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Whether they do or not depends on the adequacy of their competence as regards the manipulation of actual material or symbolic structures that are socially valued. In other words: We must accept that certain types of cultural competence — no matter how highly valued they may be in themselves — may be totally irrelevant as far as power or domination is concerned.

But as Bloch has argued this is an outcome of confusing cognition with ideology. The above remarks are prompted by my problems to communicate with the Lom about those aspects of their life that I considered absolutely vital to their history and continued existence as a distinguishable group.

Whenever I approached matters I hoped would cast some light on the way the Lom view the world, themselves, and their relation to other groups I seemed to get nowhere. Initially for a much longer period than I like to recollect, actually I was puzzled by this. To reiterate, the Lom comprise a mere total of some individuals, including infants. Before and during fieldwork I thought probably naïvely, as I would think today that such a small and possibly pressured society would be collectively — and verbally, when questioned — conscious of its place in cosmos, its historical or mythical origins, its relations to nature, animals, and human neighbours.


Geertz, after all, has assured us that culture is a 'collective creation'. More than anything I was certain that the Lom, again collectively, would give a fair amount of consideration to the fact that they are the only non-Islamic Malay-speaking group remaining on Bangka, perhaps within the vast area including Belitung, the Lingga archipelago and the islands off the Sumatran east coast.

My initial puzzled disappointment when I first began broaching the subject was soon to turn into dismay. Almost all prospective informants i. The invariable answer I got to my probes was "nta:" "I don't know" , or, when I asked about a cultural specific I had got wind of, "la: ilang" "it doesn't exist anymore".

For a long time I blamed myself for this and thought that there had to be inroads I had overlooked, that I had inadvertently offended someone and word had got around warning people not to talk to me about 'important matters', that I had blatantly disqualified myself by having proved my incorrigible stupidity, etc.

But I finally concluded that the Lom rarely talk about these issues and that they actually spent more time talking to me about them in their guarded ways than they did between themselves.

I still have not totally convinced myself that my hunch for an explanation for their taciturnity is correct. In spite of this I submit, however tentatively, that most Lom have a somewhat vague knowledge of their own culture and that they fear, also somewhat vaguely, repercussions if they give inaccurate accounts of it. But I still harbour remnants of a nagging feeling that they may communicate about what I take to be 'important matters' in passing and metaphorical allusions undetected my me for, among others, linguistic reasons.

The above is simply a plea for anthropology as a humble and continuing quest for the substantive variation of human cultures rather than an academic laboratory exercise in the pursuit of order, cerebral or otherwise. I am aware of recent academic trends postulating that ethnographies are false creations by virtue of their existence and that the only way to approach Tyler for a bafflingly verbose version of this view.

While these aspirations may be laudable in the most general sense possible there are, as I see it, at least two considerations that can be made as to why we ought to proceed with caution along these lines. First, I have not yet understood how we are to determine whose and what kind of mind perhaps that of a Norwegian anthropologist in his thirties? I should rather rely on conventional language for which there are syntactical and other rules we can resort to, if need arises as a means to get meaning across than on evocative metaphors the rules for which must be fuzzy, to say the least constructed by someone I don't know and who doesn't know me.

Secondly, I fail to see how the 'writing culture' mode of presentation at least in the form advocated by Tyler can contribute to the body of knowledge of cultures accumulated in anthropology; to me, social anthropology is a documentary and comparative discipline. Comparison across cultural boundaries is inherently difficult and problematical in its own right, but it would become impossible were we to take the advice of the post-modernists.

What follows, then, is fairly traditionally 'boxed' and straightforward, although it is all as they say interconnected. Chapter two situates the Lom as an ethnic minority. Chapter three is the attempt I referred to above to explain as much as possible about the cosmological ideas of the Lom. Chapter four is an exploration of the rules that inform behaviour. Chapter five is an account of the rites performed at birth and male genital mutilation.


In chapter six I describe the economically salient activities of the Lom, most thoroughly the agricultural ones, discuss whether or not the Lom have a multicentric economy and if such an economy can be said to exist at all. Chapter seven is an account of Lom mortuary rites. Chapter eight is on relationships: affinal and consanguineal ones, and if the reader up to this point has received the impression that Lom society is amorphous and somewhat deficient as far as formal organisation goes this impression is likely to give way as the Lom rules on incest unfold.

Chapter two — Ethnic relations In the previous chapter I briefly situated the Lom spatially and historically. The aim of the present chapter is to arrive at a clearer view of how the Lom are to be conceptualised in a social context.

