Monthly Archives: October 2009

Japanese Soldier Ethnographer in Indonesia, 1944-45

From: Peter T. Suzuki and Reiko Watanabe Reiger (2003), A Japanese Soldier’s Ethnography of Molu Island (Tanimbar): Ken Sasaki’s Account (1944-1945), Archipel 66: 161-199 (doi: 10.3406/arch.2003.3789).

Moru Shima Ki: An Account of Molu Island by Ken Sasaki

Following is a description of my time on Molu Island from June 19, 1944 to May 20, 1945. Seven Japanese soldiers, myself included, were stationed there with a cannon. I never thought it would become the subject of my research because we were constantly engaged in the battlefront. My notes and sketches were of necessity brief, taken during times when I had the opportunity. The only things I carried away from Molu were my notes, 200 sketches, and 30 pieces of folk craft from the island. Only now am I attempting to assemble these and my disjointed memories (although I can remember clearly the beauty of the sea, which had the color of emerald green coral reefs) into a coherent account….

Kapala [Mal. kepala] means head or boss, soa means a blood relative. There are class distinctions and associated titles, such as orankaya [Mal. orang kaya] (upper class); kapalasoa [Mal. kepala soa] (head of a kin group); jurutolis [Mal. juru tulis] (his associate); togama (?); kapalakanpon [Mal. kepala kampung] (village chief). Those holding the titles of kapalakanpon or jurutolis are public officers in a village, appointed by family lineage or natural ability. In contrast, orankaya and jurutolis hold feudalistic power among villagers in a family clan and have general authority….

Religion

Seven villages of the eight villages in this island are Protestant. It seems that only Kilon is shunned by others since it is the only Muslim village. Their association with other villages does not seem to be congenial. In the past they followed a primitive religion in which they worshiped the sun and the moon as gods (Ubila) like any other village. They said they made commitments to Ubila. But later new religions such as Islam and Christianity were introduced into the island. It seemed that the power of religions influenced and also renewed everything such as food, clothing, housing, ceremonial occasions, and language.

It is hard to imagine a new religion having this kind of widespread effect in Japan. I could not help realizing how strong religious powers can be….

It is clear Christianity came to this island 35 years ago.

Even though the power of Islam could not change the lifestyle of the villagers much, Christianity rapidly changed people’s lifestyles on Molu, which had not progressed much from a primitive way of living.

People started being very enthusiastic about learning to read and write, wearing shoes, having lamps, wearing pants instead of grass skirts and singing hymns. And they started hiding necklaces and swords. Jacob told me that the younger generation would not believe the ways the older generation used to live, saying, “it is quite different today.”…

Language

The daily language of Molu is called Larat, the island just northeast of Tanimbar, but Larat is also the language of Tanimbar, Sera, and Fordata.

The languages of Tanimbar are divided into three groups : Sera, Yamdena, and Larat. Of course they speak to us in Malay, but since Malay is a second language which was taught at school, it is hard to understand much of high Malay.

High Malay is only used seriously by guru, who are priests and teachers in a village during the celebration of subayan.

They use the alphabet for writing, and since it became widespread, most adults under 50 years old have no trouble spelling….

Food

Rice, corn, bread, potatoes, and sago are served as main dishes. Side dishes are bananas, fish, and coconuts. Vegetables and fruits are melons, eggplant, tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, papaya, and pineapples. A large quantity of mangos is also grown….

Sago grows wild, and belongs to the palm tree group; it grows in flocks in damp ground. Mature trees about 20 years old are cut and smashed at the trunk with axes (111. 6), then washed with water, and soaked till the starch is precipitated. This fruit is also prepared in various ways, such as gruel (babeda), like rice (nasi), deep fried goren [Mal. goreng], toasted rice cake, and renpen which is baked (or cooked) in a stone mold. Sago can be substituted for flour. Renpen looks like a Japanese snack ; foxtail millet toasted until crispy. When it is still hot, it is plump and tasty. They steam the stored renpen, until it becomes soft and like konyaku, a Japanese food made of yam which is gelatenous.

Little food is stored in the village. Because they have different crops, harvest time spans the whole year. As long as they gather the food, they do not have to face starvation. Since they do not have to transfer food (sago) from one place to another, they do not trade and they do not store food. But since sago has a short life, its starch must be gathered right away and the juice (toman) from sago is eaten soon, otherwise it is prepared as renpen for a portable meal.

