Postcards from the Field

--Field Work / Field Talk--

To: The Readers of 21COE Project Web Site stamp

Rice harvest in May 1983. In those days, partly because I was there, people often talked about head hunters during the rice harvest.
I first visited central Flores in eastern Indonesia where I have been doing fieldwork for the last twenty years or so, at the end of April 1983. On that first visit, I thought I would need at least two years, and went there determined to make a success of my field research. It wasn't that I had to complete my Ph.D. dissertation within a limited time after the visit. In those days, postgraduate students were under no great pressure to complete their dissertations immediately. What urged me on was an acute realization that preparation for long-term fieldwork would cause my family a considerable sacrifice. At that time, the yen was far and away weaker than it is now, and I thought I poured everything I owned into my research and (though such turned out not to be the case) that there would be no road back.

When I first arrived in my fieldwork area, it was the end of the rainy season and the rice harvest was about to get underway. In central Flores at that time, there had grown up, for some reason, a fear that foreign head hunters had come to the island from across the sea. This was nothing more than a rumor: a story that a headless corpse had been found was spreading from village to village, making people tremble with fear and anxiety. Fortunately or unfortunately, the finding of a corpse was something hitherto unheard-of.

For any fieldwork to succeed, it is necessary above all to establish feelings of trust and friendship among the people of the area in which one is working. Unfortunately, I was viewed as a foreigner likely to be hunting for heads, and was therefore seen as nothing other than an object of fear. To my great mortification, no sooner did I appear at the entrance to a village than women and children cried in fear and fled. What is more, even the men were deeply apprehensive and suspicious of my intention and deed, and were not much help so far as my research was concerned. Moreover whenever I asked people for directions, they, especially women, would throw away whatever they were carrying and run away from me, so that it was impossible for me even to walk freely from village to village. Try as I might to raise my status above that of a head hunter, I met with almost no success. I fell into a dark mood, and irritated and depressed, I whiled away my time in idle pursuits.

From: SUGISHIMA Takashi (Division of Southeast Asian Area Studies)
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