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Master poets, ritual masters

Master poets, ritual masters: The art of oral composition among the Rotenese of Eastern Indonesia OPEN ACCESS

JAMES J. FOX
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1d10h31
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    Master poets, ritual masters
    Book Description:

    This is a study in oral poetic composition. It examines how oral poets compose their recitations. Specifically, it is a study of the recitations of 17 separate master poets from the Island of Rote recorded over a period of 50 years. Each of these poets offers his version of what is culturally considered to be the ‘same’ ritual chant. These compositions are examined in detail and their oral formulae are carefully compared to one another. Professor James J. Fox is an anthropologist who carried out his doctoral field research on the Island of Rote in eastern Indonesia in 1965–66. In 1965, he began recording the oral traditions of the island and developed a close association with numerous oral poets on the island. After many subsequent visits, in 2006, he began a nine-year project that brought groups of oral poets to Bali for week-long recording sessions. Recitations gathered over a period of 50 years are the basis for this book.

    eISBN: 978-1-76046-006-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Language & Literature
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  1. Part I
    • This is a study of oral composition. Specifically, it is a study of the way in which oral poets on the island of Rote in eastern Indonesia compose recitations within a tradition of strict canonical parallelism. It is thus a study of particular poets, their specific compositions and the tradition in which they operate. The materials for this study have been gathered from more than a dozen master poets over nearly 45 years. Before it is possible to begin an analysis of their compositions, it is essential to provide some background to this study and the tradition of analysis within...

    • This chapter introducesSuti Solo do Bina Baneas a narrative text. It examines its internal structure and provides an exegesis on successive passages in it. The composition I have chosen for this purpose is the first version of this text that I recorded in 1965 from the poet ‘Old Meno’ (Meno Tua), Stefanus Adulanu. It is a composition of some 299 lines. Of all of the versions ofSuti Solo do Bina Banethat I have recorded, this version remains the longest and, in my view, the most comprehensive version that I have gathered. In retrospect, I believe there...

    • The second version in this successive investigation of the chantSuti Solo do Bina Banewas recited by the poet Eli Pellondou of clan Dou Danga, who was more commonly known by the name Seu Ba’i. In 1966, when I recorded this composition, Seu Ba’i was in his late 40s. He lived in the settlement of Namo Dale, not far from Old Meno’s residence in Ola Lain, and I would often meet him at Old Meno’s house, where he, too, was learning from the old man. Seu Ba’i belonged to a cluster of individuals in Namo Dale—including two of...

    • In 1972, after an absence of more than six years, I returned to Rote to continue my research. As soon as I arrived back on the island, I began to record new ritual language recitations. During the period of my first fieldwork, I had gathered three versions of the chantSuti Solo do Bina Bane.¹ On my return, I decided that I would try to gather additional recitations for comparative purposes.

      By 1972, Old Meno had died. Another of the great master poets of Termanu, Stefanus Amalo, had also died. Although I had recorded other chants from him, I had...

    • Some years later, in 1977, when I visited Rote with the filmmaker Tim Asch, I asked Pe’u Malesi to recite a number ofbiniincluding that ofSuti Solo do Bina Bane. To my surprise, his recitation took a different turn. This time, instead of a mortuary rendition of the chant, Malesi set out to reciteSuti Solo do Bina Baneas an origin chant. This version was intended as a revelation.

      Malesi’s performance was not, however, straightforward. He initially hesitated on how to present the chant. He began with a comment: ‘Suti Solo do Bina Bane: our recitation comes...

    • In 1988 I made a brief visit to Rote. I had been given a cabin on board theAsmara Lomba-Lomba, an Indonesian-owned tourist vessel that visited the islands between Bali and Kupang, in exchange for providing lectures on the culture of eastern Indonesia. TheAsmara Lomba-Lombaincluded Rote on its tour and put into the port town of Ba’a for a short stay. As it happened, at the time, there were several men from Termanu in Ba’a who had come to buy supplies. Among them was the formerWakil Manekof Termanu, Frans Biredoko, whom I had known since 1965....