More specifically, to investigate to what degree they can be said to constitute an ethnic group.


Largely, this is a question that can only be answered after a review of the actual empirical setting on Bangka, constantly bearing in mind the categorisations of the Lom themselves and their neighbours.

As regards the Bangka natives' schemata for ethnic classification I should emphasise that while the class of Chinese contains only Chinese, the class of Malays contains both Malay Muslims and non-Muslims.

The contexts of ethnicity Are the Lom an ethnic group?

This apparent paradox, apart from neatly summing up the situation, begs for an investigation into what characterises the situations in which they refer to themselves and are referred to by others as Malay and Lom respectively. The Lom as Malays The ethnic setting in which the Lom are situated is one that comprises, on one level, two classes: Chinese 9 and Malays. Thus, the ubiquitous middlemen, the economically successful entrepreneurs, the daring fishermen and accomplished cash-croppers whom the Lom encounter are, almost all of them, orang Cén Chinese who impress the Lom by their proficiency at coconut production and pig husbandry.

In this economic context the Lom are acutely aware that they are if not 'inferior', at least less skilled, and have much to learn.

But, importantly, so are the other non-Chinese i. Malay Bangkanese.

The popularly proverbial diligence, stamina and business acumen of the Chinese is always, by Malays including the Lom and Chinese alike, contrasted to the equally proverbial incompetent laziness of the Malays.

Neither Chinese actually living in the Lom villages nor those I happened to meet in surrounding areas distinguish between Lom and Malays in this respect. But while the Malays excluding the Lom more often than not are both contemptuous and envious of the Chinese and their relative wealth 11 the Lom are far less ambivalent in their assessment of the Chinese.

The reason for this is partly to be found in the role played by Chinese as the professed 'saviours' of the Lom during WW II: Chinese from Belinyu and elsewhere brought rice and other edibles to Pejam to sell when far from sufficient amounts of rice were imported. Were it not for the Chinese in the surrounding communities, the Lom assured me, they would have starved to death because they were too poor and timid to go anywhere to buy consumer commodities.

A further contributing factor is the place occupied by the Chinese in the Lom cosmology, a point I shall expand on in the next chapter. Figure 2. They maintain that the wealth of the Chinese a frequent subject of discussion among Malays would have been amassed by the Malays, had they only had the opportunity to do so.

Contrary to this the Lom are of the opinion that they — and other Bangkanese Malays — would have been worse off were it not for the Chinese. Neither does it reflect the more recently established saviour role. More profoundly this attitude is rooted in Lom cosmology. But above all it mirrors the crucial role the Chinese have played in the extraction of the only important natural resource found on Bangka: tin.

But on another level the Lom are clearly distinguished from the Malays — though far more so by the Muslim Malays themselves than by the Chinese. While the Lom are not generally perceived to be much different from other Malays in the economic sense, they are so in other important ways: As far as the Malays are concerned the Lom are pagans; they rear pigs and eat indiscriminately that they have their own sets of food-prohibitions is a fact the Muslims are either ignorant of or ignore , and they are popularly held to be accomplished sorcerers.

The Lom as suku Furthermore, there are a large number of suku, or 'tribes' 14 scattered all over Bangka. Some of these are categorised by the authorities as suku terasing literally 'isolated', or 'remote', with a tinge of 'estranged' as are the Lom, and plans to include them in settlement schemes proyék similar to the ones as have befallen the Lom over the past decade have been forwarded.

What all these suku typically have in common is that their hamlets are situated far from the main roads and are accessible only by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. Another trait they share is that they are acknowledged to speak dialects — some of which are mutually unintelligible.

In the following I shall concentrate on the distinguishing traits of Lom ethnicity in the capacity of the Lom as a suku, i. We don't look different, our clothes aren't different, and we speak the same language. But when he refers to 'the same language' this must be understood as a language in the broader sense, i.

As I have already noted all Lom are aware — indeed, they stress — that they speak a dialect bahasa daerah, or pelicu in the Lom vernacular which, when spoken between villagers at normal speed, is practically incomprehensible to people from near-by villages or from Belinyu, 9 kilometres away. He immediately agreed to these suggestions, and pointed out that pantun are still being composed. Furthermore, although people in other villages, as well as the Chinese, know how to make and use lapun the simplest of wire-traps: designed for mouse-deer it is extremely unlikely, he said, that they know how to build a pejato an elaborately constructed tortoise-trap.

