Preferred Citation: Hoskins, Janet. The Play of Time: Kodi Perspectives on Calendars, History, and Exchange. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.



Our time on this earth. . . .

Ghica pimoka la panu tana

Resting for a moment as we stand

Li hengahu ndende mema

Catching our breath as we sit

Li lyondo eringo mema

Before the tide goes down at dusk

La lena ndiki myara

Before the river sinks to meet the sea

La nggaba kindiki lyoko

The stick cannot be extended

Kaco njapa dughuni kiyo


any more


The rope cannot be made any longer

Kaloro njapa lamenda kiyo


Excerpt from a
Kodi death song

The shortness of human lives is a fact of time and of each person's experience. The measurement of time derives its poignance from the inevitable end to each biographical cycle. The cultural value placed on time begins with the shared significance of our own mortality.

This book is an ethnography of the cultural perception and organization of time in an Eastern Indonesian society. I begin with the collective construction of the past through the model of the calendar. The yearly cycle, apprehended in days, months, and seasons, is synchronized by a calendrical priest, the Rato Nale or "Lord of the Year," who coordinates agricultural activities and their ritual stages. His task, together with the implements associated with its performance, is seen as partially imported from a distant island to the west. But it is given a local meaning that makes the naming of the months and the "New Year" festival of the sea worms into the mark of a distinctly Kodi identity.

The collective, encompassing structure of the calendar provides a form of repeated, reversible time in which human lives can be inscribed. Bio-graphic time, a second form of temporality, moves through these cycles to spotlight unique and irrevocable events, forming chains that leave their mark on houses, villages, and landscapes. This time is not totalizing but particular: it constitutes the value of objects and animals by measuring the investment of human lives in producing and conserving them. Acting


subjects distribute their biographies in different directions, striving for a sort of immortality both through acts that will remain in memory and descendants who will repeat their names in invocations. Their movements are restrained by the calendar, but they are not part of the annual cycle. They embody a cumulative, irreversible time that ties the past to the present and extends into an uncertain future.

The time of the calendar relates human lives to the rhythms of the natural world, the movement of celestial bodies, and the order of the cosmos. Biographic time binds persons to things, to localities, and to other groups of persons through the experience of living and remembering the past. More recently, a third sort of time has been added to locally generated temporalities by the intrusions of colonial conquest, the new Indonesian nation-state, and Protestant and Catholic missionization. This new temporality has shifted the relations of power by presenting a modern, secular, and universal measurement of time—in printed calendars, clocks to record the passage of hours and minutes, and books to trace the succession of historical periods and epochs. In this way, a diversity of different temporal systems is made subservient to a single, overarching system, internally consistent but no longer sensitive to local variations in meaning and sense.

Local systems of time reckoning were struggles against mortality, attempts to preserve a sense of a continuing heritage over the generations by giving a vast authority to the past and to the ancestors. Precedents established in the past were used to validate present actions by calling up a complex repository of images. These "images of the past" were not, however, used simply to replicate what had happened earlier. Rather, they were debated and reflected upon in order to select those that provided patterns worthy of repeating, precedents to guide future innovation. The past was not merely the residue of earlier acts, "history turned into. nature" as a simple "habitus" (Bourdieu 1977). It was dialectically involved with the present and offered an alternative model of potentialities to be realized.

This book makes three different arguments in each of its three sections. In part one, I argue for the complexity of the past, the many different ways in which it is represented in narratives, objects, and actions. All of these representations contribute to a collective heritage that is invested, as a whole, in the indigenous calendar, but none is determinate or absolute in its authority. A study of the collective construction of the past reveals its flexibility and diversity, its openness to multiple interpretations.

In part two, I make the case that time is constitutive of value through an accumulation of biographical experience invested in objects, places, animals, and events. "Value" here is directly related to the perception of


human mortality and efforts to construct a ritual order in which—al-though people still die—something of what they stood for is allowed to live on after them. This notion of value is used in all forms of traditional exchange but today is being increasingly challenged by external forces that propose other standards of value, measuring these values with money, clocks, and schedules.

Part three examines the confrontation of a local heritage that emphasizes the continuity of tradition with a notion of "history" as a progressive series of unique, irrevocable acts. Temporal directionality is here removed from the local context and placed on a global stage. It comes with an awareness of the loss of autonomy and the danger of a loss of diversity as well, as disparate regional voices are increasingly silenced or displaced by the universalizing discourses of church and state.