    • My first meeting with Mikael Pellondou in 1988 was brief and quite unexpected. My request for a recitation ofSuti Solo do Bina Banemay have taken him by surprise but he hardly hesitated. His response was immediate. He took little time to reflect or prepare himself before beginning his recitation.

      Five years later, on another visit to Rote, I was able to meet Mikael again and once more ask him to reciteSuti Solo do Bina Banefor me. My second request prompted a similar, immediate response. Unlike Malesi, whose second recitation is significantly different from his first, Mikael’s...

    • In 2006, I began a renewed effort to study ritual language by setting out to record the finest chanters—the master poets—from all the dialect areas of Rote. For more than 40 years, I had recorded chanters, mainly from the domains of Termanu and Thie. Most of these recordings were made when the occasion arose. Although I sought out particular chanters and often made requests of them, most chanters preferred to choose the occasion and the setting for their recitation and most recitations were those of their own choosing. On numerous occasions, I would ask about a specific chant...

    • In 2010, some 45 years after I began my research on Rote, much had changed in Termanu. Most of the poets whose compositions I recorded had died and what remained of their poetry were memories and my recordings. One poet, Esau Markus Pono, whom I first met in 1965, spanned this period of change and was, at the time, regarded as Termanu’s leading chanter. In 1965, ‘Pak Pono’ lived in the coastal settlement of Hala, a walk of some 40 minutes from the cluster of settlements, Sosa-Dale, Ufa-Len and Kola, where my wife and I were located. As a young...

    • This is a version ofSuti Solo do Bina Banethat belongs within the speech community of Termanu. It is entirely in the dialect of Termanu, but as a composition, it is not grounded in Termanu’s traditional ritual knowledge. It is a beautiful, personal composition by an unusual poet, Zet Apulugi.

      Zet Apulugi, as his name indicates, is a Ndaonese, the descendant of settlers from the tiny island at the western end of Rote.¹ I first encountered Zet in 1973 as a young man who was then living in the Mok Dae, a settlement in the village of Ono Tali....

    • Termanu was among the first Rotenese domains given recognition by the Dutch East India Company in 1662 and, for most of the past 350 years, it has enjoyed a considerable degree of political autonomy under a continuing ruling dynasty. For centuries, even after the beginnings of Christianity in the domain, Termanu has been a single ‘ritual’ community with its organised succession of ‘origin ceremonies’. This continuity in social and ritual life underlies a sharing of poetic traditions that are both rich and varied.

      On an island with considerable linguistic diversity, Termanu is a single-speech community. The various versions ofSuti...

  2. Part II
    • Rote is a relatively small island located off the south-western tip of West Timor. The island measures roughly 83 km in length from south-west to north-east, while, at its widest point, it is 25 km across. It covers an area of approximately 1,670 sq km, which includes a number of tiny islands scattered along its coast. Rote is a low-lying island with stretches of savannah and occasional limestone hills on its southern flank.

      Despite its diminutive size, Rote is remarkably diverse—linguistically, socially and in its political history. In the mid-eighteenth century, after a number of devastating reprisals for opposing...

    • I recorded this version ofSuti Solo do Bina Banefrom the poet Alex Mada from Landu during the second recording session on Bali in October 2007. Although it was hard to gauge his age, Alex Mada is, I suspect, the oldest Rotenese poet whom I have recorded—probably even older than Old Meno. Small and sprightly and without his teeth, he spoke with a quiet, clear voice. His trip from Landu on Rote to Sanur in Bali was for him, an extraordinary adventure. He confided to me that flying above the clouds in the plane that brought him to...

    • This version ofSuti Solo do Bina Banewas recorded from the master poet Ande Ruy during the first recording session held in Bali in July 2006. I had travelled earlier in the year to Rote to meet Ande and to persuade him to join the first group invited to Bali. He agreed and joined all subsequent recording sessions.

      When we met, Ande Ruy’s reputation was already considerable. He is the best-known chanter (manahelo) on Rote. A farmer in his ordinary day-today activities in the domain of Ringgou, Ande is a natural and enthusiastic performer: energetic, talented and versatile. He...

