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Talking Heads: Capturing Dayak Deathways on Film

Author(s): Anne Schiller

Reviewed work(s):
Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb., 2001), pp. 32-55
Published by: Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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talking heads: capturing Dayak deathways

on film

North Carolina State University
In 1996, an elite group of Ngaju Dayak religious activists invited National
Geographic Television to film their rites of secondary treatmentof the dead in
the village of Petak Putih, CentralKalimantan,Indonesian Borneo. In this article, I explore activists' efforts to engage the National Geographic Society and
their attempts to exert a high degree of control over the manner in which local
traditions were portrayed to the filmmakers. I focus in particular on how representations of specific local practices figure in the recasting of a contemporary Dayak face, and on questions concerning religious authenticity and
authority. I argue that the activists' interest in making a film, and their decisions during its shooting were part of their larger organizational strategies,
with potentially far-reachingpolitical and economic consequences. [Indonesia, Dayaks, religion, identity, tourism, filmmaking]
Identityis a productionthatis nevercomplete,alwaysin progress,andalwaysconstituted
-Stuart Hall(citedin Ginsburg1995:260)
The official damages were four downed banana trees, six shingles off a roof, and
a trip to the polyclinic for a grandmother who experienced shok (shock) when loud
noises and strong winds from the helicopter persuaded her that her house was turning
to stone. A few kilometers away, in Petak Putih village, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, hundreds of residents and guests stood looking skyward in a field behind the
Hindu KaharinganMeeting Hall trying to spot the returningaircraft.There, Mantikei,
a Kaharinganpriest, host of a radio show on Ngaju culture, and head sponsor of the
death ritual in progress, chatted with a sound man about the musicians scheduled to
play at a recording session. Meanwhile, I was headed upriver in a diesel boat. My assistant and I passed our time searching for macaques in the brush where fig trees
dipped tangled roots and sagging branches into tea-dark waters. We had left our
walkie-talkies behind and could not be sure when the fly by would occur. We were
mindfulnever to look overhead lest we ruinthe shot by staringdirectly into the camera.
Throughout June and July 1996, I participated in a cooperative (ad)venture in
film makingwith the villagers of PetakPutihand National Geographic Television (NGT).
With a cast that numbered up to 2,500 revellers, our undertaking was of almost
mythic proportion. Its impetus certainly sprang from a myth, specifically the Ngaju
Dayak origin myth called panaturan. The village was hosting the largest secondary
mortuary ritual (tiwah), to be held on Central Kalimantan'sKatingan River in at least
80 years. The performance of tiwah is associated with an indigenous religion known
as Kaharingan. At this tiwah, 89 ancestors were to be exhumed and their souls
American Ethnologist28(1 ):32-55. Copyright

2001, American Anthropological Association.

talking heads


transported to the "Prosperous Village" near the zenith of a cosmological upper

world. My official role was to serve as head of the publicity committee. My charge
came from Mantikei, who had known me since my first fieldwork in the early 1980s
and had written to ask that I publish an account of the celebration, and, if possible,
bring a crew willing to film it. Coincidentally, a few years earlier, a story editor at National Geographic Television had contacted me to discuss the feasibility of making a
film about Indonesia's Ngaju Dayaks, an indigenous people of the rainforest.1After
receiving Mantikei's letter, I renewed those discussions. By mid-1996, my duties as
head of the publicity committee had expanded to include serving as consulting anthropologist for the film entitled Borneo: Beyond the Grave (Rosenfeld 1997).
In this regard, I would emphasize that many of Central Kalimantan's indigenous
peoples are now eager to attractattention to their traditions, deeming them resources
in the cause of development. Their interest in promoting indigenous Dayak culture
can be traced partly to state policies that encourage "showcase culture" and that remarkable"recuperationof difference"that JohnPembertonhas termed "the Mini-ization
of Indonesia" (1994:12). It is also part of their broader quest to achieve self-determination. Across Kalimantan, indigenous peoples are increasingly outspoken in demanding that the government take their long-neglected interests into account. Many
see the 1998 collapse of Indonesia's "New Order" regime and the approval of new
laws regarding provincial autonomy and reapportionment of regional income as opportunities for Dayaks to become more involved in local development.2 In exploring
ways to assert and maintain their identity while participating as full partners in regional growth, some Dayaks (including the subgroup known as the Ngaju) have become interested in cultivating aspects of their traditional culture as tourist attractions.
Here I consider why particular traditions are selected for promotion and how this
process may reinforce or challenge constructions of identity (Oakes 1997:36-37). I
focus on the fledgling attempts of a group of elite religious activists to promote their
particularversion of Ngaju death rituals in the internationalmedia. The opportunity to
involve the media in otherwise local rivalries over the construction and representation of "authentic"Ngaju culture was made possible by some activists' relationships with me, an ethnographer who has followed developments in their religion for
many years. In asking me to help them engage with NGT in creating a film about tiwah, activists hoped to achieve more control over how their traditions are portrayed
and potentially win greater authority and legitimacy for themselves among their coreligionists and others.3 I will argue that the terms of this struggle for cultural dominance cannot be reduced to simple dichotomies like Dayak versus non-Dayak or
Christian versus non-Christian Dayak. To the contrary, I will show that activists' attempts to promote their rituals hold complex interethnic implications for relations between indigenous religionists and Christian converts, as well as between villagers
who accept activists' attempts to reform the local faith and those who do not. In this
article, I also reveal a paradox regarding how activists seek to portraythemselves. On
the one hand, they are willing to be exoticized as partof winning recognition for their
culture as unique, and, on the other, they are attempting to control the terms of their
exoticization. Such circumstances recall Stuart Hall's argument that identities are
never unified and have become increasingly fragmented and fractured.They are subject to a radical historicization and are constantly transforming (Hall and du Gay
The issue of religious authority is one of several factors complicating how Ngaju
Dayaks represent themselves to themselves and to outsiders. Political events of the
20th century-including independence, the establishment of Central Kalimantan


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province, and the so-called Pan-Dayak movement-contributed to a sense of Dayak

identity, but the Ngaju do not necessarily consider themselves a "people." Furthermore, tradition (particularly religious tradition) figures problematically as an ethnic
marker because for the Ngaju it raises the fundamental issue of how to essentialize
and exhibit their "Ngajuness" (Schiller 1997a). Many of the traditions said by Dayak
villagers to characterize Ngajuness are grounded in the local faith. Nevertheless, most
Ngaju Dayaks today are Christians;some are Muslims. Christiansmight participate in
a kinsman's secondary mortuary ritual but certainly would not want one for themselves. Are they therefore not really Ngaju Dayak, as some activists would argue?
Representations of death ways are furthercomplicated by a particularset of signifying
practices-namely head taking and human sacrifice. Accusations of head taking as
part of religious ceremonies continue to be leveled at followers of Kaharinganby
some civil authorities and ordinary citizens. Questions of the extent to which head
taking was formerly practiced by indigenous southern Bornean peoples, and whether
and how it should now be portrayed as ever having been a local tradition, are more
problematic among these Dayaks than among some others who readily acknowledge
that their forebears took heads. In Central Kalimantan,to raise the issue of head taking
is to risk profoundly offending many religious activists.
In recent contributions on other Asian societies, several scholars have explored
how representations of the past figure in the construction of identity today (Aragon
2000; Nicolaisen 1997; Winzeler 1997). These authors share my interest in issues of
resistance to cultural homogenization. As Joel Kahn has noted, the forging of cultural
identity is never a smooth, homogenizing process. People do not blithely accept identities given to them, but rather rework them to make them fit their own circumstances
(1998:11-12). With regard to the case of Central Kalimantan, specifically, the decision by religious activists to encourage filming of their death rites should be understood in terms of the reworking of the broader relationship between culture and religion within the arena of Indonesian identity politics. With regardto that arena, it is also
appropriate to add a special reference to tourism. Other anthropologists have written
about tourism and ethnic identity elsewhere in Indonesia (George 1996:238-263;
McGregor 2000; Picard and Wood 1997). Many of Central Kalimantan'sindigenous
peoples are eager to draw tourists to their provinces and envious of neighboring East
Kalimantan's apparent success in attracting tourists to Dayak areas. The arrival of a
foreign tourist in Central Kalimantan is still uncommon, however, and the infrastructure to support large scale tourism is far off. I would emphasize, therefore, that some
local leaders, in particular the activists described in this article, are trying to set the
stage for the anticipated tourists that they expect will soon reach the interior, as well
as establish beforehand what cultural practices will be presented to them as "authentic." According to the activists, one of the immediate benefits to accrue from having a
film made about the celebration in Petak Putih was that the audience would want to
come to Central Kalimantan after viewing it. They assumed that tourists would then
search out the people whom they had seen in the film and visit Petak Putih. Thus the
anticipated film figured into a larger cultural promotional strategy, one with the potential to affect regional religious, ethnic, and economic relations far into the future.
I open the article with a short introduction to the peoples known as Ngaju and to
the Hindu Kaharingan religion. I show that indigenous religionists have become
proactive in their efforts to disseminate an "acceptable" image of their faith. To illustrate this phenomenon, I compare local responses to depictions of Kaharingan religionists published four years apart in two nationally circulated newspapers. Both
portrayed the adherents of Kaharinganas headhunters. That Kaharingancontinues to