Shame being malu is an important concept when the Lom discuss ethnic differences — and it is difficult to distinguish it from a wish to achieve superficial conformity; not to be recognised as 'other', as paling dalam lit.

The Lom say that if they speak their own dialect when dealing with other Bangkanese these will point at them and say: "orang Air Abik".

As regards dress and appearance, if one goes bare-footed to town carrying kerontong a large plaited basket strapped to one's back with bark string , wearing seluar kulor home-sewn fly-less trousers which are tied around one's waist and end just below one's knees , one is immediately recognisable as 'orang Air Abik'.

This is the reason people nowadays wear sandals and trousers of currently fashionable length and leave their kerontong at home. One man opined that nowadays young people do not know the local dialect too well because they were malu ashamed to use it. Consequently the dialect was in the process of disappearing.

The example he used was that if someone in Belinyu asks a Lom "ke mana? I asked someone else about this later. He said that it was bohong lies, nonsense that young people do not know their own dialect. The man I had spoken to is not asli sini originally from here having been born and raised in a neighbouring village and he could not be trusted on all matters pertaining to local customs.

On the origin of the Lom The Air Abik headman said that he did not think there was a 'common origin', as it were, of Orang Sekak, as they are called on Bangka, or Orang Laut in English usually referred to as 'Sea Nomads'; cf. Sopher and Orang Lom. Bearing in mind the recurring reference, both in the scant literature on the Lom and in ordinary conversations among Malay Bangkanese to the funeral practices of the Lom as perhaps the most significant — or ethnically most distinctive — trait, this may well be a most important observation.

As far as commercially oriented culture and arts are concerned, the Lom have little affinity to the hypnotic qualities of gamelan, the music for which Java and Bali are world-famous.

They neither understand nor appreciate that "Javanese music", they say. Having radios and tape recorders they far rather listen to 'mainstream' Indonesian pop music and the Malay music broadcasted from Singapore and Malaysia, lagu Melayu. Nor are they attracted to the various forms of wayang epic Hindu plays that are frequently televised. While adat after ter Haar: has often been translated as 'customary law' it would be misleading to conceive of adat simply as a set of jural rules applicable to a culturally defined area or ethnically self-contained group of individuals.

One reason why adat has been defined relatively to, or as local appendices to religious, statute, and European laws is of course that the vast majority of Malays are Muslims to whom adat has been just that: important in certain respects but adjunct. Contrary to this concept of adat Jensen, in his book on the religion of the Sarawak Iban, states that to the non-Muslim Iban, adat " It also concerns the 'correct' manner of behaviour Adat exists to ensure harmony in this universe and to promote the well-being of all its inhabitants, among them the Iban.

I shall elaborate on this point in the next chapter. For the time being I note with interest that these extended definitions of adat are almost undistinguishable from prevailing anthropological definitions of 'culture' One Lom put the matter very succinctly when he said, "Selam cuma igamanya; adét lebih kuat.

Negotiating ethnicity The Lom rarely need to pay much concern to their ethnic identity when they are in their own settlements. This is not so because Lom villages are populated exclusively by Lom. Both chief Lom settlements contain Muslim and Chinese households. But, apart from the trivial fact that in small villages people are familiar with each other and thus know who will eat what, for example, it appears that the strategy of non-involvement in external affairs a strategy the Lom have developed almost to perfection has been adopted by Muslim and Chinese minorities on Tanah Mapur to the effect that controversial or embarrassing matters are not raised.

Because Adat Mapur emphasises that every other adat-possessing group must abide by their own adat ethnicity rarely, if at all, needs to be negotiated. Conflicts along ethno-religious lines are, to the best of my knowledge, virtually non-existent. I noted no ethnicity-related snide remarks between or about villagers. Lom ethnicity in the local context However, from time to time the Lom naturally encounter persons they do not know — when they leave their homestead and when strangers arrive at their own village.

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These are times when ethnicity becomes an issue. Given the weight Islam places on dietary restrictions, the apparently total lack of food taboos among the Chinese and the personal and partly descent-related food prohibitions among the Lom it is only to be expected that when ethnicity becomes an issue it becomes one over food. On the other hand, for a Lom to transgress a food-prohibition is almost unthinkable; the consequences are dire.

One Lom said simply, "Malays who eat pork, that's us. As it happened he arrived just before a sumptuous meal at the house of one of my neighbours, who had had a successful hunt the previous night.

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