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Ethnoarchaeology of funeral practices: aspects of the management of current dolmens and collective tombs in the tribal societies of Sumba Island (Indonesia)—abridged version

Christian Jeunesse, Noisette Bec-Drelon, Bruno Boulestin et Anthony Denaire
p. 165-179
Cet article est une traduction de :
Aspects de la gestion des dolmens et des tombes collectives actuels dans les sociétés de l’île de Sumba (Indonésie) [fr]

Résumés

L’article présente une étude ethnoarchéologique dont l’objectif est de cerner les principales caractéristiques de la pratique de la tombe collective dans les sociétés traditionnelles de l’île de Sumba (Indonésie) et de montrer comment les éléments recueillis peuvent nous conduire à modifier notre manière d’appréhender les tombes collectives du Néolithique européen. Les sociétés sélectionnées sont les dernières au monde à construire des monuments mégalithiques dans le but d’en faire des tombes collectives. La maîtrise de l’arrière-plan social et religieux et une connaissance du vécu subjectif des individus impliqués constituent ici les principaux atouts de la démarche ethnoarchéologique. Dans le cadre de l’étude systématique d’un village, un grand nombre de « biographies » de dolmens ont été établies. Les principaux résultats sont : 1, la mise en évidence de l’utilisation simultanée de plusieurs sépultures collectives par un même groupe de référence (dans le cas de Sumba le lignage), qui nous a conduit à proposer la notion de « pool » de dolmen ; 2, une réflexion sur les causes des interruptions (hiatus temporels) observés dans l’utilisation des tombes collectives néolithiques ; 3, une première évaluation de l’apport potentiel du référentiel sumbanais dans l’interprétation des résultats des études paléogénomiques (celles orientées vers l’analyse des liens de parenté) de tombes néolithiques.

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Notes de la rédaction

This article is not quite a translation but rather a long summary of the French article “Aspects de la gestion des dolmens et des tombes collectives actuels dans les sociétés de l’île de Sumba (Indonésie)”. English abridged version written by the authors, revised and corrected by K. Mazurié de Keroualin (www.linarkeo.fr).
Reçu / Received 01-04-2021 ; Version révisée reçue / Received in revised form 30-09-2021 ; Accepté / Accepted 04-10-2021 ; En ligne / Online 07-12-2021

Texte intégral

1The megalithic societies of the European Neolithic period are characterised by the association of megalithic architecture with the practice of collective burial. While several ethnoarchaeologists have carried out important studies on the architecture and the social significance of the megaliths, there are only very few detailed analyses devoted to their content, i.e. the collective burial itself. This topic was the main objective of a research programme carried out between 2015 and 2018. A preliminary article provided a general overview and a comparison of the practices of traditional societies established in two Indonesian islands, Sumba and Sulawesi (Jeunesse & Denaire 2018). Here the focus is on Sumba, one of the small Sunda islands, located in the south-eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago (fig. 1). The western part of the island is settled by segmented societies formed by politically independent clans and villages. This area thus constitutes the last place in the world where “megalithic monument” and “collective burial” are linked and can be observed in practice, in the context of still partly animistic societies. Our main field of investigation concerned the Lolli ethnic group (fig. 2), with, in particular, an exhaustive analysis of the graves in the Wesaluri village.

1. Location of Sumba Island (Indonesia).

1. Location of Sumba Island (Indonesia).

2. A. map of the administrative districts distribution, whose boundaries more or less reproduce the old ones between ethnic groups; B. distribution of languages.

2. A. map of the administrative districts distribution, whose boundaries more or less reproduce the old ones between ethnic groups; B. distribution of languages.

Methods

2As a reminder, although collective burials documented in ethnohistory can display a great variety of characteristics and modes of functioning in detail, what most profoundly united them is that they are used repeatedly and are intended to host dead bodies deposited on different occasions. When they were constructed they were destined to receive the corpses of people who would die at a later date and who are therefore still alive at the time of construction. The other essential common property of collective burials is that in all documented cases they were established to contain relatives: they group together people who are related by consanguinity, affinity or adoption. In archaeology the recognition of collective burials relies on bone analyses: a grave is termed ‘collective’ whenever it is possible to demonstrate that not all the individuals were deposited at once –which means that the grave was used on several occasions (Boulestin & Courtaud, forthcoming).

