Wolfgang Marschall, Schefold, Reimar: Toys for the Souls. Life and Art on the Mentawai Islands. Bornival: Primedia Editions, 2017. 218 pp. ISBN 978-​2-​9601375-​9-​0. Price: € 39,00 in:

Anthropos, page 271 - 274

Anthropos, Volume 115 (2020), Issue 1, ISSN: 0257-9774, ISSN online: 0257-9774,

Browse Volumes and Issues: Anthropos

Bibliographic information
movement, and stillness do surface throughout the book, signalling that “choice” and “constraint” cannot be distilled into discrete categories, as well as that these would be inadequate analytical devices to capture the drama of human movement. For example, in his chapter on Chile, he notices that exile may be an experience of forced immobility and mobility as well as voluntary mobility and immobility. The book consists of two parts “Imagining Mobility” and “Enacting Mobility,” each further divided into three chapters. It is not the most fortunate division, because it roughly translates as the treatment of “ethnographic,” non-European topics (Chile, Indonesia, Tanzania) versus the “home” setting (educational, labour, and pil‐ grim mobilities, mostly within Europe). The first sec‐ tion, the author notes “focuses specifically on how soci‐ eties and cultures other than my own imagine boundarycrossing travels ‘elsewhere”’ (15), whereas the latter one “revisits many of the themes encountered in the first part, but situates them in the lifeworld that I know best: my own” (16). All the chapters, however, clearly relate to Salazar’s “lifeworld(s)” and experiences of movement, and the second part certainly does offer crit‐ ical perspectives on European mobility-driven imagin‐ aries. It would have thus been better to intersperse the chapters between the two parts and disturb the unneces‐ sary division. Most of the chapters merit a review of their own. Chapter 1 is a conversation on the colonial and postco‐ lonial perceptions of Chile as a remote, inaccessible en‐ clave, as well as the later transformation of this imagin‐ ary through the experiences of exile and the formation of Chilean diasporas, the Chilean policy of “engaging with the world” and the dramatic increase in the number of Chileans travelling abroad since the 1990 s. Salazar notices the spatial and temporal dimensions in the Chilean experiences of displacement and attempted re‐ turn. His discussion of the retornados is useful for re‐ searchers of migrant return more generally. In chapter 2, the reader is introduced to various (often co-con‐ stitutive) mobilities in archipelagic Indonesia. Although movement is continuously facilitated by the region’s to‐ pography, Salazar notes, sedentarism was the political and economic ideal of the Dutch colonial administra‐ tion. It worked to make the colonial subjects legible by controlling their mobility. He discusses the “strong mo‐ bility traditions” like those of the Bugis and Makassar peoples of South Sulawesi, or the boat-dwelling people (sea nomads) of the region. For the Bugis, movement across the archipelago was a tradition, but also helped evade certain forms of colonial domination. The author also looks at merantau, a coming-of-age form of travel. Traditionally restricted to men, this form of mobility has been challenged by women whose “increased … mobil‐ ity … can be seen as a struggle for new subjectivity” (57). Thinking of gender subjectivities, I would have appreciated a treatment of mobility and gender beyond the binary. This question is applicable to the entire ar‐ chipelago, but especially to the discussed Bugis, whose gender diversity may appear in interesting connections with their mobility ideals. In chapter 3, Salazar offers a critical reading of the (initially external) imaginaries of the Maasai as the par excellence people on the move. He contrasts these stereotypes to the Maasai (im)mobil‐ ities in practice. As with the Indonesian “boat-dwell‐ ers,” we read that the boundaries of states significantly affected the Maasai, obstructing their nomadic paths, through forced relocation, the loss of grazing rights, forced villagisation, the creation of conservation areas, and so on. Consequently, Salazar notes, many Maasai had become sedentary agropastoralists. In chapter 4, Salazar argues that we need to critically unpack (European) educational mobilities and some of their driving imaginaries; they are tied into politics and depend on access to resources and opportunities. He shows to some extent how educational mobilities work through imaginaries of Europe, but the chapter would benefit from further attention to the routes and political contexts of EU scholarships given to students from “de‐ veloping” countries. He also offers a critique of the policies aiming to standardise and homogenise educa‐ tional skills throughout the EU. In chapter 5, the author is interested in transnational labour practices, particu‐ larly the temporary relocation of “highly skilled” work‐ ers. He notices that a minority of “hypermobile” work‐ ers stand for the ideal of flexible, post-national citizen‐ ship in Europe. EU institutions, he writes, distinguish between “mobility” and “migration” – applying the former to the movement of EU citizens and the latter to those from “developing” countries. In chapter 6, Salazar turns to pilgrimage and similar “transformational” mo‐ bilities, especially through his experience of the Taizé Community in France and Santiago de Compostela in Spain (he also briefly considers pilgrimage in Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions, in a subchapter titled “Elsewhere too …”). This is a complex, substantial contribution to the an‐ thropology of mobility and, at the same time, a wellwritten, evocative, and accessible treatise. I warmly suggest it to the general reader interested in the tradi‐ tions and transformation of travel, educational trajecto‐ ries, the politics and imagination of movement, transna‐ tional networks, and pilgrimage. The book will also greatly benefit the emerging specialised courses on these matters across the social sciences. Safet HadžiMuhamedović ( Schefold, Reimar: Toys for the Souls. Life and Art on the Mentawai Islands. Bornival: Primedia Editions, 2017. 218 pp. ISBN 978-2-9601375-9-0. Price: € 39,00 The book at hand comes as a toy for the anthropolo‐ gist as well for the general reader who – both of them – will indulge in this precious publication by the leading non-Mentawaian expert on topics Mentawaian. The generous layout of the book as well as the many super photographs add to the pleasure of reading the text, which in this revised and enlarged English edition is (to Book Reviews 271 Anthropos 115.2020 my knowledge) the fifth version of the text, while the fourth version (also in German) forms one third of Schefold’s comprehensive study of “Lia. ‘The Great Ritual of of the Mentawai Islands’.” The present publi‐ cation comes in handy also for those readers who might have only reduced access to the Dutch, German, or In‐ donesian precursors to this book published more than a quarter of a century ago. All these versions feature the same form and structure: a chapter on “An Archipelago and Its History,” including subchapters on the island of Siberut in the Mentawai archipelago west of Sumatra, on cosmology, and on “Prehistoric Foundations.” Here, as in four of the next ten chapters, the reader will find a special “Art Folder,” consisting of full-page photo‐ graphs, the careful observation of which will be most enjoyable. This chapter it is devoted to the jaraik, “sa‐ cred carvings attracting blessings and expelling evil in‐ fluences.” The following chapter deals with “Houses and Surroundings,” featuring a careful description of the uma, the large communal pile house, “the Mentawaian’s most significant technical creation, build without a single nail,” and which is held together by an ingenious system of mortise and tenant joints (41). The uma is presented as a special construction including figural representations as well as a wide range of ornaments, but also of a social group, the local group by the same name, inhabiting the uma. The author lived in the uma Sakuddei, his residence while doing fieldwork. I will not present the content of this book chapter by chapter and finally end up by producing a sixth version of the book; rather shall I name their titles and then con‐ centrate on a couple of topics of special concern and discuss them in some detail. This is the more necessary for a want of an index to the book, which forces the reader to combine information from different chapters. Captions are “Making a Living,” “The Course of Life,” “The Local Group,” “Alliances and Warfare” (a word‐ ing to disapprove of considering the many provisions and ways Mentawaians have to avoid or do away with conflicts), “An Animated Cosmos” (dealing among oth‐ er topics with “The Souls” and “The Care of the Soul,” “Spirits and Ancestors,” “Mediators,” and “Taboos”), fi‐ nally “Art, Crafts, and Esthetics” and the two conclud‐ ing chapters “Modern Developments in Mentawaian Art” and “A Changing Island.” A leitmotiv of the cultural including the social reper‐ toire of the Sakkudei as well as in Siberut generally is the above-mentioned uma, which however, in areas with strong foreign intrusion by government people and lug‐ ging companies, are continuously replaced by modern settlements and a consequent breakdown of the uma as a social unit. – This local group uma consists of a num‐ ber of men who share a common ancestor, that is to say brothers, both near and distant paternal cousins along with their wives, their unmarried daughters, and married sons and their wives (115). Wives are always originally from another uma, as marriage within the uma is taboo. Through marriage, a woman becomes a full member of her husband’s uma. A widow is usually going back to her uma of origin and stays with a brother’s or nephew’s family, but she may also remain with her grown-up sons in her deceased husband’s and her present uma. A young widow with small children will go back to her uma of origin, but will return when the children are between five and ten years old. Occasionally, families from outside the uma are adopted by an uma resident. These people, when accepted, are considered blood rel‐ atives. They have to follow the same exogamous rules and meet the same obligations, yet have the right to re‐ ceive help in the form of land to work or of becoming a part owner of the communal possessions, such as un‐ developed clan-owned land. While this occurs mainly on the household (family) level, it is the uma in which problems are discussed