Fresh fish must be eaten the same day it is caught. They do not catch more than they need each day. And yet sometimes small fish are put between chopped branches and smoked on a fire. This is called ian-bata-batan, and used for soup stock. People eat cooked fish, but not raw fish. They do not have knowledge of preserving fish with salt. Making dried fish is not common, but they make dried octopus, which is prepared by cutting and then spreading it open….

Fire

Matches are known by the Moluans, but they are rare and considered valuable. Tobacco is lit by flint, rock, and metal much in the same way as in ancient Japan.

For starting general-purpose fires the Moluans use a method which involves rubbing bamboo :

Split dry bamboo into two and put on the ground or straw surface side up. Make a small crack on the center of the bamboo then shave some surface off from around the crack.

Rub with a bamboo spatula at right angles with the bamboo for about 15 minutes till the bamboo starts to smoke and starts on fire.

It seems this is an excellent way to start a fire since this island has plenty of bamboo. But this method requires two persons and great strength. People usually have a raised floor, which allows them to keep a pilot light burning constantly….

Hunting

Probably the only wild animal on Molu is the wild pig (babi). The garden plots on Molu are surrounded by a four foot-high fence made of logs and is designed to prevent wild pig incursions. Since most villagers are Christian, they hunt and are fond of eating the meat of the wild pig.

Usually a javelin is used for hunting wild pig. It has an iron tip, which is connected to the handle with a strong rope….

Luxury items

Among the islanders one of the most popular goods is tobacco (roko) [Mal. rokok], then chewing sirih comes next. Sirih is a tree leaf, which is similar to a pepper tree. Next in popularity is alcohol (sobi).

All men over the age of 10 years smoke tobacco. But it is common to see old women chewing tobacco also. Tobacco is produced in a mountain field. It is planted in places in the burnt field among the weeds. A weedkiller is used only on the roots of the plant. Of course no fertilizers are used….

Chewing betel nut: kimna is called sirih, sweet corn (betel—J.); only bigger lime is coral reef that is burnt and crushed; sirih-daun [Mal. daun sirih (leaf betel—J.)] is a creeper which is similar to yam (yamaimo in Japanese) leaf. As soon as it is put in one’s mouth and chewed for a while, it will bring a keen cooling sensation to the inside of the head, and will give you a sharp taste on the lips, and when one spits, it appears bloody red. Lips and teeth also take on the red color, and with prolonged use, turn a creepy-looking black. On Molu, it is very popular among both men and women, but only women over 15 years old are seen practicing this habit….

There is a tree, which is called karupatebu, which is similar to a hemp palm tree and a palm tree. This sugar palm tree is grown mainly for gathering sugar, but a wine can be brewed from it, too … By the way, comparing coconut milk to sugar palm tree milk, the latter has a rich white color and thickness like milk, and a greater sweet-sour taste. Nothing can beat its taste, not even the best versions of kalpis, and it has a pleasant intoxicating effect. However, the great taste of this version of kalpis enticed me to drink ten glasses of the tempting drink, and helped me to end up sleeping the night in the jungle.

During the ridiculous war, I secretly kept this wine in a water bottle for the contingency of a suicide attack, and I often gave myself encouragement by sipping it.

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One Child’s Language: at 18 months

Her attention span is getting longer and longer. She can concentrate for 10 or 15 minutes on taking things apart and putting them back together, on putting all 10 or 20 shapes through the matching holes in one of her puzzle toys, on reading books with one or the other of us. She can spend even longer listening to her tapes of children’s songs, although sometimes she spends more time pushing the play and stop buttons than listening to her songs. She is especially fond of the Finger Band song, during which she imitates the clarinet, piano, and trombone motions; the Buzzing Bees song, during which she imitates the buzzing sound by blowing a ‘raspberry’ (or ‘Bronx cheer’); the Teddy Bear song, during which she holds her big teddy bear up by the ears and dances back and forth; and, of course, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, during which she ‘twinkles’ her hands.

She has finally started to take a real interest in language. Her earliest words several months ago were mostly imitations of sounds. (The first sound she ever imitated was—incredibly—the hooting of an owl, something she has never seen nor heard in real life.) For persons, places, and things, she has followed the Universal Language strategy recommended by the scientifically minded inhabitants of Lagardo that Gulliver met in his travels: just make sure you have available (by carrying them around if you have to) a sample of every object you care to refer to. That way, you can just point to what you want to say, without having to translate from one language to another. For actions, rather than objects, she usually performs the motions herself. This reduces a lot of our own conversation with her to one-word utterances. But now she is starting to produce some of her own.

