35. Sama people in Sulawesi’s southern littoral gave somewhat conflicting descriptions of pongkeq, but agreed on this loose framework when pressed on the specifics of what it usually involves and what it may or may not include. Lowe (2003) renders it pongkat, in the dialect where she conducted research, the Togian islands off the north coast of Central Sulawesi. Some descriptions of pongkeq tie it to a particular kind of boat, a soppéq, which used to be common among Sama people in Sulawesi. Although the soppéq is widely perceived to be a Sama vessel, in fact it has also been used by non-Sama people, and Sama have formerly used and lived on other boats such as jarangkaq. I would stress that pongkeq as well as sakei, which I discuss below, are particular practices, neither defined by the type of boat nor by the methods of fishing and collecting one may employ in them. Pongkeq and sakei often appear in the literature as part of a trio of terms describing “traditional Bajo fishing practices.” The third term is “palilibu,” a word that drew blank stares from multiple informants in Southeast Sulawesi. Djohani (1996), for example, discusses these “three” practices and reduces the differences between them to one merely of relative distance, stating that pongkeq takes a few days and “palilibu,” conducted near the village, takes a few hours (Djohani 1996:265). Such descriptions of these practices in the literature—quite a bit narrower than those I encountered in the field—and in particular this trinity, tend to be in work by authors who have not actually spent much time in Sama villages. More importantly, though, this trio of terms and the heavy promotion of the soppéq as a “traditional Bajo boat” may be traced to a single source, from whom I myself heard these things authoritatively described in 1990. This source is a man who spent his childhood in a Sama village in Tiworo, but who left it at an early age. Most of his adult years were spent in Jakarta and then later Kendari, the provincial capital of Southeast Sulawesi, working as a journalist for the government newspaper Pelita until it folded in the early 1990s. He returned with me to visit his natal village for the first time after a hiatus of many years during my first pre-graduate trip to Tiworo in 1990. A classic ethnographic “culture broker,” he has continued to set himself up vis-à-vis outsiders as a spokesman for “his people”—a self-presentation that rested in part on claims to elite (bangsawan) status and to an authority that remains unrecognized among his Sama (which is to say his maternal) kin. He generously shared his nostalgic (and sometimes infantilizing) characterizations of “the Bajo” with any interested persons, especially foreigners, who happened to pass through Kendari, and his position as a culture broker crucially rested on this location, and—most important of all—on his ability to speak English.


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