The book explores three different approaches to the study of time: the "totalizing" approach, in which time is seen as a dimension of a more encompassing classification system, whose origin is social; "practice" theory, in which time is viewed as a strategic resource, manipulated by particular actors in specific contexts; and the "historicist" approach, which emphasizes how time has changed relative to the different values accorded to past, present, and future.

The first mode, established by Henri Hubert's early essay on temporal representation in religion and magic (1909), was continued in the work of Emile Durkheim ([1912] 1965) and in much of British social anthropology (Evans-Pritchard 1940; P. Bohannan 1967). In Eastern Indonesia, it achieved its most complete synthesis in the seminal comparative study of F.A.E. Van Wouden, who tried to demonstrate the essential "unity of culture" in which myth, rite, and social structure were all exhibited in the "rhythmic character of time" ([1935] 1968, 2). Insights from this tradition formed the basis of structuralist analysis, as well as of a series of essays by Edmund R. Leach (1950, 1954a, 1961) dealing with the relationship of calendars, time reckoning, and various cultural categories. These studies help us to understand how time has been invented and constituted within particular cultural systems, given a logic based on certain principles and their relationship to the whole.

The integrity of the calendar as an intellectual system that provides a sort of unwritten score for social action has been challenged by Pierre Bourdieu as the "synoptic illusion" that separates ideas from practices. Arguing that "time derives its efficacy from the state of the structure of relations within which it comes into play" (Bourdieu 1977, 7), he proposes a "practice" theory focusing on the strategic importance of the tempo of transactions, not their place in an abstracted system of representation.


"Play" is stressed as a critical element because it implies that the flexibility and overt intentionality of people manipulating time can be calculated. An apparently unidimensional, linear time thus becomes a tool that both creates and symbolizes social relationships by the strategic manipulation of intervals. Holding back on an action, putting off a payment, and maintaining suspense and expectation are all analyzed as tactics for temporal gamesmanship. Through a series of loosely choreographed or stylized improvisations, time and its ambiguities are manipulated by individual agents with particular goals. Other versions of practice theory may stress the unintended consequences of action (Ortner 1984, 1989) or the multiple overlapping contexts of relevance for differently constituted temporal orders (Giddens 1984).

To "historicize" is to locate a phenomenon in time and see how this temporal location can relativize our appreciation of its significance. The "historicist" offers one resolution for the conflict between "totalizing" theorists and "practice" theorists, in that each approach is best seen as limited by its own temporal assumptions. Put briefly and rather schematically, the totalizing theorists focus on long-term processes and their outcomes. Classificatory systems produce "order" only by means of a retrospective glance. Things "fall into place" in terms of a wider logic as they are reinterpreted by actors and given meanings that relate to other parts of the system. This does not, in my view, make classifications invalid or mean that classificatory orders have no reality in the minds of acting subjects. But it does give them a particular position within indigenous systems of knowledge. Often the prerogative of some cultural interpreters in privileged positions, the perspective of the guardian of the calendar or a ritual authority charged with ensuring consensus is quite different from that of other members of the society.

Practice theorists, by contrast, focus on the negotiation of meaning in short-term processes, where actors procure symbolic as well as material capital (Bourdieu 1977). Many of the assumptions of practice theory are correct within this limited time span, but when such notions are extended over longer periods they tend to flatten out notions of cultural difference and reduce complex liturgical cycles to "practical maneuvers." Such analysis does an injustice to the complexity and intellectual sophistication of other peoples, who do attempt to "totalize" their social relations in various contexts but do not always agree on a method for doing so.

Practice theorists are right to argue that values are disputed and societies may be organized according to various interacting principles. But the new attention to actors and agency becomes meaningful only in relation to larger structures of temporal sequences and stages defined over the longue


durée . In a society like Kodi, the strategies of individual persons are worthy of our attention, but so is the process by which these strategies may eventually be encompassed into the larger temporal frame of the social life of the house, the heirloom, the garden site, and the village.

The "person" and his or her life span represent but a single moment in the complex historical development of institutionalized sequences such as the calendar, the ritual cycle, or the narrativized "past." Although each life requires its own accounting and each ritual event can have its own temporal dynamics, they must be juxtaposed to the wider cultural context in which they occur. Despite the technical difficulties of studying historical change in a society with few historical records, time must be seen as a crucial (perhaps the crucial) dimension of analysis.

Classification can be historicized, studied not as a final "moment" in which holistic integration is achieved but as a continous process of sorting out events and reordering them according to cultural values. An understanding of temporal configurations requires a movement between "person" and "process," between "events" that are inflected by actors' strategies, on the one hand, and retrospective interpretations that reabsorb them into longer-term sequences, on the other.

