing her steps" (na doku a wewena, na bali a orona ) to enter again the "door that he came out of, the steps that he came down" (tama la binye oro loho, la lete oro mburu ). In FZD marriage, the grandchildren will "return" to the walla of their grandfather, so that although their mother lives in a separate house and village, the house is once again associated with his matriline.

Both of these ideas of "return" play on the common Eastern Indonesian theme of the reunion of descendants of a brother and sister, which occurs after a generation of separation. The "return of the blood" provides a sense of closure for alliance cycles that is desirable in many societies (Barnes 1974, 248-49; Lewis 1988, 301; Traube 1986, 88), even if it is not always statistically achieved.

A census of 334 households (and 412 marriages) conducted in 1980 showed only 18 cases of cross-cousin marriage (10 with the MBD, eight with FZD) in the administrative ward (desa ) of Waiha, a relatively isolated region in Balaghar. A survey of exchange activities conducted in 1988 among 50 households in Bondo Kodi, however, showed a much higher incidence: 12 marriages with the MBD and 4 with the FZD. Bondo Kodi is the district capital and the residence of many important families; there, cross-cousin marriage was most likely to occur when the "return" involved a great separation in space, as when the son of a woman who had married into another district or region "followed her footsteps" back to her home region to seek a wife. Informants also argued that such marriages were more common in wealthy families, "who just want to exchange with each other" and do not want to disperse their valuables in new directions.

A prescriptive rule for asymmetric cross-cousin marriage is correlated in Sumba with increased social stratification. Those districts that are most clearly divided into social classes are also said to observe the rule most rigidly. Partly because they are increasingly aware of the diversity of social systems on the island, several Kodi observers provided me with astute commentary on the logic of these transformations:

Whenever we give a woman to another village, we will keep traveling that path for many years to come. If you are wealthy already, you want to give your daughter to someone who will take care of her, who shows his generosity in the bridewealth, and who will continue to demonstrate his respect with later payments. If they are already your wife-takers [laghia ], their name is good and you can be sure they will help out. Initially, you may ask for less bridewealth because there is already trust and love on the path. But if they are strangers, they must establish their good faith with larger pay-


ments. Otherwise, your valuables will travel down those paths and disappear.

Alliance sets up a mutual lending relationship, and credit is evaluated on the basis of a past history of exchanges. Thus, it is prudent for a wealthy family to marry "close"—among the group of families already linked to them as affines. The "return of the blood" is also a way of assuring the return of valuables, which "follow the path" along with the bridegroom who returns to his mother's village.

A more daring strategy involves investing in outsider groups who have amassed enough wealth to improve their social position through marriage. These groups may include wealthy families from other districts, who want to expand their alliance networks. Marriages that cross district boundaries are increasingly common, as well as prestigious, but they are always expensive. Instead of traveling a familiar path, the bridegroom must "cross over new pastures and cut through virgin forest" (na palango marada, na dowango kandaghu ). He offers more buffalo and horses to his wife-givers because (as some would say) "he is buying a social position as well as a wife."

Bridewealth payments from the groom's side are calculated in "tails": equal numbers of horses and buffalo, usually from ten to thirty. Each "tail" should be reciprocated from the bride's side with a man's and a woman's cloth, one long-tusked pig for each ten livestock animals presented, and a gold ear pendant. When the bridewealth is over thirty "tails" of livestock, then heirloom valuables such as ivory bracelets, a bronze ankle ring, a gold crescent headpiece, or imported glass beads might be added to the counterprestation. Interdistrict marriages negotiated in the last forty years have often involved bridewealths of a hundred or more livestock, and the shortage of traditional gold and ivory valuables has prompted a shift to new consumer goods—a bed, cupboard, dining table, or set of dishes can now be used to "match" the groom's payment.

Differential bridewealth payments and the "inflation" of such payments by the incorporation of new prestige objects have intensified the degree to which alliance negotiations may appear as a "marriage market" where statuses are bought and sold. As a single performance, in which the families invite an audience to witness and legitimate their claims to an enhanced social position, the negotiation may seem to display this commercial character. But bridewealth is only the starting point of a long-term relationship. A continuing series of obligatory exchanges maintains the alliance for at least two generations, through the marriage of the children produced by the union and the burial of the bride and groom.


Since the position of "wife-giver" (ghera ) involves ritual duties that extend longer than the lifetime of any individual, the position is passed down from father to eldest son until the final mortuary rites are finished. The funeral involves both a ritual mending of the house and village—the patriline that was torn apart by the death—and a final separation of affines, whose duties to one another are now complete (see chapter 9). It is the last in a series of life crisis rituals that affines must attend, contributing sacrifices and acting as each other's ritual counterparts in promoting life and cleansing the pollution of death.

The proper negotiation of alliance payments requires that a delicate balance be maintained. Self-serving calculation of short-term material benefits is weighed against the expectation of a long-term relationship of mutual assistance. If someone, in marrying, seems too obviously to be furthering a career of social climbing, it is argued that he is trying to "wash himself off with gold" (pa ihyo ndoka )—hiding an unglorious past with a new infusion of wealth. While his wife-givers may receive expensive gifts of livestock, the prestige and rank of the woman's house could suffer by association with a son-in-law of lowly origins. Wealth can be converted into status only gradually, by imbuing livestock and gold with social respect and standing. As a general principle, that is, time conveys respectability, because it is associated with the responsible management of wealth and the fulfillment of exchange obligations.

Marriage is particularly important in determining the temporal character of kinship, since each new marriage commits both parties to three generations of exchange obligations. Alliance. ties are perceived as vitalizing but ephemeral, the "life blood" that courses through the social body; descent ties, by contrast, are enduring and constraining, symbolized by the swords and spears that pass down through the generations, forming a metal skeleton that extends back to a founding ancestor.

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