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be identified with head taking is a situation of concern to many indigenous religionists

who resent this common stereotypic portrayal.As suggested earlier, it is partly in this
regard that I understand my informants'efforts to attract media attention to the Petak
Putih tiwah while attempting to control how the media reported on their practices.
Participantsfelt that they were demonstrating good citizenship through conformance
to state rules concerning the conduct of public celebrations and wanted their conformance documented. Religious activists who touted the ritual as "correct"because it
was conducted according to their own rules wanted it recorded as an example to the
future. Everyone hoped to establish to the film's audience, whomever it turned out to
be, that this tiwah was carried out without a head. In fact, however, whether the peoples now called Ngaju hunted heads and whether there was a head hunted for this
particular tiwah were questions that affected how sponsors interacted with regional
authorities while we prepared for the ritual, how the NGT crew interacted with me
while we were in the field together, and how I interacted with my informants as I
brokered information between a five-person film crew who knew Borneo mostly
through excerpts from 19th-century travelogues and several hundred ritual actors
who had never seen a documentary film. Thus the question of headhunting became a
point of convergence for two incommensurate worlds: that of indigenous religious activists, who needed NGT to help them become known as peaceable, religiously devout, modern Indonesian citizens, and that of the crew, who needed the exotic and
extraordinaryfootage that a journey among reputed headhunters might earn them.
One of the participants most anxious that I not discuss head taking with the film
crew was Mantikei, the primarysponsor of Petak Putih'stiwah. Mantikei is among the
most active of the second generation leaders of an indigenous synod, established in
1979, that oversees the administrationof matterspertainingto the practice of Kaharingan. We first met in 1983. Ihad been in the provincial capital only a short while when
Mantikei arrived from Petak Putih. He had come, at a synod member's invitation, to
serve as an office intern at synod headquarters. We became friends while participating in Thursdayevening prayer meetings at the Hindu Kaharingancomplex. Mantikei
is a gifted orator and was often asked to testify or to lead discussions even then. Partof
my research at the time involved recording and transcribing his sermons and discussions. We renewed our acquaintance during my second trip to the field in 1991.
While I was in Central Kalimantan in 1995, Mantikei invited me to adopt his oldest
son, who was 16, in a ritual known as hambai that involved the exchange of blood
between myself and the boy. By virtue of that adoption, Mantikei and I entered into a
kinship relation in which we became known to one another as dampu (adopted sibling). When Mantikei contacted me to secure my assistance as head of the tiwah's
publicity committee, it was evident that he would carefully manage every aspect of
the celebration together with the help of other synod leaders. Indeed, just as it was my
relationship with Mantikei that ensured the level of access that the filmmakers required, it was the high degree of ritual management on the synod's part that allowed
NGT producers to plan their filming schedule from the United States. It is therefore
important to emphasize that the form in which Kaharinganritual was presented to
filmmakers was influenced by the synod's broader agenda of religious change, a key
aspect of which is their attemptto standardize indigenous religious practices. As mentioned earlier, the synod saw the film crew's participation as a means to ensure a record of a "correctly performed" ritual, a clear example of how media may be implicated in the transformationof identity as well as in the transformationof society by
cultural activists (Ginsburg 1995:256).


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the Ngaju and Hindu Kaharingan religion

Kalimantan is the Indonesian name for the island of Borneo. Indonesian Borneo
comprises four provinces, one of which is Central Kalimantan (Kalimantan Tengah)-one of Indonesia's least developed regions. Most of Central Kalimantanis carpeted in forest and much of the rest is swamp. Eleven major rivers and about eighty
small ones wend through the province. Waterways are thoroughfares and almost all
villages and towns are located on rivers. Population density is low, about 10 persons
per square kilometer. The overall population, under two million, is ethnically diverse;
the largest group-about half the inhabitants-are indigenous peoples known as
Dayaks. Although some Dayaks live in Palangka Raya, the provincial capital located
on the Kahayan River, or in the regency capitals, many more reside in villages they
have established along the banks of four primary rivers and their tributaries. There
they practice shifting cultivation, alternating their time between their primary homes
in the village and far-flung farm huts. Most supplement their diets and their incomes
by hunting, fishing, and growing small stands of cash crops including rubberor rattan.
There are many kinds of Dayaks on Borneo. The indigenous population of Central Kalimantan is composed of various suku Dayak, a term loosely glossed as Dayak
tribe or ethnic group. The Suku Dayak Ngaju is the largest and most influential, and
their language is Central Kalimantan'slingua franca. Because Indonesian censuses do
not categorize citizens by ethnic group, there is no official consensus on the number
of Ngaju speakers. Local estimates fluctuate at between 500,000 and 800,000.
With regard to questions concerning Ngaju culture, I would underscore that,
their exonym Ngaju notwithstanding, these people have not traditionally identified
themselves as a tribe despite their shared language and similar traditions. Although
they increasingly use the phrase "suku Ngaju" or "suku Dayak Ngaju" to refer to
themselves, the word ngaju itself originally had pejorative connotations. Instead, local
identitycenters largelyon bilateralkin groups. People prefercousin marriage,and supernatural beliefs about the potentially disastrous consequences of marriageswith nonkin serve as a deterrent to exogamy. Unlike relatives, non-kin are not assuredly human; they may be supernaturalbeings called hantuen who have disguised themselves
as ordinarymen or women to infiltrateand destroyfamilies throughin-marriage.Particular people or families are often suspected of being hantuen. Belief in hantuen figures
interestingly in current processes of religious reformation and in the construction of
contemporary identity. In the past, for example, Kaharinganritualswere family based
and mostly enacted in the home. The synod encourages community-wide ratherthan
family-wide ritual celebrations, however, and seeks to establish a corporate religious
identity. One unusual feature of Petak Putih'stiwah, therefore, was that it involved the
participation of many nonrelated sponsors who had simply responded to a general
call sent out by Mantikei. One sponsor was a member of a family of suspected hantuen. In other words, as partof providing the entire local Kaharingancongregation the
opportunity to participate in this tiwah, Mantikei and other participantstook the unaccustomed risk of joining forces with suspected hantuen to host the most elaborate ritual possible.
Despite the synod's efforts to standardize worship, many adherents of Kaharinalso
continue to point to differences in religious rituals as a way to assert their
uniqueness. In this regard, another unusual feature of the Petak Putih tiwah was that
Mantikei and other council members decided to enact it in the elaborate ritual style
associated with Kahayan Riverpeoples, ratherthan the abbreviated form that is
practiced on the Katingan. The official replacement of local ritual forms was a watershed
moment in the historyof the Kaharinganreligious movement and a point of contention

