The Memory of Trade

Modernity’s Entanglements on an Eastern Indonesian Island

The Memory of Trade

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 15 b&w photographs, 3 maps Published: February 2000

Author: Patricia Spyer

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > Southeast Asia, Economics

The Memory of Trade is an ethnographic study of the people of Aru, an archipelago in eastern Indonesia. Central to Patricia Spyer’s study is the fraught identification of Aruese people with two imaginary elsewheres—the ‘Aru’ and the ‘Malay’—and the fissured construction of community that has ensued from centuries of active international trade and more recent encroachments of modernity.
Drawing on more than two years of archival and ethnographic research, Spyer examines the dynamics of contact with the Dutch and Europeans, Suharto’s postcolonial regime, and with the competing religions of Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism in the context of the recent conversion of pagan Aruese. While arguing that Aru identity and community are defined largely in terms of absence, longing, memory, and desire, she also incorporates present-day realities—such as the ecological destruction wrought by the Aru trade in such luxury goods as pearls and shark fins—without overlooking the mystique and ritual surrounding these activities. Imprinted on the one hand by the archipelago’s long engagement with extended networks of commerce and communication and, on the other, by modernity’s characteristic repressions and displacements, Aruese make and manage their lives somewhat precariously within what they often seem to construe as a dangerously expanding—if still enticing—world. By documenting not only the particular expectations and strategies Aruese have developed in dealing with this larger world but also the price they pay for participation therein, The Memory of Trade speaks to problems commonly faced elsewhere in the frontier spaces of modern nation-states.
Balancing particularly astute analysis with classic ethnography, The Memory of Trade will appeal not only to anthropologists and historians but also to students and specialists of Southeast Asia, modernity, and globalization.


“[T]he ethnographic results of Spyer’s meticulous research are well worth contemplating. She offers abundant information on such features of Barakai existence as hunting the cassowary, diving for pearls, the pairing of two community ritual figures called ‘Prow’ and ‘Stern,’ the ambivalent status of the headman, and the annual cycle of seasonal activities, all of which are described with a scrupulous attention to detail. They have the advantage of being invariably presented in a gendered perspective, a balance that adds conviction and authority to Spyer’s ethnographic portrait of a people whose lives she describes with insight and sympathy.” — David Hicks , Journal of Asian Studies

“The book provides a richly textured and well-crafted narrative of the experiences, memories and imaginings of the Aruese confronted by what others might prefer to call globalisation, modernisation or uneven development, but which Spyer refers to as ‘modernity’s entanglements.’ What is especially admirable about this study is the way in which the author imaginatively and skillfully weaves the themes of market exchange, colonial incorporation of marginal communities, European commentary on both the native and the natural environment, local rituals and changing dress sense, recent religious conversion and nationalist politics into a story which is at once comprehensible and illuminating and yet full of uncertainties and open-ended futures.” — Victor T. King , Asian Affairs

The Memory of Trade is one of the most compelling works—ethnographic or otherwise—that I have read in Indonesian studies.” — John Pemberton, author of On the Subject of “Java”

“With profound insight, empathy, and theoretical sophistication, Patricia Spyer traces out the complex intertwinings among identity, global commerce, local ritual, and national politics. This book is a masterful demonstration of how much of modernity's paradoxes, romance, and uncanny displacements best come into sight when viewed from the perspective of the supposed margins.” — Webb Keane, author of Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian So


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Patricia Spyer is a Lecturer at the Research Centre Religion and Society at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations viii

Preface ix

A Note on Language, Translation and Orthography xxiii

1 Introduction: Runaway Topographies 1

2 The Legless Paradise 41

3 The Great Ship 66

4 Mothers of Pearl 107

5 Prow and Stern 161

6 The Cassowary's Play 198

7 The Women's Share 254

8 Epilogue: Sweet Memories from Aru 288

Notes 293

Works Cited 329
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2441-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2405-8
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