Across the Pacific and Indonesia, the relationship between the ‘triangle’ of custom, religion and the state is a central feature of how many lifeworlds are organised. While specific relations between these three domains vary across settings and eras, the ‘triangle’ concept emphasises that each category and its activities can only be understood in relation to the others. In this paper, I examine how villagers in the Asmat area of Indonesian Papua reckon with this problematic by negotiating the competing demands of ancestral custom, missionary Catholicism, and the Indonesian state, which they conceptualise as three ‘hearths’ around which people gather. Villagers attempt to control the perturbing presence of Catholicism and the state by encompassing them within the timespace of ritual feasting, hoping to reshape these introduced orders such that they harmonise within intra-Asmat organisational principles. These institutions, however, are not Asmat-owned, and to varying degrees resist being treated as ‘hearths’, destabilising Asmat efforts to organise ancestral ritual, church and state as balanced orders of time and space. This case illustrates a broader pattern that relations between custom, religion, and the state are founded in the mismatch between their reflexive models for organising the overall ‘triangle’, and how this interethnic politics becomes built into local kinship and ritual life.

About the Presenter

Tom Powell Davies is a recent PhD graduate in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, and the managing editor of Oceania. He has conducted two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Asmat, Indonesian Papua, studying the relationship between customary ritual, Catholicism and the state from the point of view of the categories of time and space. In addition, he has conducted fieldwork in indigenous and western museums, and curated exhibitions and research collections for several ethnographic museums in the UK, Netherlands, and Indonesia

About Anthropology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Anthropology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of anthropological research and ideas among UQ scholars and invited researchers. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment.


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