In the Regency of Sikka on the island of Flores in the eastern Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia, marriages require the continuing exchange of gifts between the groom’s people and the bride’s people.
The gifts arise from encumbrances established by past marriages and anticipate duties in the future. They are thus binding prestations between the groups of people linked by a marriage. The oral histories of the people of Sikka tell us that marriage by exchange is an institution established by a woman raja in Sikka’s ancestral past. It remains today as the source of social identity and cohesion in Sikkanese communities. Since 1960, bélis, as the institution is known simply, has come under intense scrutiny by the Catholic Church, the government, agents of development, and progressive thinkers in the regency. Some view bélis as an impediment to modernization; others argue that it devalues the position of women; many have suggested that it is a wasteful burden on the regency’s economy. Whether or not bélis is an obsolete and thus deleterious social institution is widely debated in Sikka. The question is the subject of this paper.
Speaker: Douglas Lewis
Wednesday 28 May: 12.30 pm to 2.00 pm
Industry Engagement Room, Building 37, Level 3, Room 18