Alterity and autochthony: Austronesian cosmographies of the marvelous. The 2008 Raymond Firth Lecture

Marshall Sahlins


This is a lecture of reflections on the alterity of power (and vice versa) inspired by Raymond Firth's extraordinarily rich ethnographic corpus on Tikopia–an inexhaustible anthropological treasure. The dangerous overseas voyaging (or traveling about the skies, as Tikopians deemed it), the powers ascribed to missionaries and other foreigners, the overseas origins of leading chiefs: these and other such attractions and assimilations of the foreign testify to the potency of transcendent realms and beings. The like can be documented for other Austronesian societies. Indeed, as summarily indicated here, the Austronesians figure in a world wide distribution of stranger-kingship. Moreover, the same notions of the powers inherent in alterity help account for the veneration accorded to colonial figures such as Sir James Brooke in Sarawak or Captain Cook in Hawai'i, although the different fates of the two–the rajadom of Brooke and the martyrdom of Cook–also indicate that a similar structure can underwrite quite different contingent outcomes.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau2.1.008