The first consonants she tackled were [t] and [d]. She has them under relatively good control now and has definitely mastered [dadi] (the word as well as the person). Next, she began to work on words starting with [p] and [b]. Sometime last month, she suddenly realized that her counting word [tuti] had two components and started saying just [tu]. It wasn’t long before she was counting [tu] for one step and [ti] for the next. Then one day she counted out [pai] as well. Now she can repeat [tu], [ti], [po], [pai], but she hasn’t mastered the meaning of any except [tu]. Another [p]/[b] word she has added recently is [bow] ‘go’ (versus [taa] or [paa] ‘stop’). The [oh] vowel is also new, and she stretches it—and her lips—to great lengths pronouncing it. Another lip sound she has added is [w]. Her first [w] word was a strangely produced [weyl]. Her tongue tip shot all the way out of her mouth during the [l] (ell) part of it. It used to be one of her babbling sounds, but we attached it to the picture of a ‘whale’ in one of her books, and she has since used it to label ‘wheels’, ‘nails’, and ‘mail’. The other new vowel is [eh], which appears in [wey] ‘away’, another favorite word. It also appears in [tu-tu tey] ‘choo-choo train’. She seems to make no attempt to repeat a word unless it contains sounds close to those she is working on at any particular moment.

When she mastered [w], she promptly added [wow] to her verbal expressions. But she has never attempted [m], [n], or [ng].

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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One Child’s Language: at 16 months

Her passive language ability still far exceeds her active speaking ability, but she has added a few words to her repertoire. During our Christmas trip, she attached the meaning ‘all gone, all done, finished’ to a high-pitched [datii], with a high-pitch first vowel and a mid-pitch, long second vowel, accompanied by appropriate upturned empty hands. This contrasts with her lower-pitched (mid + low) and shorter [dati], meaning ‘thank you.’ (She doesn’t seem to distinguish [t] and [d].) Finally, there is a low-plus-high-pitched [dati] that she uses to call whichever one of us she can’t find. There is also a [daa], with long rising-falling tone, which seems to mean something like ‘wow, look at that’; and a steady high-tone [daa], meaning ‘stop’ or ‘stoplight’. The former contrasts somehow with [iyati], meaning roughly ‘voici, voilà, here it is, there it is’. She has recently added another word: [daau(b)], meaning ‘(fallen or dropped) down’ (or ‘dirty, no longer edible’ in the case of food). She also seems to be in the process of extending the meaning of [dudu] to cover any fundamental contribution to the ecology of her diaper. She must be about ready to start toilet-training.

At this point, her total inventory of significant sounds doesn’t amount to much: one consonant /d/ (or /t/), and three vowels /a/, /i/, and /u/. The consonant sounds like both a [b] (or [p]) and a [d] (or [t]) except when it precedes the open vowel /a/. She seems to leave her lips closed before a closed vowel like /i/ or /u/ and to let the air through them only after she releases the /d/ to let the vowel sound come out. Besides [dudu], the other case where this is very noticeable is in her word for counting: [du]-[di] (‘two-three’?).

She elicits words as labels all the time, and wants us to supply running commentary on her actions, but most of her use of spoken language is exclamatory rather than descriptive. When she wants to refer to actual events and objects, she points—relentlessly. Here is a very common languageless dialog, with translation:

Action: Taps on mommy’s wrist until mommy acknowledges.
Meaning: ‘Excuse me, I notice you’re wearing a wristwatch.’
[Establishing topic to be ‘wristwatches’]

Mommy says, “Mommy’s watch,” meaning “Yes, I am.”

Action: She immediately taps her own wrist
Meaning: “I seem to be missing mine.”
[Making her observation about the topic]

Mommy says, “Where’s your watch?”

Action: She either points in the direction of her watch or goes off to find it.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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One Child’s Language: at 15 months

Her biggest accomplishments are social. She walks up to the babysitter’s door and knocks on it herself. She waves bye-bye to one or the other of us leaving or staying without her and doesn’t get upset. She knows not only our daily cycle, but also has a good feel for our weekly cycle of routines. She warms up to friends and strangers much more quickly than before and plays with other kids, not just near them. She gets very jealous, though, when another kid plays with her toys or her parents. She loves to get rowdy and runs back and forth shrieking and carrying on when the babysitter’s kids are being rambunctious. She’s at the perfect age to pay a visit to her little cousins.