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between some would-be participants and Mantikei because it challenged the fundamental notion of the probity of local hadat(adat in Indonesia; customary law-but see
According to adherents of Kaharingan,all that exists in the universe, material and
immaterial, has a sensate conscious essence known as gana. Everythingthat exists is
obliged to act correctly or in accordance with its hadat, which refersto rules and expectations concerning the proper way to live. Hadat is often translated as "customary
law," but such a simple gloss fails to communicate fully the many dimensions and
complexities of this concept. Ignoringor transgressinghadat risksserious supernatural
sanctions. In the most dire cases, adherents of Kaharinganbelieve that offenders and
their villages are turned to stone. Thus the grandmother mentioned at the outset of this
article, upon hearing the roar of a contraption that she never saw, concluded that
someone nearby had transgressed hadat and that her village's petrificationwas imminent. Hadat varies from riverto river, as can be seen in the differences in ritualforms.
To enact a ritual according to other peoples' hadat implies that one is neglecting one's
own hadat. Forthis reason, some villagers eventually refused to participate in a tiwah
that departed so markedly from the local norm. They saw the attempt to alter hadat by
substitutingthe rituals of one riverwith those of another as a violation that might warrantsupernaturalreprisal.
Although most KaharinganNgaju would probably agree that hadat has a religious dimension, Christian and Muslim Dayaks might object. National religious policies pose a clear distinction between adat and agama (religion);this distinction is evident even in the organization of state bureaucracy (Kipp and Rodgers 1987).
Nevertheless, the relationship between adat and religion has been complicated in
popular consciousness by important 1980 legislation concerning the recognition of
Kaharinganas a type of Hinduism.
To understand why Kaharinganwas legally declared Hindu, one must know
something of the historical and social contexts in which Kaharinganoperates as well
as the role of the aforementioned synod, known properly as the Great Council of
Hindu Kaharingan Religion (Majelis Besar Agama Hindu Kaharingan).A relatively
new organization, the Kaharigansynod's roots lie in an older political party, the Union of Kaharingan Dayaks of Indonesia (Sarikat Kaharingan Dayak Indonesia or
SKDI).SKDIwas one of several indigenous parties involved in the struggle for the establishment of a Dayak Province in the late 1950s. Their campaign for provincial
autonomy proved successful in 1957 when the Province of Central Kalimantanwas
established by emergency presidential decree. Then-president Soekarno issued the
decree in response to continued guerrilla warfare against representatives of the central government by Dayak underground movements. Nevertheless, Kaharinganwas
still not recognized as a religion. Likethe belief systems of many other minorities, Kaharingan remained relegated to the lesser category of tribal religion or belief sect (Atkinson 1983).
Throughout the 1960s, lack of official recognition for Kaharingancontinued to
anger adherents, who felt that they were subject to discrimination in their efforts to
gain access to education, health care, and other benefits associated with regional development. In 1972, some younger Union of KaharinganDayak members decided to
form what they called a nonpolitical synod; it would oversee the administration of
matters pertaining to Kaharinganand the protection of indigenous religionists' interests. By the following year, they had selected leaders and established regency, subdistrict, and village-level councils along the lines of the Department of Religion model.
By 1979, leaders had chosen a new course of action, namely to pursue integration


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with Hinduism, a faith that had been recognized by the state in 1963. Integrationwas
approved in 1980, and the council received its official mandate from the Department
of Religion soon thereafter.
With Department of Religion approval in hand, the Hindu Kaharingancouncil is
now engaged in an aggressive program of religious codification and ritual standardization. Among its best known initiatives is the inauguration of weekly prayer
meetings and the preparation of religious texts, the most important of which is the
panaturan (origin myth) mentioned in the opening of this article. The council claims
that its 1996 published edition of the myth should now be considered the sole
"authentic"one. In the volume's preface, written by the council's general chairman,
Mantikei is credited as one of its two authors. In fact, this newest edition of the
panaturan includes Mantikei's autobiography as an appendix.
The indigenous religious bureaucracy continues to evolve rapidly. Activists
claim that they do not mix politics and religion, although like every other social organization in Indonesia, the council was compelled to adopt the Five Principles of
state (Pancasila) as its sole foundation (Ramage 1995:3). Nevertheless, since the official recognition of Kaharingan,council members have assumed an increasingly high
profile in regional politics. Some have won election to the provincial parliament and
now seek higher office. These politicians offer an appealing message of cultural legitimation, ethnic empowerment, and citizenship participation to a disadvantaged people long characterized within and beyond Borneo as among that island's "wild men."
As part of this general movement, religious activists have aggressively begun to
explore opportunities to market indigenous death rituals as tourist attractions(Schiller
in press). Elsewhere in Indonesia, the arrivalof large-scale tourism has often been accompanied by significant infrastructuraldevelopment (Picard 1997), and many people in Central Kalimantan hope to profit by example. By appropriatingthe symbolic
resources of traditional Ngaju culture, activists seek to facilitate development in remote areas where the majority of villagers are Kaharingan.At the same time, they realize that bad press, particularlyconcerning head taking at tiwah, may dissuade tourists from attending death rituals.
Among Ngaju who live along the Kahayan River, the enactment of a secondary
mortuaryritual is particularlyelaborate, sometimes lasting longer than a month. First,
gongs and drums are carried to a specially constructed hut, the balai garantung, in
front of the head sponsor's house. These are sounded to mark the startof tiwah. Moments later, participants begin to erect the centerpiece of tiwah, the sangkaraya. A
sangkaraya is a bamboo structureof poles, fronds, and lashes, bedecked with flags or
pennants. Hosts and guests dance around the sangkarayathroughout the celebration,
sometimes performing the nanjan, a mortuarydance, or, at other times, the popular
social dance nasai.
The next day sponsors travel to other villages to pick up the various specialists
(basir)who will perform at tiwah. The number of specialists contracted to perform at
tiwah is always odd-usually five, seven, or nine. Afterthey arrive, they chant invitations to supernatural beings (sangiang) to descend to the village and join them in the
balai garantung. Upon reaching the village, the sangiang engage in projects that parallel the sponsors' own efforts to ready their surroundingsfor tiwah. These activities
include constructing mortuary edifices, sweeping the village, and gathering wood,
among other things. Ngaju believe that the sangiang do these things during chants
performed by basir.
In the days to come, the bones of the dead whose souls will be processed at the
tiwah are exhumed, washed, and prepared for treatment. While some villagers attend

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to these graveyard tasks, others remain in the village, busying themselves with the
erection of posts to which large sacrificial animals will be tethered. A few days later,
neighboring villages may send offering ships carrying rice, coconuts, animals, and
other goods as contributions for the tiwah. If a ship is sent, a mock battle ensues between costumed givers and receivers before the crew is permitted to tie up. Animal
sacrifices commence thereafter. The sacrifices are followed later in the day by chants
that transport the soul of the deceased's intellect to the Prosperous Village (Schiller
1997b:36-39). The souls of the soft and hard body partsare also transportedto the upper world by means of chants performed by the specialists on subsequent evenings.
Within the next day or two the bones of the dead are deposited in repositories
(Schiller 1991). Then the ritualson their behalf are finished.
At this point, rites intended specifically to benefit the living may begin. All participants are subject to an ablution in the riverthat washes away remaining supernatural pollution. During balian patandak (chant to give a title), specialists and sponsors
receive honorific names in recognition of their role in tiwah. Finally, sponsors request
benefits from the supernaturalbeings whom they have honored alongside their dead.
In all, it may take up to 33 days to complete the celebration.
The broad outlines of tiwah are similar throughout the Ngaju-speaking region;
however, there are variations in format. These variations are importantto participants
because, as mentioned earlier, like other distinctive elements of hadat they are considered diacritical of identity. Forexample, a KatinganRiver ritual style differs from a
Kahayan River one. The former is shorter and simpler. It lasts about a week and features only a single lower level ritual specialist. In fact, there are few ritual specialists
outside the Kahayan and Kapuas River regions. Katinganbone repositories are generally smaller and less elaborate than those of the Kahayanarea, and the sacrifices associated with tiwah are far fewer there. By inviting NGT to make a film in a Katingan
River village that was not performing tiwah in the local style, Mantikei and other
synod members told me that they intended, in part, to create the equivalent of a training film, and thereby encourage Katinganpeoples and others to accept that Kahayan
practices were "correct."Many adherents welcome this kind of ritualstandardization.
Yet resistance to the council's hegemonic vision in some quarters speaks to the
broader issue of the problematic construction of a Ngaju cultural identity that draws
mostly from Kahayan tradition.4 Despite resistance, however, the council continues
to demonstrate its growing power, most recently in its ability to mobilize forces
against bad press that sensationalizes indigenous religionists as headhunters.
headhunters in the media
With regardto the portrayalof Kaharinganin the media, I have already suggested
that many Ngaju, including converts to other faiths, are acutely sensitive to how local
practices and beliefs are represented to a broader anticipated public of Indonesians
and foreign tourists. This was made clear to me in a conversation that I had with the
director general of the Hindu Kaharingancouncil in 1983. The director general was
lamenting newspaper reporters'tendencies to sensationalize descriptions of Kaharingan rituals. He mentioned an article concerning the second stage of treatment of the
dead that had appeared in a newspaper "somewhere on Java"a few years before. The
director general himself had invited a journalist to accompany him to the event and
explained before their arrivalthat the souls of the dead would bid farewell to their kin
that night in the course of a chant performed by five specialists. To mark the souls'
departure from the house, all the lamps would be extinguished. When they were relit,
mourners would scrutinize a pan of kitchen ash that had been set beside the front