and solved if possible, and in which tensions are cooled. This forms part of the many activities which can be subsumed under the concept of refrigerium, the cooling and chilling of potentially dan‐ gerous (hot) situations like clearing a new piece of land, appeasing people excited or grown furious, or opening the soil to erect the central pole of an uma (as house). “Everyone knows that a life without a group to rely on is worthless.” The leveling process works well, a person really in need will experience help from other members of the uma, a person being better off must give some of what he has to others. To exemplify this, the author comes up with a fitting example: Every visitor is im‐ pressed when there are many skulls of taken animals in the house, yet he praises the uma rather than inquire about any individual hunter. Schefold succeeds in giving a vivid description of the uma as house and the uma as local social group. Of spe‐ cial interest are the possible sanctions against the person not matching the social norms. Incest and adultery are threatening the uma’s unity to a degree that there may develop a situation so tense that the evildoers have no alternative than to leave their uma and to look for anoth‐ er uma willing to accept them. Regular tensions arise with population growth. When ways to the fields are too long to allow for a reasonable result of sago or tubers and, especially, when the yield of hunting does not al‐ low anymore for reasonable portions of meat for every‐ body: then a splitting of the uma will become indispens‐ able. In the best cases, a peaceful solution will be found and friendly ties between the two groups will be estab‐ lished including visits and invitations. Often, however, tensions grow so strong that the uma has to split. It might well be that the many dialects spoken on the is‐ land are a response to the splitting of settlements where the newly formed group creates on purpose – like in some cases reported from New Guinea – a new dialect showing that this is a new and independent uma. Switching to another important field, namely the soul simagere, one can only be surprised by the consequence with which Mentawaians – and not only their religious representatives, the kerei, – perceive a world of souls corresponding to the world of what there is, all that ex‐ ists and that is everything one can get an idea of and everything that is named. Thus not only human beings, 272 Book Reviews Anthropos 115.2020 animals, plants, objects, and even “transient phenomena like a rainbow or a cloudless sky” have a soul. Souls are independent beings that may detach themselves from a physical body and roam freely. Their wanderings and experiences during nighttime may become manifest in human dreams. Human beings can also influence the souls by inviting them to come and stay with the inhab‐ itants of the uma. They are given offerings and they can be beckoned also by the shamans of another uma to come and assist them in the performance of their rituals. The world of the souls and that of the humans is a col‐ ourful and steady on-the-go. However, if the soul of someone prefers to stay away for a longer time, this per‐ son as a body will come to feel it; if the soul stays away forever, the person must die. To attract the souls, human beings have a wide array of means at their disposal like singing chants, making offerings, and presenting all kind of things beautiful. One of the prettiest and most incentive ways to invite the souls to come to their uma (as building and as group) to stay there and feel well is presenting them the serene birds siaggau and bats leitu‐ ang, wooden figures elegantly carved and delicately painted. Mentioning the siaggau leads me to discuss some minor inconsistencies in this book as well as in some earlier versions. “Toys for the Souls” is a wonderful title since it describes the beauty of these figures, attracting and pleasing the souls, which come to admire them and stay with their “owners” in the uma. That is why I took up with pleasure this wording which appears again and again in this book, in the very first sentence of this re‐ view. It seems to go back to a passage in a conversation with Amandumatkerei quoted in this book (6). I wanted to convey the idea that this book for the anthropologist and for the general reader is not only a beautiful book but something one would like to play with, in any case something one feels at home with. I wonder if the term “toys for the souls” may be not the correct translation of umat simagere, which might be translated as “(cozy) place of or for the souls,” with uma as the root word. Lack of an index and a glossary makes itself felt reading through this book back and forth to find out if there ex‐ ists a word like umat for “toy,” or to find out the appro‐ priate name for the kind of wood of which the ex‐ traordinary figures jaraik are carved. Jaraik are prevent‐ ing and warding off bad influences; they are located in different places of the uma, the wood is called gite. It cannot be found in the art folder jaraik nor in the subchapter “Woodworking and Wooden Objects,” where one will find however a couple of pages on mu‐ sical instruments, e. g., various kinds of drums and bamboo flutes the playing of which seems not to belong