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On Losing and Getting a Head: Warfare, Exchange, and Alliance in a Changing Sumba, 1888-1988

Janet Hoskins
American Ethnologist
Vol. 16, No. 3 (Aug., 1989), pp. 419-440
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/645266
Page Count: 22
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
On Losing and Getting a Head: Warfare, Exchange, and Alliance in a Changing Sumba, 1888-1988
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Abstract

The taking of bloody heads in vengeance raids on neighboring peoples defined the parameters of leadership and political relations on the Eastern Indonesian island of Sumba a century ago. After pacification in the 1920s, exchange values of fierceness, military skill, and violent conquest were transformed into modern ones of rivalrous diplomacy, feasting, and alliance. Yoseph Malo, a prominent figure in these transformations, decided to negotiate with his former enemies for the return of his father's head. Details of this negotiation bring into question the relations between systems of headhunting and alliance, the status of exchange as a transformative activity, and the analytical definition of persons and objects, gifts and commodities. The biography of an important figure in Sumbanese history is linked to the "biography" of a severed head, as well as the "life histories" of persons and objects on which he bestowed ritual names. Through a reevaluation of the role of exchange in determining value, a new perspective is suggested on how persons and things change their identities as they move through time. [history, exchange theory, headhunting, alliance, Eastern Indonesia]

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