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door for the departing souls' footprints.To the director general's dismay, however, the
journalist's published account implied that mourners had taken advantage of the
darkness to engage in illicit sexual relations. "Itis so difficult to fight lies and misrepresentation by the media," he said.
The most distasteful of the media's misrepresentations, as far as the council is
concerned, focus on head taking and human sacrifice. Earlyaccounts by missionaries
and colonialists describe upriver peoples taking heads and sacrificing slaves within
the context of tiwah (Schiller 1997b:5-6). Widespread characterizations of modern
Dayaks as headhunters continue to informthe thinking of many Indonesians and others. I recall a conversation I had with the senior editor of an important Indonesian
news magazine in 1996. The editor began our meeting by expressing his interest in Indonesians who were "masihbuas" (still wild), employing a term that is usually used to
describe the ferocity of wild animals or of devastating forces of nature. Head-taking
incidents that occurred as part of the recent spate of violence in West Kalimantan
have reinforced outsiders' impressions of Dayaks as headhunters.
In early 1999, Indonesia was in the throes of a major economic crisis. Weakened
in the course of major political reforms, the central government faced challenges to
national stability in the form of interethnic riots in far-flung areas. The Kalimantanriots occurred in the Sambas region of the west province. The proximate cause was rumored to be a dispute over bus fare between an ethnically Madurese passenger and a
Malay driver. Some Dayaks remarkedto me that the Madurese man was found to be
carrying a hidden weapon, thus violating a pledge taken by prominent local citizens
on behalf of their respective ethnic constituencies that had been aimed at reducing
tensions between Madurese migrants and local people. The ensuing clashes lasted
approximately one month and left close to 200 people dead and more than 50,000
Madurese seeking safety and shelter after having been burned out of their homes by
Dayaks and Malays.
Although noteworthy for its scale, this violence was not an isolated incident.
Madurese migrants, Dayaks, and local Malays have engaged in violent conflicts on
many occasions during the past three decades. Malay and Dayak citizens consistently
blame the Madurese, whom they perceive as aggressive and disparaging of Dayak
culture for setting off these incidents (Schiller and Garang 2000). Commenting on the
explosive situation in 1999, the governor of West Kalimantandescribed the Madurese
citizens in his province as "mastermindsof conflict" (biang pertikaian) and issued a
plea to social scientists to find a solution. "Iask for the assistance of academic circles
to investigate why Madurese always cause disturbances in West Kalimantan. I hope
that [the local university] will coordinate sociological or social anthropological research concerning why the Madurese cause unrest in West Kalimantan. One could
say that, indeed, the disturbances are always started by Madurese citizens" (Suara
Although international media reports noted the bus incident in passing as well as
the strained relations between the Madurese migrantsand other people in the region,
the bulk of the coverage focused on the Dayak ratherthan the Madurese role in the
conflict. In prose reminiscent of 19th-century accounts of headhunting expeditions,
reporters described "screaming tribesmen" (CNN 1999) and "euphoric warriors"engaged in acts of "ritual savagery" (New York Times Website 1999). The Associated
Press announced: "Old customs of tribalwar that were thrivingwhen Britishand Dutch
colonists ventured into the Borneo interiorcenturies ago have been played out in gruesome shows of public rejoicing" (New YorkTimes Website 1999). There were reports
of scalping and of cannibalism. CNN posted a photograph from Sambas of a head

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perched on an oil drum in the middle of a street, a cigarette stuffed up one nostril
(CNN 1999).
During the time these events took place in West Kalimantan,Central Kalimantan
remained calm. Yet Central Kalimantan'snative people are likewise suspected of being covert, if not overt, headhunters. As an ethnographer of the Ngaju, I have found
the issue of headhunting awkward to address ever since my firstfieldwork. Rumorsof
attempted human sacrifice, although infrequent, nonetheless circulate among the
Dayaks themselves. One story with which I am most familiar came to me from an extremely reputable source, a native customary law authority (damang), who claimed to
have helped rescue the intended sacrificial victim in 1983, only hours before she
would have been killed. I have chosen not to try to substantiate these claims because
asking questions about head taking would likely end my relationship with members of
the Hindu KaharinganCouncil. My apparent uninterest in head taking has become
the basis of our trust. Thus, my situation is differentfrom that faced by ethnographers
who carry out research among peoples who now perform headhunting festivals without heads (George 1996; Hoskins 1996; McKinley 1976; Winzeler 1994), or even in
the next province where the reputation of the ancestors of some Dayak peoples as
headhunters is touted in a growing tourist literature(Dinas Kepariwisataan1999) and
mock head-taking dances are performed for visitors to Dayak villages. When I spoke
to Mantikei about the probability that NGT would ask questions about headhunting
and tiwah, he asked me to say as little as possible and to keep in mind how long it had
taken people in Central Kalimantanto come to trustme with regardto this issue.
The manner in which individual Dayaks in Central Kalimantanconfront the issue
of head taking varies, often by religion. Christiansand Muslims recount the headhunting prowess and ferocity of their ancestors who lived in the jaman kayau (the age of
head taking). Yet their tales often conclude with the narratorsreprehending their ancestors' barbarity prior to conversion. Most adherents of Kaharingan also acknowledge that head taking occurred, although the majority posit that it ended decades
ago. Some Christians and some adherents of Kaharingan, including many civil servants, say that it never happened. Instead, they contend, rumors of head hunting and
human sacrifice were conjured by colonialists to frighten indigenous peoples, thereby
destroying tribal unity and putting an end to potential local collaboration in nationalist movements. Finally,there are a few individuals who claim not only that heads continue to be taken, but that they themselves have aspired to or engaged in the practice.
Within the past few years, two reports of head taking for tiwah performances
were featured in the "Criminality"section of Indonesia's nationally read news magazine, Tempo. The markedly disparate local responses underscore the Hindu Kaharingan Synods's clout and increasingly proactive stance with regard to the portrayal of
Kaharingan, as did their subsequent enthusiastic support for inviting NGT to make
Borneo: Beyond the Grave (Rosenfeld 1997).
The firstof the two articles appeared in 1987: "TheMandera Post with the Cut-off
Head." The subtitle queried: "Tiwah,the Ritualto EscortSouls to the Seventh Heaven.
Does it Still Existor Is It an Issue Made Up By Colonialists? Kuni, an 18 Year Old Adolescent, Was Beheaded." According to the report, a widower sought to ensure his deceased wife's comfort after death by providing her with a servant. He therefore decided to bury a human head beneath her bone repository and sent his son to solicit
assistance in ensnaring a victim. The younger man contacted a fellow villager who
agreed to assist.
To earn his reward, the villager won the trust of a group of young women who
were targeted as potential victims. Intime, they agreed to accompany him on a rubber


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collecting expedition. Before they left on their rounds, the widower's son and several
other men hid themselves in the forest. What follows is the account of the surpriseattack as it appeared in Tempo. The report did not include the survivors' direct testimony, and it is unclear from the article whether the women who survived the attack
attended the trial.
An atmosphereof panic erupted.Kuniwas suddenlytied and draggedoff... by [the]
boisterousgroup. But Kuni'sfriendsscatteredwildly. Kunialone came closer and
closer to death. Kuniwas draggedseveralmetersfromthe tree [beneathwhich the
grouphad been waiting].Thenthe 18-year-oldvirgin'slegs were also tied to a fallen
treetrunk.She was carried[a shortdistance],then her body was throwndown to the
groundwitha toppledtreeas a pillow.Kuni'seyes were coveredwitha cloth.Andthe
executioner... calmly unsheathedthe cutlass.... "Bles"[the sound of the cutlass
striking].Bloodpouredout of the neckof thatunfortunate
younggirl-before hersevered head rolledto the earth.[Praginanto
and Hatta1987:92, author'stranslation]
At his trial, the man who had led the girls into the forest confessed that his cutlass had
indeed been used to decapitate Kuni. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Although the defendent's lawyers proposed that Kunihad been killed for the sake
of a religious ritual, not everyone who participated in the trial accepted their assertion. Two prosecutors pointed out that using human heads at tiwah was forbidden by
the Kaharingan religion and argued that "[the notion that] an offering of a human
head is religious obligation in the Hindu Kaharinganreligion is only a political issue
[invented by] Dutch colonialists" (Praginantoand Hatta 1987:92). Significantly, the
authors of Tempo's report preferred to overlook contemporary Kaharingandoctrine
and went on to detail two failed Dutch attempts to end head taking. The authors concluded: "Heads still roll around in a tiwah," and "a tiwah without a head isn't a tiwah"
(Praginantoand Hatta 1987:92). Indeed, even the title of the reportexplicitly equated
tiwah with head taking with its reference to a mandera post, another structureassociated with mortuaryrituals.
When I visited the council's Palangka Raya offices in 1991, the director general
called my attention to a more recent article. Entitled"Gadut, SpiritOffering at Tiwah,"
(Gadut, Tumbal Tiwah), the report advised that factions of the "Dayak Kaharingan
Tribe"were continuing to take heads as part of the observances surrounding secondary treatment of the dead. Tempo's writers drew a parallel between the legends of
American Indians who skinned or scalped their victims and the religious practices of
their compatriots in the jungles of Kalimantan.They contrasted the reportsof scalping
among Native Americans with reportsof headhunting in Central Kalimantan,with the
assessment that headhunting-in contrast to scalping-"isn't a fairy tale" (Yarmanto
and Hatta 1991:96).
When "Gadut, Spirit Offering at Tiwah" reached magazine stands in Palangka
Raya, it engendered a huge public outcry. The Kaharingancouncil responded swiftly,
intent on damage control. The chairman emphasized that he had not responded to the
1987 publication properly and that the council was determined not to allow this most
recent media assault to go unchallenged. In what came to be popularly known as the
"Hindu Kaharingan-Tempo Insult Case," council leaders threatened suit against the
magazine for slandering a ritual "they themselves regarded as holy and held in high
esteem" (Lewis 1991:6). An informaltribunalcomposed of local dignitariesdemanded
a meeting with representatives from Tempo. During the arbitration that followed,
Tempo's representatives agreed to submit a formal apology to the Hindu Kaharingan