to the chapter on art. Unfortunately, there is no section on singing although in 2009 Schefold and G. A. Per‐ soon published a CD “Songs from the Uma” (Pan Re‐ cords 2111/12). – On the impressive photograph of fig‐ ures of bats and birds (Fig. 277) no reason is given for the object 277 d, obviously a bat, to be counted as a bird; and what is the difference between one of the many most colourful shields (Fig. 237) which is called balutsai and all the other shields koraibi. Is it that 237 was acquired in the north of the island, where influence from the island of Nias makes itself felt? There a shield is called balusö. And finally: a human figure on a wall panel (Fig. 127) is described as being without arms in‐ dicating that it was the victim of a headhunting ambush. Yet, here as well as in a former version, the figure seems to me to have arms though in the typical crossed version and proportionally too short, as in other figur‐ ines. When I started reading the book, I was pleased to meet with a very subtle passage on the assemblage of cultural traits and traditions to form an amalgam which may be met finally to be examined by the anthropolo‐ gist. “This undertaking is not about reconstructing a phase of Indonesian cultural history …” (14). In the text, however, especially in the subchapter on “Prehis‐ toric Foundations,” we are confronted again and again with the idea of Mentawaian culture as basically formed by Neolithic traditions. Given the absence of key mark‐ ers of “the” Neolithic in other parts of the globe, like, for instance, pottery-making, weaving, agriculture (at least in a somewhat refined form), polished stone-adzes, and – in later times – the absence of metallurgy and writing would hint to different ways of cultural forma‐ tion. One hint was given by Robert Heine-Geldern (1923) when he observed that the presence of stands of fitting bamboo may have made the development or im‐ port of pottery unnecessary; vegetables and meat can be prepared easily in bamboo segments. An illuminating example for other possible ways is given by Robert Suggs working in Tangaroa in Eastern Polynesia; until he made the first very limited excavation on the island it was standard knowledge that Eastern Polynesia did not feature any signs of pottery. What a difference an excav‐ ation makes! I will not expand on this, but the only help for us to arrive at a better understanding of the history of Mentawaian culture would be to finally start – with the support of Mentawaians – careful excavations. The one “Neolithic stone adze” found in a swidden (20) is by no means an indicator of the presence of a Neolithic period in Mentawai; the photograph (this time in colour) shows a material for which there is no quarry available in the Mentawai archipelago. This adze can have been imported to Siberut at any times. There are also inconsistencies in the society itself: if Mentawai society is so much in about peace, and dis‐ cussion, and reconciliation, how then do we have to un‐ derstand “the constant agonistic rivalry between groups” (159), let alone the former existence of headhunting. Although it is understandable when Schefold stresses the aspect of headhunting as a sacri‐ fice or offering (in: Ambivalent Blessings. Head-Hunt‐ ing on Siberut (Mentawai) in a Comparative Southeast Asian Perspective. Anthropos 102.2007: 479–494), but that does not diminish its forceful and cruel character. – On the other hand, there are facts cheering up one’s mind: Mentawaians, in their oral tradition, have also Book Reviews 273 Anthropos 115.2020 stories about cultural traits they do not possess (20), among other things the art of writing. Yet instead of suf‐ fering from a trauma – as is indicated strongly by Mi‐ chael Oppitz (Die verlorene Schrift. Zürich 2008; mainly based on Scherman’s material from northern Burma) for the peripheral societies towards the “ad‐ vanced” central societies – Mentawaians seem to take the situation just as it is. Notwithstanding these few remarks, Reimar Schefold is to be congratulated on this book. He has given us not only a thorough and dense description and interpretation but also an insight into what it means to be full of em‐ pathy for the people with whom one is working. It should also be mentioned that Schefold is the author of a considerable number of publications, just as a hint for those who like or even may be bewitched by the present book or the author’s character. On the back cover of the book, Redmond O’Hanlon, travel writer, is quoted with saying “Reimar Schefold is one of the last great ethno‐ graphers … .” He also could have said: “Reimar Schefold is one of the last Moralists in the line of Mon‐ taigne and Herder.” To me, Reimar Schefold’s “Toys for the Souls” is one of the most beautiful and moving books ever in anthropology. Wolfgang Marschall ( Schiller, Naomi: Channeling the State. Community Media and Popular Politics in Venezuela. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018. 