Headhunting and the Social Imagination in Southeast Asia

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This is the first book to bring together comparative material on headhunting in a number of Southeast Asian societies, to examine the cultural contexts in which such practices occurred, and to relate them to colonial history, violence, and ritual. This volume documents and analyzes headhunting practices and shows the persistence of headhunting as a symbol or trope. Ethnographers of seven regions (the Philippine highlands, Sarawak, Brunei, and South Borneo, and the Indonesian islands of Sulkawesi, Sumba, and Timor) share their experiences of living with former headhunters (including an eyewitness account of a headhunting feast), attending rituals, and collecting oral histories to understand the heritage of headhunting in context. In asking what meaning taking heads has assumed in the postcolonial era, they report on contemporary people who reenact headhunts, often with effigies or surrogates for the head itself. The essays trace the changes in the imagery of headhunting, explaining why contemporary indigenous peoples fear new predators in the form of government officials, Western missionaries, Japanese businessmen, and tourists. This inversion of traditional terrorism reimagines the violence of colonial conquest and postcolonial control as a new form of predation against those who were once headhunters themselves.
Publication Date: 
July 1, 1996