Saturday, 31 August 2013

Marriage Alliances and Cross Cousins

In a previous post on eastern Indonesia, I noted that cross cousin marriage is common throughout the area, pointing to some kind of prehistoric relationship among the cross-cousin-marrying people of the region.  Which is all well and good, but I expect a number of you are wondering just what on earth cross cousin marriage is.  So, here I'm going to outline a little of how it works and the reasons for it so that I can post something about marriage alliance in eastern Indonesia specifically.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Is there such a thing as human nature?

Ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior L.) are dying in the UK because of a disease, ash dieback, imported from continental Europe by trans-North Sea breezes.  I like ash trees a great deal.  They tend to grow straight and tall, and their symmetrical arrangements of soft green leaves are some of the most elegant foliage to be found in a northern European copse.  Their wood is lovely - it's sturdy, generally straight, unknotted, and very hard.  It's very evocative, with a bright white colour, visible grain, and distinctive smell (a lot of people say that freshly cut ash smells 'old').  It's also very easy to work, which was a notable characteristic for me when I used to run about the place armed with a Swiss army knife and whittling know-how.  The common name in English, aesc, was once used to mean 'spear'.  Its wood is particularly good for that purpose.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Southeast Asia Reading List

I've been asked by Thomas Greer, a very interesting blogger, to produce a reading list for southeast Asian history.  This is a big task, especially as I use the term 'southeast Asia' quite broadly, including eastern Indonesia and, to some extent, New Guinea, in addition to all of the islands and the southeast Asian mainland (up to, in my view, the Changjiang, or Yangtze).  I certainly don't have expertise in the whole area, and some of it is still a little mysterious to me.  My knowledge is uneven: I know a fair bit about the poetic language of Timor and the Sawu Sea, but next to nothing about the music of Thailand.  I should also point out that much of my understanding of the area comes from academic articles rather than popular summaries or monographs, which is absolutely necessary for coming to grips with the central issues.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Eastern Indonesia: Genetics and Culture

For the previous post, on eastern Indonesian languages, see here.

Eastern Indonesia is an interesting and complicated place, in genetic terms, and I'd like to go over some of the implications of the genetic material.  It isn't my intention to detail the haplogroups involved, here at least, but rather to point out the implications of the trends shown in the data.  My principal source for this is a 2009 paper for which my former tutor collected the data, which can be found (for free!) here on PubMed.  Here's the abstract:

Friday, 2 August 2013

Eastern Indonesia: Linguistic Issues - Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian (CEMP) Languages

This is the first post in a series on eastern Indonesian topics.  I haven't written much about the area on this blog, and I'm not sure why that is, so I'm starting a series dealing with various ethnological (read: linguistic, historical, ethnographic, ethnohistorical, and art-historical) problems in the area.

The Austronesian languages are sub-divided into a number of smaller families, just as Indo-European is divided into Indo-Iranic, Hellenic, Armenian, Germanic, Celtic, Italic, and so on.  The principal division is between the Formosan languages (the indigenous languages of Taiwan) and the Malayo-Polynesian languages, which are the languages found outside of Taiwan.  Malayo-Polynesian is by far the widest-spread family of Austronesian, and was the most widely distributed language family in the world in pre-modern times, found from Madagascar to Rapa Nui, and from Hawai'i to New Zealand.  Indonesia and the Philippines are the countries with the largest numbers of Malayo-Polynesian-speaking people.

'Formosan' is an umbrella term for several first-order sub-families of Austronesian; there is disagreement about their number (Robert Blust, if I remember correctly, says that there are nine Formosan families), but Paiwanic, Atayalic, Rukai (the most divergent extant Austronesian language), and Tsouic are some of the most realistic candidates.  These are all sub-families of the same order as Malayo-Polynesian, which includes all of the Austronesian languages outside of Taiwan, from Indonesian and Tagalog to Hawaiian and Malagasy.  The diversity on Taiwan is a key part of the evidence for an Austronesian origin there.  The consensus is that proto-Austronesian was spoken in Taiwan or southeastern China around 3500 BCE, and that it spread south, in the guise of proto-Malayo-Polynesian, about five hundred years later.  By 2000 BCE, speakers of Malayo-Polynesian languages were almost certainly present throughout the islands of Indonesia, probably moving to the area in different waves associated with the Bornean languages and the Nuclear Malayo-Polynesian languages.