The historicist perspective adopted here borrows heavily from Mikhail Bakhtin's "historical poetics" (1981, 1984a, 1984b), Paul Ricoeur's treatment of time and narrative (1988), and a philosophical position that goes back to Wilhelm Dilthey but has recently reemerged in contemporary debates (Biersack 1991; Ohnuki-Tierney 1990; Veeser 1989). It begins with the idea that although there can be a multiplicity of perspectives on the past, these perspectives—constituted through a retrospective glance—are vitally involved in shaping actions and motivations in the present. Cultural perceptions are not based on fixed essences or orders but on understandings that are produced over time. The critical evaluation of the importance of the past, thus, is not a recent development, the product of literacy, capitalism, or the emerging world system. "Historical consciousness" has been with us for centuries but has taken many different forms in different societies, often interacting in dialogue.

Thirty years ago Evans-Pritchard (1961, 178) wondered, "Why among some peoples are historical traditions rich and among others poor?" He has been answered by arguments about hierarchy and political centralization, which assert that there is "more history in the center" (Fox 1971) and that the amount of "the past in the present" is related to the coercive authority structures of domination and inequality (Bloch 1977). But if "historical traditions" are defined broadly, as an omnipresence of the past and its signs, coded not only in narrative but also in objects, places, and


actions, then "the past" makes itself felt in complex ways, offering precedents for innovation as well as reproducing earlier states (Valeri 1990). Recent attention to different genres of historical representation has shown that the otherness of earlier experience can include the coexistence of antagonistic pasts that are themselves subject to a shared narrative framework (Appadurai 1981, 202) and provide the wellsprings of social change (Peel 1984, 127).

This case study of a single Eastern Indonesian people examines their complex relations to outside forces and how these have been involved in the construction of a cultural notion of the past. It then turns to the interplay of sequences and strategies in exchange and the transformation of local notions in dialogue with an externally introduced "history." The key questions asked are: Is there a hierarchy of temporal notions, so that one, for instance the calendar, is preeminent over others? Can this hierarchy change over the course of events, and can we chart the changes in other perceptions of time duration, process, cumulative effects? How are the political consequences of everyday negotiations of time—in exchange transactions, offerings to ancestors, and decisions about the timing of ritual performances—related to wider conceptions that make them meaningful?

The study questions the notion of historical representation and in particular the assumption that narrative representations are always in some way primary over other forms. In Kodi, I argue, the most significant forms for representing the past are often objects (exchange valuables or part of the "inalienable wealth" of a house) or actions (ritual sequences and procedures). Objects and sequences do not necessarily result in a "reification" or "objectification" of the past, but can also be part of a process of creative regeneration. "All relics of the past," as Greg Dening (1991, 359) has noted, "have a double quality. They are marked with the meanings of the occasions of their origins, and they are always translated into something else for the moments they survive." The social life of objects shows them to be deeply enmeshed in historical processes, in which they may move between the categories of "gifts" and "commodities," acquiring new meanings and values in the course of exchange. Local perspectives on the past use objects to mark the relationships between actors and events, giving a visual and tactile form to memories and historical configurations.

Temporal categories provide both ways of thinking and ways of acting. In order to sort out Kodinese perspectives on their own society and its transformations, I distinguish between "time" (as the culturally encoded experience of duration), "the past" (as a retrospectively constructed view of what has happened), and "history" (as a specific technique and inter-


pretation of how past and present are represented). Each of these is investigated and described independently in the pages that follow, and at the end I try to assess how they may be related. I argue that in the past, the indigenous ritual calendar was the key sequence that structured much of social life. In the absence of a centralized polity, the control of time was the main hierarchical function of the "Priest of the Year" and the focus of a sense of cultural unity—however diffuse and contested that unity often was. In the postcolonial period, the calendar has been increasingly displaced by the structures of the Christian church, the Indonesian state, and the wider ideological forces now identified with an ideal of national progress. Kodi has not been so "sheltered" from world events that these forces were not felt in the past, but in the thirty years since independence their influence has become dramatically more powerful.

The earlier classification of time and ritual order remains a "voice" within Kodi society, and it is not entirely a voice of the past because efforts are being made to preserve many of its features in transformed form. This study asks the reader to pay attention to the way past and present can speak to each other in a single cultural context and can inflect a certain "historical consciousness," which, while it may not be our own, is worthy of consideration.



Preferred Citation: Hoskins, Janet. The Play of Time: Kodi Perspectives on Calendars, History, and Exchange. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.