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Council, attend a tiwah, publish the director general's grievance letter in a forthcoming issue, and donate money to the cost of performing a peace-making ceremony between the magazine's staff and the council.
These two reportson head taking at tiwah, published in 1987 and 1991, respectively, did not differ significantly in content. Nevertheless they provoked dramatically
different responses. The high profile arbitrationthat followed the second publication,
and the subsequent release of the director general's letter of protest, underscores the
council's now aggressive stance with regard to the positive portrayal of Kaharingan.
When Mantikei contacted me concerning his family's upcoming tiwah, I realized he
was eager to introduce his religion to the wider world as far as possible on his own
terms and that concerns over how Kaharingan would be portrayed in the media
weighed heavily on his mind. Neither of us could have guessed at that time, however,
the tremendous amount of media interest that this tiwah would eventually attract
once word got out that NGT would be there. Before the ritualwas over, the sponsors
had hosted not only the NGT crew, but also a private Indonesian television company,
reportersfrom Radio Republik Indonesia, several Central and South Kalimantannews
dailies, and a journalist and photographerfrom the newsmagazine Gatra.
if you build it, they will come: preparing for the film crew
Writing on feature film making among indigenous peoples of Australia, Faye
Ginsburg notes that many minority peoples now use media "as new vehicles for internal and external communication, for self-determination, and for resistance to outside
cultural domination" (1995:256). As cultural identity is a social construction highly
situated in time and place, it is importantto be specific about how the performance of
Petak Putih's tiwah figured in a larger agenda of religious change-why activists
wanted to achieve the broadest possible exposure for their ritual.As noted above, activists construed the opportunity to participate in a film as a means to help resist cultural domination by creating a record of a "correct and complete" death ritual or tiwah modal (model tiwah). At the same time, the model itself was ratherprogressive,
imposing a particular kind of ritual homogeneity and employing almost entirely
younger, council-trained specialists. In fact, there are very few ritualspecialists of any
age outside the Kahayanand Kapuas River regions, so for now these individuals must
be imported, as they were in this instance. Also, in a move that he said was intended
to make this tiwah "even more authentic," Mantikei insisted that bone repositories be
constructed from a traditional material that had largely fallen into disuse, namely
ironwood. This was done with the clear intention of creating a complex that could become a tourist destination. Most strikingof all, of course, was that Petak Putih's tiwah
was held in the Kahayan River style. Most participants had never even seen a tiwah
performed this way, and nearly every evening they would gather for a briefing from
Mantikei and other clerics about the next day's ritualagenda.
In 1995, I travelled to Central Kalimantanto finalize plans for inviting the film
crew to the upcoming tiwah and devise ways of surmounting the logistical challenges
of getting them and their equipment safely to Petak Putih. I brought along an eightmillimeter video cassette recorder lent to me by some NGT staff members so that I
could shoot footage for the final pitch of the film to their senior producers. When I arrived in the field, Mantikei and I agreed to shoot roughly equivalent amounts, making
our own decisions about what to film. My panoramas were certainly the more pedestrian. Mantikei seized the opportunity to present scenes that he termed "exotis" (exotic), saying, "We have to make an impression about this Dayak land, something different than what they see at home." He decided to use a special avenue of appeal to


american ethnologist

the supernaturalworld to help win approval for filming. When we arrived at Petak Putih, Mantikei performed a ritual to alert the inhabitants of the upper world that NGT
might attend the upcoming tiwah. The next day he hired a diviner to go into trance
and inquire how the supernatural beings felt about the film crew's presence. Out of
several possible choices, he selected the diviner who was a transvestite and by far the
most photogenic. Although this diviner usually works at night, Mantikei arranged for
an afternoon performance, during a time when oil lamps had yet to be lit. This change
in schedule would facilitate his filming with the eight-millimeter camera. That afternoon the diviner took on the persona of five different supernaturalbeings, including
the spirit of a large carp that lives in a freshwater pool near the village; all of these supernatural beings apparently wanted to cooperate with NGT. As afternoon passed
into evening, Mantikei told me that there were simpler, less expensive ways to get the
same information from the upper world, but none were as likely to make as much of
an impression on the producers.
When he felt confident that denizens of the upper world were supportive, he encouraged villagers to go ahead with plans to enlarge a house for NGT's use. He urged
me to film his co-villagers at work on the house in order to demonstrate to NGT how
welcome they were. Finally, he called the villagers together to explain how they
should behave around a film crew. He stressed in his address that
the only people that have the rightto give informationand guidancefor makingthis
filmarethe council. Otherpeople are notentitledto [speakaboutKaharingan].
example, there is a question:what is meant by tiwah?Why does a bone repository
have foursides andwhy is therea sangkaraya?
Villagersdo not needto give an explanation.All of these questionsshouldbe referredto the council.Why?Well,one example is the Tempomagazine case, in which Temporeportedthat a person's [from
anothervillage]headdisappearedbecause it was cut off by someonewho wantedto
carryout a tiwah. Eventuallythe council establishedin courtthatthis was only a rumor,nota fact.Anotherexampleis thatsomeone mightsay somethinglike"Oh,Isaw
Mantikeitakinga head,or at least I thinkhe was takinga head becausesomeone his
heightand size chasedme."Or,"Oh,BapaLuangchasedme witha swordwhen Iwas
collectingrubber."Don'tpay any attentionto any statementslikethose becausethey
will only ruinour ritual.
Other higher-ranking synod members shared his anxiety over how Kaharingan
would be portrayed in the film. The general chairman insisted that a council member
be assigned to accompany the NGT crew at all times, emphasizing that "only someone who has mastered at least 75 percent of Hindu Kaharinganphilosophy will be allowed to explain things at this tiwah."5The vice chairman bemoaned the lack of official uniforms for ritual specialists and pondered how to convey to the older ones that
excessive drinking was not appropriate behavior for modern clerics. To ensure that as
little as possible about the ritualwas left to chance, nearly every aspect of the celebration was carefully scripted. A partial inventory of the documents compiled and submitted to the council prior to the Petak Putih tiwah, for example, includes rosters of
the composition of the tiwah advisors committee (pelindung/penasehat), of the head
participants (panitia pelaksana), of the general assistants (pembantu umum), and the
heads and members of the subcommittees on ritual, local arrangements, consumption, publicity, and safety. There was a list of the number and varieties of sacrificial
animals, a list of the names of the dead on whose behalf the ritual was to be performed, a list of the names of the sponsoring families that indicated their residence
and of the priestscontractedto performthe ritual.The packet also featureda budget detailing anticipated expenses for food, payment for priests, and building costs associated

