Comparative View to the Concept Precendence of Eastern Indonesia

Lintje H. Pellu (Universitas Kristen Artha Wacana Kupang)


For the last three decades Prof James J. Fox from The Australian National University and several of his students has elaborated the importance of understanding differential status of people as expressed by the people themselves within a single community. These studies were particularly focus on a large group of societies called Austronesian speaking people. These groups of people dispersed from the origin place of south Philippine or even as far as Taiwan to the west up to Madagascar to the south up to New Zealand and to the east up to Micronesia. The ethnographic tool of analysis used by the so-called ‘Canberrean based
anthropologists’ for example Lewis (1982), Traube (1986), McWilliam (1989), Graham (1991), Vischer (1992), are based on the notion of precedence, a concept that has been advocated by Prof Fox in many of his papers (Fox1988, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995). This concept aimed to understand different asymmetrical terms used by people to describe different rank, order or status of the sub-groups in a society. In many cases, the differential status is expressed in botanical terms such as ‘root- abut and trunk- hun’ (Therik 2004), trunk- uf and tip tunaf (MCWilliam..2002), pu’u for Ngada (Molnar 2000) or ‘epu’ in  Kedang and ‘puen’ in Lamaholot. Pu’u, puen and puken means trunk (Barnes, 1974). As elaborated in many ethnographies in the region in Eastern Indonesia (such as Rote in Fox 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994, also Tana Wai Brama by Lewis 1982, Mambai by Traube 1977), there are various ways of explaining the asymmetrical relations among people based on the order of birth (younger/elder), gender (male/female), orientation  (sunrise/sunset) and geographical location (centre/periphery).

In order to elaborate more on this topic, I will use anthropological study of people in Belu, Rote (Landu), Tana Ai of Central Flores and Tanimbar to provide ethnografic evidance dealing with this notion of  precedence.

Keywords: notion of precedence, comparative studies, eastern Indonesia