275 pp. ISBN 978-1- 4780-0144-7. Price: $ 25.95 The mainstream media narrative about contemporary Venezuela is neat and (profoundly) negative. According to this narrative, Venezuela is an economic disaster and a political nightmare. The full extent of Venezuela’s economic debacle has become abundantly clear in re‐ cent years, as Venezuela has been wracked by hyperin‐ flation, chronic shortages of basic goods, and debilitat‐ ing poverty amidst the worst economic collapse in mod‐ ern Latin American history. This has translated into a migration crisis that threatens to bring political instabili‐ ty to countries throughout the region. It has also ce‐ mented Venezuela’s descent into ruthless authoritarian‐ ism. Yet, if these problems have worsened under the regime of Nicolás Maduro, it is his predecessor Hugo Chávez, the failed putschist-turned-president, who bears ultimate blame for turning Venezuela into hell on earth. This narrative is matched by a counter narrative, which is also neat but (largely) positive. Per this counter story, Chávez’s election set Venezuela on a path towards democratic socialism. On this revolutionary path, Venezuela doubled social spending, cutting poverty in half and dramatically reducing inequality, and embarked on an ambitious and heroic attempt to build a “partici‐ patory and protagonistic democracy” in which the peo‐ ple would truly rule, not by taking part in periodic elec‐ tions, but by directly taking control of the decisions shaping their lives. This counter story acknowledges (at least in some iterations) the crisis gripping Venezuela, but assigns blame not to Chávez but to the destabilizing effects of U.S.-imperial aggression and the far-right do‐ mestic opposition. One of the great merits of Naomi Schiller’s stellar book, “Channeling the State” (CTS), is that it resolutely rejects both of these narratives, neither of which comes close to doing justice to the messiness of the “Bolivari‐ an Revolution.” CTS, by contrast, does just this by shin‐ ing a spotlight on the hopes, possibilities, and contra‐ dictions of the Chávez years. In addition to making for fine reading, the book is profoundly important because of the clear and present dangers simplistic portrayals of Chávez-era Venezuela pose, in the form of the non-negligible possibility of a U.S. invasion, civil war, and the quieter-but-also-deadly maintenance of an untenable status quo. Averting these dangers requires many things: sensible (i. e., non-impe‐ rialist) U.S. foreign policy; negotiation and dialogue; better government policies; and understanding of the complex reality of the Chávez years. This last is what CTS provides, in the form of a bril‐ liant ethnography of community media during the Chávez years. The book begins with the question main‐ stream analysts of Venezuela pose: Can community me‐ dia criticize the government? And if not, does that not prove the authoritarianism of the Chavista project? This question, Schiller tells us, is the wrong one, in part be‐ cause it fails to register that the state in the Chávez years was not a fixed, monolithic thing, but an openended process, riddled with ambiguity and contradic‐ tion. Recognizing this is the first step to understanding the Chávez years. One of Schiller’s central goals is to show the every‐ day statecraft through which ordinary Venezuelans sought to make and remake the state, indeed to “take the state” as one of the community media producers at Ca‐ tia TVe, the main site of the book, tells us. For commu‐ nity media producers, the idea of being fully outside and autonomous from a state engaged in the revolutionary transformation of society makes no sense. Their re‐ sponse is not, however, blind allegiance to the state. Rather, it is a complex and never-ending process of give-and-take in which community media producerscum-grassroots activists negotiate and renegotiate the terms of their strong-but-contingent support for the state. Schiller fully recognizes, and sympathizes with, the support her interlocutors have for Hugo Chávez and the process of transformation and empowerment he over‐ saw. Yet this does not blind her, or her interlocutors, to the challenges inherent in this relationship. CTS is filled with details of the mutual constitution of state and soci‐ ety that occurred in the Chávez years. This was not a smooth process. It involved community media produc‐ ers reluctantly agreeing to film state-institutional events that were not their priority, because of the difficulty of saying no to the institutions providing their funding. Community media producers also were careful to por‐ 274 Book Reviews Anthropos 115.2020

Chapter Preview



Anthropos is the international journal of anthropology and linguistics, founded in 1906 by Wilhelm Schmidt, missonary and member of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD). Its main purpose is the study of human societies in their cultural dimension. In honor of Wilhelm Schmidt‘s legacy, the cultivation of anthropology, ethnology, linguistics, and religious studies remain an essential component oft he Anthropos Institute – the organizational carrier of the journal.


Anthropos - internationale Zeitschrift für Völkerkunde wird vom Anthropos Institut St. Augustin seit 1906 zweimal jährlich herausgegeben. Ursprünglich als Sprachrohr für katholische Missionarsarbeit geplant, gilt sie heute als wichtige Fachzeitschrift der allgemeinen Ethnologie. Sie behandelt sowohl kulturelle als auch sprachliche Themen in mehreren Sprachen, mit Schwerpunkt auf den Völkern des gesamtamerikanischen und afrikanischen Kontinents.