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with bone repositories, and a four page schedule for tiwah that outlined ritualactivity,
often to the hour. I carried copies of most of these back with me to NGT's office in
Washington, D.C., and shared them at our successful pitch to producers a few months
shuffle off to buffaloes: with NGT in the field
It is often claimed that one of ethnography's goals is to make the "exotic" seem
"familiar."So, too, a goal of ethnographic film is "making the exotic familiar to a
broad audience, but on the subjects' terms" (Ginsburg 1992:98). The dimensions of
this challenge for all parties involved should not be underestimated. In this instance,
for example, none of the filmmakers had previous experience working in Borneo. The
anthropologist had no prior experience working with filmmakers. Most of the participants in the ritual had watched television or video on only a few occasions in their
lives. Finally, the entire issue of what might comprise the "subjects' terms" was rendered all the more problematic given that the individuals featured, a group of Katingan River villagers, were participating in a ritual style with which they themselves
were not familiar.
The NGT crew itself consisted of five people, a senior producer assisted by a junior coproducer, a photographer and his assistant, and a soundman. All were enthusiastic about the assignment and treated the ritual participants considerately. I quickly
came to realize, however, that NGT's goal was to create a story about my relationship
to these villagers rather than to make the documentary film that I had in mind.6 To
construct their story, the producer and coproducer decided to focus on certain relationships they thought would be recognizable to a predominantly Western audience.
The coproducer explained that they would pursue "the family angle" and that my relationship with Mantikei's son, whom I had adopted the year before, would be highlighted. I did not personally know the boy very well, nor did the Ngaju expect me to.
Adoption is understood as a means to heighten a child's well-being by increasing the
size of his or her circle of kin, not to replace existing relatives. This difference of expectations over what constitutes a family became apparent as the NGT crew tried
(fruitlessly) to engineer "family time"-that is, a situation in which Mantikei and I
could be filmed alone with our son. At one point, we agreed to take him on an expedition to a pool in the forest where villagers sometimes go to make offerings to a supernaturally powerful carp and to bring the film crew along. When the time came to
head off to the pool, the boy's mother and maternal grandparents arrived to accompany us. This foiled attempt to film "my family" caused the producer and coproducer
considerable exasperation, and they began to cast more widely. Once, after setting up
cameras in an outdoor kitchen where some of Mantikei's female relatives were cooking, the coproducer requested that I ask Mantikei's sister how she would feel as she
cradled the bones of her dead son and daughter in preparation for their final interment. This strategy, it was hoped, would be a point of access into women's attitudes
toward children and the expression of those feelings. I redirected the question in a
way that I thought was more appropriate, inquiring how the mother felt as she prepared for her children's departure to the upper world. "I am relieved," she replied
without hesitation. "All these years we've waited to hold tiwah until we could do it
correctly. I've often thought of my children. I've been very afraid of them. Afraidthat
they would punish me for taking too long to send them [to the Prosperous Village].
Now they will leave me alone." NGT did not include footage from this interview in
the film.


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With regard to the death ritual specifically, the crew endeavoured to take their
subjects' sensibilities seriously. I recall being particularly struck by the senior producer's concern that his rendering of the journey of souls might trivialize its significance or make it seem cartoonish. At the same time, in my combined role as interpreter, anthropological consultant, and participant in the tiwah, I often found myself
ill at ease when it came to discussing the associated sacrifices with crew members or
translating their questions about them to Ngaju, especially when those questions related to head taking. Itsoon became clear that council members were just as eager for
me to deflect questions about head taking as the crew was to ask them. This tug-ofwar was personally frustratingfor me, but more importantly it called to the fore the
ironies, complexities, and ambiguities of the negotiations that surrounded the construction and circumstances of this portrayalof Ngaju culture.7
A glimpse at another moment during production illuminates the complexities
surrounding these negotiations. Mantikei and other council members were keen to
feature their sacrifices, thereby demonstrating their generosity to their deceased kinsmen. The more animals that are sacrificed on the deceased's behalf at tiwah, the
richer the person is believed to be in the afterlife. Some Ngaju people I know consider
animal sacrifices one of the most exciting moments of tiwah. Larger animals are
stabbed over the course of up to an hour in order to maximize the spectacle of blood.
Before the beast finally succumbs, participants press their hands to the wounds and
anoint themselves and loved ones with the streaming blood to "cool" their souls. As
we approached the days of sacrifices, NGT prepared a lead-in by conducting an interview with the headman, whose activities they had been following throughout the tiwah. In addition to a number of chickens and pigs, the headman had purchased a
water buffalo to be dedicated to his parents. Throughout the interview the headman
focused on what seemed most importantto him about his offering, namely his various
travails and expenses in locating and purchasing an affordable animal. As the film
rolled on, he spoke at length about his journey to a distant town where there were reportedly good animals to choose from, about how he figured out how to reach people
who had animals for sale once he was there, and on what basis he made his final selection. The producers, however, apparently hoped that the headman's comments
would lead in another direction, namely, that Dayaks were fearsome warriors. I was
asked to try to "get at" whether the participantswere brave and if it took courage to
kill-in this case-a water buffalo? "Of course not. It's not difficult to kill them," the
headman replied. "They'retied up to posts!" What did emerge from the discussion for
the Ngaju participants, however, was the distinct impression that Westerners are cruel
to animals. In the tiwah, sacrificial animals are usually tied up at sunset and killed before noon the next day. At the conclusion of our on-camera interview with the headman, the producer and photographer asked whether one of the buffalos could be led
to the sacrificial post earlier than planned to accommodate their lighting requirements. The fading light later at sunset would make filming the procession to the post
difficult. The headman was shocked at their request. "Pity! Pity!" he replied. "How
could you be thinking of making an animal suffer by making it stand beneath the hot
Villagers' eagerness to emphasize the extent of the slaughter of cows and buffaloes in the film notwithstanding, I had explained to Mantikei that sacrifice had been a
sticking point at the film pitch to NGT producers. One high-ranking member of the
television division had questioned whether it was wise to make a film about a ritual
that involved sacrifice because some viewers might be uncomfortable watching animals killed. As the days of the majorsacrificesapproached, the crew's own ambivalence

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became more apparent despite efforts to hide it. Nevertheless, as the coproducer put
it with grim humor one morning, there was finally no choice but to "shuffleoff to buffaloes." By then Mantikei had devised a plan to overcome his own fear that we would
fail to film the slaughter. He attempted to embolden us for our job of filming the sacrifices in the same manner as is used on the participantswho actually carry them out;
that is, he encouraged the crowd to cheer for us. Public recognition makes it difficult
for ritual participants,filmmakers, or anthropologists to shirktheir duties and elevates
a task to heroic status. As we approached the area, Mantikei stationed himself at a
loudspeaker hooked up to a gasoline-powered electric generator. He called out to the
crowd, urging participants and guests to keep in mind that "Westernersare not used
to seeing animal sacrifices." He added, "Don't be surprised or offended by anyone's
reactions. Be aware of cultural difference. They don't do this where they come from,
so we can't be sure what to expect out of them." He then went on to characterize each
crew member in ways that caused the spectators to laugh, holler, or clap appreciatively. The flaxen-haired soundman was "the world's best-looking soundman," despite his being "tangled in a huge spider web" (a reference to his microphone). Next
to appear was "the world's highest paid photographerwith the world's most sophisticated equipment." The anthropologist was "a film starfrom the capital," and so on.
The filmmakers made no secret to me of their interest in forms of sacrifices that
involved more than chickens, pigs, and the occasional cow or buffalo, although I had
told them that the practice of human sacrifice had been officially outlawed in 1894. In
their curiousity, they were certainly not alone. One of Mantikei's responsibilities, for
example, was reportingto the police in the subdistrictseat priorto the startof tiwah. I
accompanied him when he filed his report.When Mantikei had discharged his duty, a
police captain detained us and directly inquired whether a head had been taken for
this tiwah. He was told that one had not. "Iprefer it this way," Mantikei said to me after we left. "What's the point of them pretending that they are not thinking about a
head? In any event, they will come looking for one." His prediction proved correct;
on the night preceding the animal sacrifices, the police and subdistrict head visited
us. Ignoring the merrymakerssurrounding them, they searched the area around the
temporary mortuaryedifices, examined the shrines with their flashlights, and then left
as suddenly as they had appeared.
The producers respected my unwillingness to discuss head taking but still managed to find another way to raise the issue. The crew had been planning to tape a
lengthy on-camera interview with me and had decided to use an old bone repository
complex in Tumbang Lahang, a neighboring, predominantly Christianvillage, as the
setting. At the last moment, however, we were refused permission to film at that site,
following a dispute sparked by the helicopter mishap mentioned at the beginning of
this article. NGT had hired the helicopter for an afternoon to enable the photographer
to take location shots around Petak Putih. After takeoff, the photographer requested
that the pilot pass over Tumbang Lahang,where we had once overnighted. Although
Christian, some villagers there maintain a spectacular repository complex featuring
several unusual old mortuaryposts. One depicts a Dutchman destined to become the
deceased's slave in the next life. We had obtained permission to film the complex
(though we were later to learn that the person who had given us permission was not
qualified to do so).
The day after the flyover, still confident that we had secured all the permission
to film and unaware of the consequences of the helicopter's pass, we sent
a Ngaju assistant to the village to locate materials for the platformwe needed to build

