Wrathful Ancestors, Corporate Sorcerers: Rituals Gone Rogue in Merauke, West Papua, Lecture Theatre 1070, Monday, 26. August 2019

Join us for a discussion of Indonesia’s Marind community.
Anthropological studies of ritual ‘failure’ challenge the assumed efficacy of ritual in affirming the social order. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork in rural Merauke, West Papua, this paper examines the ‘failure’ and ‘success’ of two rain-making ceremonies – one hosted by an indigenous Marind expert, the other by an Indonesian oil palm corporation. Participants conceived the failure of the first ritual as a punishment meted by ancestral spirits against Marind who support agribusiness expansion. Meanwhile, the success of the corporate ceremony confirmed rumors that corporations wield foreign and powerful forms of sorcery.
Drawing on Gregory Bateson’s notion of the double bind, Dr Sophie Chao suggests that the ritual outcomes dramatize the irreconcilable demands placed on Marind by custom and capitalism. Attempts to endorse agribusiness incurs ancestral punishment, while efforts to oppose it are thwarted by the superior power of corporate sorcerers.
In this context, Dr Sophie Chao argues, the moral implications of the corporate ritual’s unexpected ‘success’ prove just as problematic as those of the customary ritual’s dramatic ‘failure’. Co-opted yet efficacious, corporate rituals point to a new social order in which both Marind and their ancestral spirits find themselves subjected to foreign sources of supernatural control.

About the speaker
Sophie is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry and the Charles Perkins Centre. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Oriental Studies and a Master of Science in Social Anthropology from The University of Oxford. Sophie’s PhD at Macquarie University was funded by an International Endeavour Scholarship and received a Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation in 2019. Sophie’s research explores the intersections of capitalism, ecology, and indigeneity in West Papua, with a specific focus on changing interspecies relations in the context of deforestation and agribusiness development. Prior to her doctorate, Sophie worked for international indigenous rights organization Forest Peoples Programme in Indonesia, documenting the impacts of oil palm expansion on indigenous land rights, livelihoods, and culture.

Photo credits: Jacob Perrott

Monday, 26. August 2019, Lecture Theatre 1070, Wrathful Ancestors, Corporate Sorcerers: Rituals Gone Rogue in Merauke, West Papua

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