L’HOMME | 103-124
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Half-Men, Tricksters and Dismembered Maidens
[ *] I thank the convenors of the colloquium « Les Moitiés d’Homme » (Journées du laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale, Paris, 1999), Prof. Françoise Heritier and Dr Stephen Headley, for their critical comments on an earlier version of this text.
[ 1] Jensen’s fieldwork lasted only four months, from 1st April to 31th July 1937 (Jensen 1939: VII).
[ 2] Throughout this text I use the ethnographic present to describe various aspects of the Wemale worldview. B. Grzimek (1991) in his study on social change in Western Seram, however, has pointed out that the Wemale have abandoned almost all of their traditional rituals and representations due to the influence of Ambonese Christianity. Although such a statement may appear somewhat premature, judged by the personal information I was able to obtain from the late Indonesian anthropologist Urbanus Tongli who undertook ethnographic research among the Wemale in the second half of the 1980s, one should be aware of the fact that some of the social institutions, rituals and cosmological representations described by Jensen have been subject to wide-reaching changes and transformations. Unfortunately, B. Grzimek does not analyze the way in which the traditional rituals and representations were replaced – and thereby transformed – by the more recent Christian ideological framework (Platenkamp 1993).
[ 3] Among the neighbouring patrilineal Alune Chinese plates and other « foreign » objects serve(d) as important items of the bride-prize. The matrilineal Wemale, however, form an exception from this rule, since after marriage men became a member of the matrilineal clan (nuru) of their wives.
Therefore no gifts are transferred from the wife-taker to the wife-giver. Among the Wemale such objects were kept, however, as inalienable possessions in the ancestral houses of the mataluma into which the nuru were further segmented (Jensen 1948a, Grzimek 1991). It is likely that these objects entered the interior of Seram as early as the 13th century through various intermediate links with the spice trade (Andaya 1993).
[ 4] The Wemale Half-Man myth thus provides for an example which shows that the image of unilaterality is not necessarily linked with ideas about the differences between the sexes, particularly with the « superiority of male procreation » (Héritier 1996). The right side does not derive from one of the sexes alone, but from both parents, i.e. from the domain of the social. The Wemale Half-Man is incomplete not because he is lacking a male but a cosmic component. In this context one should mention an additional information about the Wemale birth ritual that Jensen provides in his ethnography, without drawing any connection to the myth of the Half-Man in this respect. When a child has been born, the father has to pluck a coconut which is cut into two halves. Afterwards the flesh of the coconut is taken out and mixed with water. In this liquid the child is ritually bathed whereupon the two parts of the coconut are joined together again and hung in the house (Jensen 1948a: 127). If one would assume that the coconut represents the child, it is evident that the child – being imaged by the two halves of the coconut – is completed in the course of the ritual. This is obviously achieved by bathing the body in the liquid. One might even argue that every human being is born as a half-body which has to be completed in the process of the ritual of birth.
[ 5] The motif of cutting Hainuwele’s body into two parts derives from a second version of the myth of Hainuwele. In the first version it is only stated that her body is fragmented into parts without specifying their number (Jensen 1939: 66).
[ 6] In former times the societies of the central and southern Moluccas belonged either to the siwa or the lima fraction. The siwa people were associated with the numerical index nine, the lima people with the number five. On Seram these two numerical indexes were prefixed by the word pata (« trunk », « tribe »), whereas in Ambon and the South Moluccan islands of Aru, Kei, and Banda the notions of siwa and lima were connected with the word uli (uli siwa, uli lima), or uri. During the time of Jensen’s fieldwork the majority of the Wemale villages belonged to the patasiwa fraction (Jensen 1948a: 18). A sophisticated analysis of the siwa-lima system has been put foreward by Valerio Valeri (1989).
[ 7] See n. 3 : pp. 110-111.
[ 8] Such an interpretation would fit relatively well with the information that Adolf Jensen provides on the Wemale concept of the « soul ». As he stated, the Wemale conceive of the person as being constituted of two « souls » which are denoted as Walui and Tunui (1948a: 156). According to his assessment, however, the meaning of these terms is far from being clear, since the Wemale themselves could not clearly differentiate between the two « souls » and were unable to put forward reasonable statements concerning the soul’s fate after death. It is more likely, however, that Adolf Jensen himself was unable to obtain reliable data on this issue due to the shortness of his fieldwork. At least we are informed that one of the souls travels to the mountain of Salahua which is associated with the « direction of the sea », whereas the other soul remains in the vicinity of the village (ibid. : 166-167). Both « souls » may thus be connected with the right (social) and the left (cosmic) half of the body and the person.