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for the cameras near the complex. He told me laterthat two surly men confronted him
and shouted that he was forbidden to approach any closer.
The helicopterthatcame yesterdaynearlyscaredan old womanto deathand knocked
overour bananatrees.Theroofof a houseblew off.We who arealreadysinkingin the
earth,if you step upon us we will sinkeven farther.Mantikeiis carryingout a tiwah
and has broughtin Westernerswho aregivinglotsof money.Theywantto come here
and filmourvillagewithoutpaying.We areChristians,butwe go to expenseof maintainingthis repository.Becauseof thiswe areextremelyangryandwill not be invited
to compromise.Why haveyou become a slaveto the Westerners,too?
They complained that their complex was not a tourist destination and that if the government wanted it to be, it should pay them. They demanded reparationsand blamed
the incident on indigenous religionists, whom, they claimed, sought to profitat everyone else's expense.
The dispute led to our going to an alternate village upriver,to a new complex that
I had never seen but one that the NGT crew had scouted when I went the next day to
try to help settle the misunderstanding with the aforementioned group of Christians.
When Mantikei learned where we were headed he objected, calling the sandung "terrible" and "an embarrassment." He referred to it as "the pornographic bone repository" (sandung porno). I was curious, of course, because, never having seen the repository, I could not imagine why, on the one hand, Mantikei was so anxious that I
avoid it, and, on the other, why NGT wanted to be sure to film my reaction when I first
laid eyes on it. After I arrived at the site, I understood. Its mortuaryposts depicted a
woman displaying her genitalia and partly-clad couples in passionate embraces. The
largest post featured a grinning Dayak in a loincloth triumphantlyholding up a white
man's freshly severed and bleeding head. The designs had been planned and executed by local Christians in 1991 for their Kaharinganancestors. That Christians had
financed and carved this complex and indigenous religionists despised it underscores
the question of how tradition may be variously represented, and capitalized, among a
fragmented people. Inthe end, NGT producers chose not to use this footage.
concluding notes
In this article, I have recounted the circumstances under which a group of elite
activists sought to secure media coverage for a major Dayak religious and cultural
event. In this, my intention is to contribute to a growing literatureon the complexities
of cultural representation about and among indigenous peoples. Kaharinganactivists'
enthusiasm for working with the media in the creation of a film about tiwah revealed
an almost total reversal of a stance they have held over the past 15 years. That reversal
is profoundly linked to larger issues of the intersections among religion, culture, and
identity politics in Indonesia and beyond.
As part of my discussion of past and present portrayalsof Ngaju culture, I have
explored activitists' efforts to control how they were represented to and by outsiders,
in particularwith regardto the sensitive issue of head taking. Inthis, I have pointed to
a paradox among some Ngaju regarding how they want themselves and their lifestyle
to be known, one which recalls Arjun Appadurai's importantconcept of disjuncture
and difference in global culture (1996). On the one hand, as is perhaps already evident from the above discussion, Mantikei, acting also on behalf of the Kaharingan
council, wanted his way of life to appear "exotic" and "traditional"in a manner that
he thought would appeal to a foreign film crew and a predominantly foreign audience. On the other hand, he tried to disallow any mention of what he already knew

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the audience would consider the most exotic aspects of his culture, namely head taking and human sacrifice.
When I next travel to Central Kalimantan,I will certainly learn whether Mantikei
and other synod members feel that the film depicted them fairly. Those who participated at the time said that the ritual and the filmmaking experience had been a success. The director told me one day as the shoot was winding down that "this is the
kind of story that makes you glad you go to work at NGT." Another member of the
crew congratulated me privately for not letting the "headhunting thing" get out of
control. The council achieved the extensive media attention it had sought. As mentioned earlier, Petak Putih was featured in an 11-page spread in the nationally read
newsmagazine Gatra that never raised the issue of taking heads (Prambadi 1996).
Nor, to my knowledge, did any of the many newspaper reports on this tiwah mention
headhunting. In honor of the film crew's departure, the village headman delivered the
following address:
Todayis a sacredand importantday in ourvillage.I,the headmanof PetakPutihVillage, am very proudand very happy-hearted.
My parentsare now in the Prosperous
Village.Theyare lookingdown watchingover all of us. Thisis not the firsttime that
Westernershave been in ourvillage.The Dutchwere here in colonialtimes,butthat
was different.I am so proudto be sittingherewith thistelevisioncrew, knowingthat
my parentswent offto heavenwitha filmcrewtakingpicturesof them.As longas the
earthhas been flourishing,nothinglikethis has ever happenedbefore.Neverin any
other villagewere souls going to heavenfilmed.Only in PetakPutih,Kotawaringan
Timur,CentralKalimantanProvince,Indonesia.And it has never happenedbefore
thata helicopterhas landedin a villageon the KatinganRiver.Everyonesaw thathelicopterat my parents'tiwah.Andthe earthwill continueto flourish,andforthe restof
will watchthisfilm and
eternitytherewill be a film.My childrenand grandchildren
see that I performeda propertiwah for my parents.Nothinghappenedthatwas unwas peaceful.Thebasirdideverythingcorrectly.Ionly havea junior
Igraduatedin 1962. Thisis the way thatwe repaythe struggles
thatour parentswent throughto raiseus. It'snot my mother'sfaultthatI only have a
juniorhighschool education.Thosewere the old times.Andnow, in moderntimes,a
helicopterhascome to myvillage.Ineverimaginedthatwe would havesucha fantastic tiwah. I'msorryif I seem too proud.Butforgiveme, I am proudof what we have
done here. I thankGod, and I thankthe VillageGuardian.Thatthis tiwah went so
is the originaltruereligionof the Dayaks.
Over the past several years, more and more anthropologists have become involved in making ethnographic films. Like myself, some have also participated in creating television programs with ethnographic content. Our participation in projects
aimed at popular audiences poses risks for anthropologists as well as for the films'
subjects. Terence Turner has written that he first became attracted to television films
as a means of lending support through outreach to indigenous politics in Brazil. He
notes that one of the "pros"of such films is their potential to dispel politically damaging myths about the inevitable disappearance of indigenous peoples (1992:112).
Turnercautions, however, that documentary television remains problematic from an
anthropological point of view, given the conditions of its production as well as the
supposed limits of a mass audience's capacity to understand anthropological interpretations (1992:109). Furthermore,rarely do the anthropologists or the featured individuals have editorial control over the final product (Silverman 1997:40-41). Such
films may, therefore, as Annette Weiner points out, merely reproduce a dominant ideology "that has a long tradition in the public's response to representations of 'exotic'
people" (1992:103). In her article on a film "thatdid not get made," about Trobriand


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Islanders visiting Europe, Weiner urged anthropologists and filmmakers to consider

how representations of their own cultural identities are deeply intertwined with those
of "others"and to recognize that historical experiences of encounters have multiple
points of authorship, exchange, and control (1992:105).
In this regard, I would point out that neither Mantikei nor I were invited to help
edit Borneo: Beyond the Grave, nor were we led to expect to be consulted. Earlier,I
referredto my unspoken agreement with indigenous religionists not to pursue the issue of head taking with NGT and to Mantikei's insistence that participants in this tiwah disregard headhunting rumors. In recalling that pact and the circumstances of
making this film, I would suggest our complicity of silence was rooted in our recognition of NGT's ultimate power to assemble the images that they carried away and to
determine whether Petak Putih would be sensationalized as a haven for headhunters,
or, instead, exoticized in a manner that would be acceptable and even useful to villagers there. We could control only how much (or how little) NGT learned about
head taking. Weiner's (1992) observations concerning how the representation of diverse identities may affect the creation of anthropologically-inspired television shows
have helped me better to understand my own part in this enterprise. At differenttimes,
I found myself cast as a surrogate Ngaju, first by NGT and then by the Kaharinganactivists themselves. In different ways, both parties pressed me to mediate in matters
concerning the factuality or authenticity of our story. On the one hand, I faced a film
crew that sought to exploit my insider knowledge of the "facts"about headhunting,
which, although it may occur, is neither legal nor approved of in the KaharinganReligion. On the other, my Ngaju informants sought my help in promulgating an
"authentic"version of a ritual that they, in fact, had never before performed. In terms
reminiscent of Weiner, I would suggest it is importantfor researchers to explain how
they are implicated, personally and professionally, in the construction of representations that eventually find their way to television screens around the world, as
well as to video monitors in anthropology classes. I would encourage others who
have been involved in similar projects to share their reflections, especially in cases
where circumstances demanded that their role be something more than that of a talking head.
Turner has also argued that among the Kayapo of Brazil "the ability to objectify
themselves through the audiovisual media of the dominant culture went along with a
new self-conscious objectification of the nature of their own culture as an object of
political value and struggle" (1991:70). His insight into personal politics among indigenous people half a world away appears to me to hold true for some Ngaju as well.
I have suggested that by assuming an increasingly proactive stance with regardto the
portrayalof their religion, the Kaharingancouncil hopes to influence the course of local politics and development activities. It is clear that religious organizations, Christian as well as indigenous, have acted as interestgroups in southern Borneo's political
arena in the past, especially in the events leading to the establishment of the province.
Over time all of these organizations, in their attempts to influence political outcomes,
borrowed selectively from cultural resources to legitimate or delegitimate political
behaviors.8 It is important to note, however, that the meaning and the political value
of Ngaju traditions have now been complicated by the possibility of a media presence. In his address at the close of tiwah, for example, the headman hailed the new
relationship among hadat, Kaharingan, and media documentation-never before
were "souls going to heaven filmed." Forthe headman, the presence of the media had
coalesced and confirmedthe modernityas well as the authenticityof his parents'tiwah in a
way thatwas almost palpable-"in moderntimes a helicopter has come to our village ...

