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Shamanism, Tourism, and Secrecy: Revelation and Concealment in Siberut, Western Indonesia

Colloquium with Christian S. Hammons, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California

Wednesday, March 07, 2012
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

This paper explains why backpacker tourists in Indonesia are so interested in indigenous religion and especially in shamans.  It tracks around the usual explanations in favor of the reverse anthropology or indigenous analysis of the people and shamans whom the tourists visit, in this case, the Sakaliou clan on the island of Siberut, the largest of the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra.  According to Sakaliou, tourists seem to be looking for something they have lost, a kind of secret knowledge that they, Sakaliou, possess - or must possess, since they themselves are not exactly sure what it is.  Tourists, they say, believe that this secret knowledge is possessed by the shaman, whose secrets are different from other kinds of secrets.  Unlike like a sorcerer, for example, a shaman possesses a secret, but never performs in secret.  He always performs in front of others, exposing himself to the skeptical eye of observers and to charges of fraud.  He sometimes performs tricks, but this does not diminish his power.  On the contrary, as Taussig argues, the skilled revelation of skilled concealment, usually involving bodies and objects, only intensifies the sense that he possesses a secret knowledge that ordinary people do not.  It is this secret knowledge, indicated by the skilled revelation of skilled concealment, for which tourists seem to be searching among Sakaliou and their shamans.

Christian S. Hammons is Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California.  His ethnographic research focuses on the upriver, forest-dwelling people on the island of Siberut in the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.  His interests range from indigenous religion and traditional forms of exchange to colonialism, nationalism, tourism, development, and globalization.  He is also on the faculty of the graduate program in Visual Anthropology.  He is a Boren Fellow and a Fulbright Fellow, has consulted with UNESCO, and was a project manager for USC's emergency relief and reconstruction program after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  In addition to publishing his ethnographic research, he is currently working on several projects in public anthropology, including a feature-length documentary film about the encounter between indigenous people and foreign cultural tourists, a bi-national field program to provide ethnographic research for sustainable development, and the use of indigenous media to build a public sphere in the Mentawai Islands.

Cost : Free and open to the public.


Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Asian Languages & Cultures, Center for the Study of Religion

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