Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History, State University of New York (SUNY) / University at Buffalo

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 1998
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology & History, University of Michigan
Liquid Territory and the Place of 'Sea People': Storied Pasts and Constructed Spaces in the Straits of Tiworo, Indonesia

This dissertation project will investigate how the social position of Bajo "sea people" has changed in relation to transformations in the space of the sea. These transformations, from the precolonial period to the present, in both the uses of, and the conceptions of the space of sea, are linked to shifts in political systems. There are three components to the research design: ethnographic fieldwork investigating the use of space and discourses about it, Bajo storied expressions of the past in Tiworo, and the textual analysis of Buginese historical manuscripts that touch on Bajo-related matters. Theoretically, the research speaks to two bodies of literature: the social construction of space, and "indigenous" historiography. Topically the research is concerned with maritime issues and a history of the territorialization of the sea. Until 1905, the Buginese, a literate society, were the dominant maritime power in the region. Written and oral versions of Buginese narratives exist among contemporary Bajo communities. My research is concerned with the dissemination and understanding of these texts and narratives and their treatment as socio-historical objects. To imagine the trajectory of texts through a space suggests a link between spatial organization and technologies of rule that is different from the late colonial territorial logic of mapping. How do Bajo oral histories and contemporary spatial practices complicate a relatively continuous history of the territorialization of Southeast Asian seas and coasts? If Bajo people in Tiworo have occupied a subordinate position in relation to a Buginese version of a center-focused "mandala" polity, then my work will illuminate the nature of this subordination and the authority it comprehended, and how it changed with the transformation of the maritime world from a 39 loose network of entrepôts-sultanates to nation-states.