    • When I set out to bring poets from different parts of Rote to Bali for recording in 2006, I was entirely uncertain of whom I would be able to attract and, more importantly, what the abilities of these various poets would be. Initially I had to rely on two master poets who were critical to the project from the beginning: Esau Pono from Termanu and Ande Ruy from Ringgou. In turn, they relied on what they could learn about the reputations of other poets in different domains. I insisted that we endeavour to invite poets from all the domains—or...

    • I met the blind poet Laazar Manoeain only once, in 1966. Most of the research during my first fieldwork in 1965–66 was carried out in the domain of Termanu and in Korbaffo to the east of Termanu. Old Manoeain lived in the domain of Ba’a to the west of Termanu. During my time on the island, I was frequently told of his great fluency as a poet and also of his power as a preacher. As was not uncommon at this time and in the past, Manoeain’s reputation was based on his knowledge and abilities to recite traditional compositions...

    • This recitation, which I recorded in 1973, is remarkable not just as another version ofSuti Solo do Bina Banebut also as a composition that locates the initial cause of the shells’ distress in the context of one of the most important episodes in the origin narratives of the Rotenese. This episode, which serves to introduce the recitation, recounts the attack of the Sun and Moon, Ledo Horo and Bula Kai, and their children on the Lords of the Ocean and Sea, Manetua Sain and Danga Lena Liun. In the course of this attack, Suti Solo and Bina Bane...

    • I recorded this version ofSuti Solo do Bina Banefrom Jonas Mooy on 25 October 2011. The recording was done during the seventh recording session in Bali of the Master Poets Project. This was the second session of the project that Jonas Mooy attended. Earlier, in 2009, Pak Mooy, as I usually referred to him, had come to Bali with a group of four poets from Thie, three of whom were capable poets. Of these poets, one died before he could be invited back to Bali for more recording. In the end, it was Pak Mooy who was able...

    • For the third recording session in Bali—in the last week of October 2008—I was able to invite several poets from Dengka. Two of these poets, Simon Lesik and Frans Lau, proved to be true master poets, but were remarkably different in their approach to recitation.

      Simon Lesik was a simple farmer and herdsman but a firm upholder of Rotenese traditions who seems not to have fully identified himself as a Christian. He was stunningly fluent and recited rapidly with personal authority and confidence. He completely dominated the recording session on Bali with his various recitations.

      Simon Lesik’s recitations...

    • Frans Lau was the older of the two master poets from Dengka who joined the recording session in October 2008. He was well-educated, a former schoolteacher and a civil servant who had spent much of his life involved in local political affairs. Compared with most of the other poets, Frans Lau had experience beyond the island of Rote. He had a host of connections established through his involvement with the Golkar Party and had passed these connections on to his son, who was a local representative of the party at the national level. When he joined the group in 2008,...

    • Thanks to the poet Ande Ruy, who joined the first recording session, invitations for subsequent sessions were initially extended to poets from eastern Rote, particularly Landu and Bilba. It proved relatively easy to find poets from these domains. Termanu was also represented from the beginning by Esau Pono and by other poets he brought to join the group. The goal from the outset, however, was to attract master poets from as many different dialect areas as possible. The third recording session was able to attract poets from Dengka and the fourth session had poets from Thie. It was harder, however,...

    • As a study of oral formulaic compositions, the first half of this book has focused on 10 versions ofSuti Solo do Bina Banefrom the domain of Termanu, examining in some detail the semantics of oral composition in a single speech community. The second half has focused on another 10 versions of this chant, from seven different domains of the island: Landu, Ringgou, Bilba, Ba’a, Thie, Dengka and Oenale. It has considered both the specific ritual semantics of these various speech communities and the general patterning of parallelism that allows communication across these speech communities. Since the second half...

  3. Postscript (pp. 417-418)

    This now concludes a project I began in 1965 but does not conclude my research on Rotenese ritual poetry.Master Poets, Ritual Mastersmerely marks a stage in this continuing work.

    Suti Solo do Bina Bane, and its variantSuti Saik do Bina Liuk, is one ritual composition in the considerable Rotenese chant repertoire. It is considered an ‘origin chant’, but it has also been used as a mortuary chant. The knowledge of this composition throughout the island afforded me a superb opportunity to follow a lead in gathering variants of this chant and then to proceed to examine them,...