Johann Angerler (Independent Researcher associated with the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Carribean Studies): "Reflections on the Relationship between Nature and Political Order in Indonesian Storytelling"
Tuesday, 23. May 2017, 4 PM
ÖAW, Institut für Sozialanthropologie
A-1020 Wien, Hollandstrasse 11-13
Traditional Indonesian storytelling is more than entertainment. Frequently stories convey religious content and
sometimes contain information relevant to an understanding of the political order. Explaining the spiritual and
political order of the world can be regarded as one of the main functions of storytelling in general. In my paper,
I want to restrict myself to exploring the politically legitimizing relationship with wild nature (jungle, mountain
tops, sea, rivers, lakes) found in (West) Indonesian narratives. This relationship to nature can be described both
positively and negatively in the stories. More egalitarian-oriented, traditional (or tribal) Indonesian societies
tend to describe their relationship with wild nature and its spiritual representatives as positive, albeit dangerous.
A ritually well-established and well-maintained relationship with the spiritual representatives of wild nature
helps to legitimize some hierarchical structures in an egalitarian society, often needed to achieve cooperative
goals, and also helps to keep the same hierarchical structures in check, limiting their authority to their original
task. Stories associated with this relationship can function as unofficial constitutions of the political order in
such societies. In the past, dynastic societies (kingdoms) have sometimes produced stories in which political
legitimacy is derived from subjugating the representatives of wild nature, frequently described as wild beasts
or monsters. Compared to the first category, stories of this type seem to have an inverse function: they remove
the spiritual necessity to enter into a positive relationship with wild nature and legitimize the supreme power
of the king. Nevertheless, stories about a positive relationship with the spiritual representatives of wild nature
as a legitimizing institution for political positions seem deeply rooted in Austronesian tradition and some of
them have survived in both types of societies and even have some relevance in the context of modern politics.