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[our success] shows that Kaharinganis the original, true religion of the Dayaks." He
was not alone in his enthusiasm. Before I left the field, another Katingan Riverfamily
tried hard to convince me to bring a film crew to their tiwah, scheduled for 1997.
They assured me that, unlike the one at Petak Putih, their tiwah would be "authentic,"
by which they meant it would be performed in the traditional Katinganstyle.
In this article, I have also shown that the relationships among religion, identity,
and political behavior in Central Kalimantanare complicated by economic circumstances. With regard to these circumstances, it is important to add that many of the
firstChristiansin the area were slaves whom missionaries purchased to save from sacrifice and to convert. As a result of subsequent educational advantages, Christiansare
better off today than their Kaharingancounterparts.Writing about Muslims and Christians elsewhere, scholars have suggested that national religious policies in Indonesia
have sharpened the citizenry's religious identities and deflected the construction of
class identities (Kipp 1993:99-102; Liddle 1996). Regional economic development is
now predictably at the forefront of debates surrounding Indonesia's reformation. Today some indigenous religionists predict that the time when "slaves own their masters" (a reference to the economic success of Christiandescendants of former slaves)
will end and that tourism is potentially a major income generator in this regard. "After
all," one council member said, "what will people come to Kalimantanto see, if not
orangutans and tiwah?" As I have suggested, the ability to objectify oneself is a point
of economic value for the Ngaju; by promoting tiwah, indigenous religionists hope to
attract both tourists and the infrastructuralsupport that the state has provided elsewhere (Picard 1997:182). In fact, in addition to soliciting my help, Mantikei and other
council members worked with the regency's office of tourism to publish a brochure,
replete with maps of air and sea routes to Petuk Putih from as far away as Singapore,
of Central Kalimantan'sfirst "promotional tiwah." The tourist presence, it was hoped,
would open many new avenues of communication about Kaharinganand encourage
even more people to visit Ngaju regions (see Schiller in press). Plans were afoot, too,
for how the visits of anticipated tourists would be managed. Mantikei had purchased
extra land in the vicinity of the permanent mortuary complex where he intended to
build a hostel. The hostel would feature a display of photographs taken during the film
shoot, and, when funds became available, Mantikei hoped to purchase a videocassette player so that the film could be shown there as well. Some local women were
planning to establish a handicraft cooperative that would sell locally made rattan
goods like hats, mats, and fans to tourists, and several hoped to open their homes to
tourists who could watch them produce their rattanwork.
It has been suggested that "religion's capital is frequently maximized when it is
not a capital religion" (Demerath 1991:21). In the next several years, it will be possible to observe whether this holds true in Central Kalimantan,how this may vary according to whether individuals or organizations are affiliated with world or ethnic religions, and how it will affect the construction of identity. The attempt to market
indigenous traditions in the tourist sector may lead, as some have suggested elsewhere, to ethnic rivalrywithin provincial boundaries (Adams 1997:156) or to greater
religious rivalryor, perhaps, as adherents of Kaharinganmake more explicit claims to
tradition, Christianswill follow suit. Appeals to traditional culture and ethnicity may
also lead to the rise of an ethnic civil religion. In any event, it is likely that the place of
indigenous traditionin contemporaryNgaju identitywill be the focus of continued local
attention for some time to come. Given local interest in promoting certain indigenous
rituals it is likely, too, that some representations of Ngaju tradition will remain more
difficult than others to sacrifice.


american ethnologist

Acknowledgments. The research on which much of this article is based was supported by
funds from National Geographic Television (1996). My initial research in Central Kalimantan
(1982-84) was supported by a Fulbright-HaysAward for Dissertation Research Abroad, a Wenner-Gren Foundation Grant-in-Aid,and grants from Wellesley College and Sigma-Xi Scientific
Society. Latertrips to the field were funded by the Association for Asian Studies (1991, 1994),
the Wenner-Gren Foundation (1991), and a North Carolina State University Faculty Development Fund Award (1995). I am grateful to Mantikei R. Hanyi and the villagers of Petak Putih for
their hospitality, as well as to Sri Utami, Adi Frin,and Acong and Yerson for their assistance. I
thank, too, Bruce Norfleet of National Geographic Television and the members of the National
Geographic Television crew who accompanied me to Kalimantan;Michael Rosenfeld, Amy
Bucher, Reuben Aaronson, Dennis Towns, and RichardConfalone, for enabling me to facilitate
my friends' request for help in filming their ritual. Itwas a pleasure to work with such a talented
group of professionals. Iwould like to express my appreciation to Ken George, LorraineAragon,
and four anonymous reviewers at American Ethnologistfor their constructive suggestions for revising earlier versions of this article. I revised the article while holding a Fulbright-HaysFaculty
Research Abroad Award (1999), sponsored by Mulawarman University in EastKalimantan.For
further information on the television film "Borneo: Beyond the Grave," see the National Geographic Society homepage at bts/reeltime/reel2.html.
1. To avoid confusion, Iwould note that although both are administrativelypartof the National Geographic Society, National Geographic ExplorerTelevision and National Geographic
Magazine are managed separately within the Society. Readers who would like to learn more
about the latter, in particularwith regardto editorial decisions concerning the representationsof
other cultures, should see Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins's Reading National Geographic
2. The specific laws to which I am referringare No.22/1999 (Undang-Undang Republik
Indonesia Nomor 22 Tahun 1999 Tentang Pemerintahan Daerah) and No. 25/1999 (UndangUndang Republik Indonesia Nomor 25 Tahun 1999 Tentang Perimbangan Keuangan Antara
Pemerintah Pusat dan Daerah). For a fuller discussion of the implications of these laws for indigenous peoples, see Sembiring 2000.
3. The content of the film itself, and local reactions to it, are beyond the scope of this article and will form the basis of a separate paper.
4. Resistance here includes both the refusal of some indigenous religionists to participate
in council-sponsored activities and internalthreatsto council stability. Inthis particularcase, after they learned that the tiwah would be held in the Kahayanstyle, some would-be participants
withdrew the names of their deceased kin from the list of souls scheduled for final treatment.
5. The director general later deemed impractical his decision to assign a council member
to accompany the crew.
6. David Turton poses a distinction between ethnographic films and television programs
of anthropological intereston which readers may find it useful to reflect. He suggests that to understand the objectives and relative success of the latter"they should be seen as products of the
culture of programme-making rather than of film making." Turton adds: "Programme-makers
see themselves as both communicators and entertainers, by which I mean storytellers. The skill
of the storyteller consists in giving us a new experience by taking us along a path we have followed many times before. While, in the strictsense, the story is assumed to be new to the viewer
and is expected to involve suspense and surprise, in the broad sense, that of narrativestructure,
it is and must be, so well known as to be taken for granted. We enjoy a story because we know
what to expect" (1992:14).
7. Eschatology was also an arena where outsiders' assumptions about Kaharingannotions
of souls led to early lines of questioningthat threatenedthe authenticrepresentationof participants'
understandings. The producers appreciated that the souls of the dead were believed to be present in the village throughout tiwah. But asking "how do the souls feel?" caused some villagers
to respond in exasperation. One man said, "I am sitting here holding bones. My father didn't
even talk about how he felt when he was alive."

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8. Thusculturalresourcescan serveas sourcesof positivepoliticalpowerforreligiousorganizations,especiallyethnic ones. Inthis regard,I would also note that, long beforeproduction began, Mantikeiand the council were alreadyveryexcitedat the prospectthatthis tiwah
would have a viewingaudienceof at least40 millionand of the possibilitythatthe show might
eventuallybecome availableforhomeviewing.
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accepted April 4, 2000
final version submitted April 20, 2000
Anne Schiller
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
CB 8107
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-8107