She is at a wonderfully cooperative age now. She enjoys helping us clear the table and take things to the kitchen or pick up things and put them away. It’s too good to last. If she senses it’s time to go out, she always grabs her lunch basket. If we buy a package of something at the store, she insists on carrying it, or at least trying to.

She is also very communicative, but still not very verbal. When she wants something out of the refrigerator, she runs over and yanks the towel off the door handle, then tugs at the door looking over her shoulder and calling our attention. When she wants her vitamins, she points to the bottle on top of the refrigerator and calls our attention. She will stand up on the bed after a diaper change and grab Daddy’s hands to play round after round of London Bridge Is Falling Down. If she wants music, she will go up to the table the tape player sits on and rock back and forth several times, then point to the tape recorder and call our attention. When she wants to nurse, she goes up to Mommy and lifts her shirt.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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One Child’s Language: at 14 months

Linguists sometimes differentiate between active and passive bilinguals, the active ones speaking as well as understanding more than one language, the passive ones understanding a second language well enough but speaking in their own language. On that scale, our child could be classified as a passive monolingual. She understands a lot of words and expressions and social rituals but doesn’t try to use the appropriate words very actively. She recognizes so many words that we are tempted to switch languages or spell things out sometimes so that we don’t get her all keyed up to do something we’re not ready to do immediately—like eat or go out for a walk. She gets confused by some near-rhymes, like hedge and head, tongue and thumb, knees and sneeze. She is most fond of d, t, j, and associated consonants, together with i, a, and u for vowels. So far, she hasn’t pointed and labelled things for herself, only elicited labels from us or pointed at things we label. Her first “parroted” word was the sound of an owl she picked up from reading an animal book with the babysitter’s daughter. Now when the mood strikes her, she runs to a picture-map of the zoo and points to the owl, saying “Hu! Hu!” But of course she’s never attempted owl. The only real words she has tried to imitate are Jeep, juice, zoo, and one attempt at boo that came out pretty close to zoo.

Of course, adults don’t usually sit around naming things at each other. There are other more appropriate social rituals that involve language. She is starting to master some of them. After months of observing us waving bye-bye to each other every morning for her benefit, she has finally figured out what it means and now waves bye-bye to parting friends and vehicles, to bushes whose flowers she has stopped and patted, and to the automatic money machine whose buttons she often stops to play with on the way to the babysitter. She has just begun to say “Hi” appropriately every once in a while, but never on demand. She recognizes yes/no questions addressed to her and often responds with a vigorous shake of the head. At other times, she responds to every question, statement, or command with “huh?”

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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Sultanate of Ternate as a Colony

From The Spice Islands Voyage: The Quest for Alfred Wallace, the Man Who Shared Darwin’s Discovery of Evolution, by Tim Severin (Carroll & Graf, 1997), pp. 183-185:

The volcanic island of Ternate, where Wallace first stepped ashore in January 1858, was at that time nominally ruled by an eccentric one-eyed Sultan. An octogenarian, he liked to be addressed by his full title of Tadjoel Moelki Amiroedin Iskandar Kaulaini Sjah Peotra Mohamad Djin. He was the twenty-third Sultan, and traced his authority back to the ruler of Ternate who had been on the throne when the English adventurer Francis Drake came there in 1579 looking for the fabled Spice Islands. Drake had found what he was seeking, because Ternate and the small islands to the south were then the main source of cloves, a spice which cost more than its weight in gold when brought to Europe. The Sultan of Ternate – with his equally autocratic neighbour the Sultan of Tidore, who ruled another little volcano island a mile away – controlled virtually the entire world’s supply of the spice, and a good proportion of the nutmeg and mace as well, because these spices happened to grow in domains which paid them tribute. In fact the suzerainty of Ternate and Tidore extended, in theory at least, as far as Waigeo, where nearly three centuries later Wallace found the natives still obliged to send a tribute of feathers from Birds of Paradise to decorate the turbans of the Sultans and their clusters of courtiers.

