The market tells a lie

  • Robyn Ann Thompson

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This thesis concerns the evaluation of, what the Toraja of South Sulawesi in Indonesia call mana', the possessions and wealth of the Tongkonan their origin houses. Mana' locates centres of power and has a power. Toraja is a hierarchically ranked society and in the past the nobility controlled, and had the right to display, mana'. The things which embody mana land, water buffaloes and heirloom valuables should not be given away but shared, lent or inherited. While the notion of mana' as a source of power and prosperity for the Toraja has remained the same the form it takes and the control of its production, circulation, and consumption is changing. In the past its amount was finite since it was said to have derived from the Upperworld and it could only be reinvigorated and replenished through ritual. I describe how mana' has an intrinsic and sacred value based on an Upperworld origin which places it above economic value. Buffalo bulls are currently pre-eminent forms of mana'. They mediate all exchange in Toraja, and have always been a fluid form of mana' able to be converted or transmogrified by exchange into other forms. As objects of general equivalence they are the standard of payment for certain symbolic objects. There is a weekly market in buffaloes and heirlooms are sold as souvenirs and in the European art market. The advent of the market for buffaloes has allowed many more Toraja to have a share of the mana' embodied in buffaloes and has added a new economic value measured in price. I also argue that money is considered as a form of mana' in the modern context. Toraja can now profit economically as well as symbolically from mana' although as goods in a market context mana' is always an ambiguous commodity.

    Date of AwardMar 1998
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDavid Mearns (Supervisor)

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