The Poetry of Taking Power in Toraja Indonesia

Stanislaus Sandarupa


This article demonstrates how Torajan badong ancestral ritual speech parallelism is put into practice,  and how this process is subject not only to regularities but also to happenstance, potentially of the most unpredictable sort. The value of a sign in ritual speech parallelism is fixed by its contrasts to other signs. Its use, however, is saturated with pragmatic value according to the subject’s interests.  As a result, despite the fact that this ritual is highly prescribed, the possible outcomes are unpredictable because its use may put the conventional senses of signs at multiple risks, contingency and a site of contestation.

The writer applies a set of linguistic tools in novel ways to analyze not just the freshly composed poetic text but also what the performers do with the text to achieve their sociopolitical goals and is influenced by works in a) the ethnography of speaking in particular the display of competence in performance b) conversation and discourse analysis (Coulthard 1985; Levinson 1983), c) literary studies (Bakhtin 1981) and analysis of poetic forms such as multiple layers of parallelism, repetition, and figurative speech (Jakobson 1960), d) semiotic analysis of indexicality that functions to connect text with context (for examples, Peirce 1944, Silverstein 1976). The first three show us the pattern of ritual speech parallelism in use, and the semiotic analysis provides the tool to connect this pattern with other aspect of Torajan culture i.e. poetics and social form, poetics and politics.

Here the analysis of the performance presents two important facts about badong. The first seeks to connect some selected features of textual parallelism and a form of social life as the general goal of successful performance. The second is to focus on the more dynamic aspect of the ritual performance, the more elemental forces that operate on a deeper level, that renders the badong fragile and may cause failure.  It focuses on such risk and analysis is, therefore, paid to how social actors are involved in such interaction using interactive parallelism to advance their socio-political and cultural goals. Badong ritual becomes the site of power contestation.

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