In Drake’s day the Sultan of Ternate had been a splendidly barbaric figure, wearing a cloth-of-gold skirt, thick gold rings braided into his hair, a heavy gold chain around his neck, and his fingers adorned with a glittering array of diamonds, rubies and emeralds. By the time Wallace arrived, the effective power of the Sultan had been eroded by more than two centuries of bullying by larger nations who coveted the spice trade. In the mid-nineteenth century Sultan Mohamad Djin was frail and very forgetful, living on a Dutch pension as a doddering semi-recluse who spent his days in his shabby and dusty palace surrounded by his wives, a brood of 125 children and grandchildren, the princes of the blood and their families, courtiers, servants and slaves. Most of them were poverty-stricken. A memory of the glamour remained, however. The Sultan himself would emerge from his palace, the kedaton, for state occasions or to call on the Dutch authorities in the town. These appearances were like mannequins come to life from a museum, and greatly enjoyed by the Sultan’s citizens who continued to ascribe semi-divine powers to their overlord. The Sultan and his court would sally forth dressed in a magpie collection of costumes which had been acquired piecemeal from earlier colonial contacts, or had been copied and recopied over the intervening centuries by local tailors. They donned Portuguese doublets of velvet, Spanish silk jackets, embroidered waistcoats and blouses, parti-coloured leggings and Dutch broadcloth coats. Their exotic headgear and weapons ranged from Spanish morions and halberds to swashbuckling velvet hats with drooping plumes and antique rapiers set with jewels. The pièce de résistance was the state carriage, which had been given to an earlier Sultan by the Dutch and was a period piece. It was so badly in need of repair that, to climb aboard it, the elderly Sultan had to mount a portable ladder. Safely ensconced, he was then pulled forward in his rickety conveyance by 16 palace servants harnessed instead of horses, who towed him slowly along to the Dutch Residency a few hundred metres distant.

The real power in Ternate when Wallace arrived was not even the Dutch Resident but the chief merchant, Mr Duivenboden. He was of Dutch family but born in Ternate, and had been educated in England. Locally known as the ‘King of Ternate’, he was extremely rich, owned half the town as well as more than 100 slaves, and operated a large fleet of trading ships. His authority with the Sultan and the local rajahs was considerable, and he was very good to Wallace who, with his help, was able to rent a run-down house on the outskirts of the town and fix it up well enough to serve as his base of operations. He kept this house for three years, returning there regularly from his excursions to the outer islands. Back in his Ternate house, he would prepare and pack his specimens for shipment to Europe, write letters to his family and to friends like Bates, and begin preparations for the next sortie into the lesser-known fringes of the Moluccas.

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Rediscovering Waigeo: At the Bird’s Head of New Guinea

From The Spice Islands Voyage: The Quest for Alfred Wallace, the Man Who Shared Darwin’s Discovery of Evolution, by Tim Severin (Carroll & Graf, 1997), pp. 155-156:

The small villages of the Moluccas have a habit of relocating suddenly. The villagers – usually no more than a dozen families – frequently change the location of their houses which need only a couple of days to erect on a new site. They may move to find better fishing, to a safer anchorage and – above all – to an easier source of fresh water.

It was well into the afternoon when the last of the large bays opened up. Ahead of us the afternoon thunderstorms were rolling across the forested ridges and slopes of Waigeo. Surges of grey-black cloud flowed across the tree canopy on a broad front. The wind came ahead, whipping the tops off the wavelets in the bay. Lightning flickered in the depths of the cloud, and then the curtain of grey rain blotted out everything. When the rain cleared we had a glimpse of a tiny white dot in the murk at the back of the bay. It might have been a landmark erected for navigators, but there are no such marks in Waigeo. We set course for it, and crossing the broad bay we found the spire of a tiny, white painted church. In front were a dozen or so palm-thatch houses set on stilts on the water’s edge. The jungle came down the hillside to within yards of this tiny village, which looked as if it was about to be swallowed in the vegetation.

We anchored and, minutes later, there was the usual response when four canoes put out from the village to visit us. But these were canoes like nothing we had ever seen before. The central hull was a very narrow dugout log, tapering to a fine bow. From each side sprang delicate outriggers that would have done credit to a modern high technology aircraft. They curved out in a beautiful downward line so that the floats barely kissed the water. There was not a nail nor ounce of metal in the entire construction. The sweeping outriggers had been carved from naturally curved wood, and were bound in place with neat strips of jungle rattan. They were so well made and exquisitely balanced that they flexed like the wings of birds, and the entire canoe floated high and light as it skimmed forward.

The men in the canoes were pure Papuan with not a trace of Malay in their features. They had tightly curled wiry hair, broad nostrils, deep-set eyes, and very dark skins. In the lead canoe the grey-haired headman of the village was obvious from the deference paid to him by the other men. The canoes clustered around the stern of our prahu, and half a dozen men scrambled on deck. Budi and Julia made introductions and explained why we had come there. The villagers were intrigued to know about their unexpected visitors because the last time they had seen a foreigner was seven years earlier when a butterfly hunter had come to their village.

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