Potent Landscapes: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia
240pp. April 2013
Potent Landscapes: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia
Author: Allerton, Catherine;
The Manggarai people of eastern Indonesia believe their land can talk, that its appetite demands sacrificial ritual, and that its energy can kill as well as nurture. They tell their children to avoid certain streams and fields and view unusual environmental events as omens of misfortune. Yet, far from being preoccupied with the dangers of this animate landscape, Manggarai people strive to make places and pathways “lively,” re-traveling routes between houses and villages and highlighting the advantages of mobility. Through everyday and ritual activities that emphasize “liveliness,” the land gains a further potency: the power to evoke memories of birth, death, and marriage, to influence human health and fertility.

Potent Landscapes is an ethnographic investigation of the power of the landscape and the implications of that power for human needs, behavior, and emotions. Based on two years of fieldwork in rural Flores, the book situates Manggarai place-making and mobility within the larger contexts of diverse human-environment interactions as well as adat revival in postcolonial Indonesia. Although it focuses on social life in one region of eastern Indonesia, the work engages with broader theoretical discussions of landscape, travel, materiality, cultural politics, kinship, and animism.

Written in a clear and accessible style, Potent Landscapes will appeal to students and specialists of Southeast Asia as well as to those interested in the comparative anthropological study of place and environment. The analysis moves out from rooms and houses in a series of concentric circles, outlining at each successive point the broader implications of Manggarai place- and path-making. This gradual expansion of scale allows the work to build a subtle, cumulative picture of the potent landscapes within which Manggarai people raise families, forge alliances, plant crops, build houses, and engage with local state actors. Landscapes are significant, the author argues, not only as sacred or mythic realms, or as contexts for the imposition of colonial space; they are also significant as vernacular contexts shaped by daily practices. The book analyzes the power of a collective landscape shaped both by the Indonesian state’s development policies and by responses to religious change.

20 illus.

Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory Series
"A very well organized, ethnographically rich, and theoretically important study shows how the Manggarai people construct, occupy, and socially and ritually interact with space in a concentric pattern of emplacement and mobility between rooms, houses, villages, and trans-village landscapes." —Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

"The seeming familiarity of Indonesian village life in the monograph is also its strength, as it offers to us way to reconfigure our ethnographies in relation to the varied themes it focuses on: movement, memory, sensoriality, and the mundane everyday act of living. The ethnography provides ideas for future research and is very easy to work with comparatively.... [T]he book provides us with new connecting pathways of comparison between Western and Eastern Indonesian cultural village life.... [T]his book is a pleasure to read and would be of interest to Indonesian Studies, village community studies in Southeast Asia, and general anthropology with its sub-disciplinary fields of kinship, household and environment studies." —Nathan Porath, Center for Ethnic Studies and Development, Chiang Mai University

"Potent Landscapes presents us with a charming account of the meaning of place and mobility in southern Manggarai on Flores (eastern Indonesia)."—Jan De Wolf, Utrecht University

"The book is a breath of fresh air in the context of a human rights literature dominated by unrealistic and optimistic assessments of human rights actions and campaigns which fail to acknowledge that human rights movements have changed little despite their institutionalisation, legitimation and international funding.... The most important contribution of the book is that, although it talks about Palestine, it recognizes a general pattern of development in contemporary national human rights movements."—Adriadna Estevez, National Autonomous University of Mexico“Potent Landscapes is a brilliant new work that breaks fresh ground in the anthropological study of place and culture in Southeast Asia. Bringing a phenomenological interest in ‘dwelling’ to her ethnographic portrayal of everyday life in the southern Manggarai settlements of West Flores, Indonesia, Catherine Allerton takes readers on a revealing and richly rewarding journey into the ‘shape of the land’ there. Her book offers a wealth of ideas and comparative material for scholars working in other parts of Asia and the Pacific, and an accessible account sure to fascinate and inspire students of anthropology.” —Kenneth M. George, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Author: Allerton, Catherine;
Catherine Allerton is lecturer in anthropology at the London School of Economics.
Read the Introduction (PDF).

Introduction: The Shape of the Land  
1. Rooms: A Place for Souls 
2. The Permeable House 
3. Paths of Marriage 
4. Earth, Stone, Water: The Animate Landscape 
5. Drum Houses and Village Resettlement 
6. Roots and Mobility