3Burial data were collected in two Lolli villages, Wesaluri and Tambera. Their collection started with an inventory of the houses and their clan and lineage affiliations and continued with the study of the connections between the dolmens and the houses (fig. 10). Then systematic investigation was carried out lineage by lineage, this social formation being the relevant level for the study of the forms of management of the dolmens and the collective tomb. The interlocutor was generally the head of the lineage, accompanied or not by other inhabitants of the village, often traditional priests (rato) whose function implies a good mastery of genealogy. The main lineage of Wesaluri, for example, manages six dolmens, four located in front of the veranda of the ancestors' house (house B), occupied generation after generation by the head of the lineage, the other two located in the rice fields, about 400 m as the crow flies from the house. Before going on to establish the biographies of the dolmens, it is necessary to get as precise an idea as possible of the genealogy of the lineage (fig. 11). House B is the house of the village founder, Pale Poti 1. Our informant during the survey carried out in 2017 was his great-grandson, Toda Mogu Wole. Toda Mogu Wole died in 2018, leaving the chieftaincy to his youngest son, Lukas Lede Toda, according to the Lolli's rule of ultimogeniture. By the way it should be noted that each of the first three lineage chiefs has two wives.

10. Biography of Wesaluri dolmen 7.

10. Biography of Wesaluri dolmen 7.

11. Biographies of dolmens 6 and 7 of Wesaluri.

11. Biographies of dolmens 6 and 7 of Wesaluri.

4Genealogy serves as a support for the construction of dolmen biographies. Dolmen 7, one of the tombs managed by the founding lineage, contains the remains of seven individuals from four distinct generations and continues to be active (fig. 12). It was built on the occasion of the death of the village founder's second wife. Dolmen 6 (fig. 13) was built on the occasion of the death of the second wife of Bura Sele, son of the founder and his successor at the head of the lineage. It also contains the remains of seven individuals from four different generations. The fact that it runs parallel to dolmen 7 obviously has an impact. We will come back to this aspect later. This biographical work was carried out in 2017 and 2018 for all the dolmens in the village of Wesaluri, which will be our main source for this article. The data are currently being processed and we will limit ourselves here to summarising our initial observations. Among the preferred hypotheses is the exploration of kinship links both within the same dolmen and between the different dolmens managed by the same lineage.

12. Biographies of dolmens 3, 6 and 7 of Wesaluri.

12. Biographies of dolmens 3, 6 and 7 of Wesaluri.

13. Aerial view (drone) of the village of Manuakalada (Mamboro).

13. Aerial view (drone) of the village of Manuakalada (Mamboro).

Cliché F. Monna.

Some results

Dolmen pools

5The study of the main lineage of the village of Wesaluri showed that a single lineage used several collective graves in parallel. This grouping of collective tombs used simultaneously, and not successively, is called “pools of dolmens”. The system of the pools of dolmens used simultaneously by a same reference group is counter-intuitive with respect to the model commonly advanced by the research on collective tombs of the European Neolithic, usually implicitly considering the different dolmens of a same complex as being successive and as belonging to the same reference population. Thus, the construction of a new dolmen is considered to be the consequence of a loss of interest in the “active” dolmen. Within this paradigm two dolmens used simultaneously (if we have the means to demonstrate it, which is another matter) will automatically, in an archaeological context, be attributed to two different reference groups. The use of the pool system in Sumba obviously does not allow us to conclude that such a system also existed in the European Neolithic. It simply makes us attentive to a possibility that has so far been rarely (if ever) taken into account by the specialists of this period.

Hiatus

6The study of Neolithic collective tombs highlights the existence of gaps in the use of monuments that can last for several generations, whereas archaeologists generally start from the idea that a collective tomb welcomes all the members of a reference group generation after generation. Such gaps also exist in the dolmens of the villages studied here. Highlighting the dolmen pool system allows us to explain where the missing dead are buried, but does not indicate the reasons for the gaps. The second part of the article is devoted to the study of these reasons, in the context of the segmented societies of Sumba.

Kin relationships

7Kinship ties in the dolmens of Wesaluri have still not been fully studied. In this last part we will limit ourselves to a few general remarks intended to illustrate the complexity of the configurations encountered and the importance of the ethnoarchaeological model that we are trying to develop within a more general reflection on the understanding of collective practices in megalithic cultures of the European Neolithic, with particular emphasis on the delicate question of the interpretation of the results of palaeogenomic analyses. The preliminary results we present again come from the study of the main lineage of the village of Wesaluri. We have analysed the influence of the pool system on the composition of the various collective graves and the kinship ties between the deceased buried therein, and the way in which the kinship ties of the collective graves are affected by social organisation in general. But we have also studied the impact on the genetic composition of the collective grave population of rare events such as divorce, individual adoption and the integration of families from other ethnic groups. The ultimate objective will be, in a context where the identity of the deceased and their kinship ties are known, to develop a reference model for a society with patrilineal and patrilocal clans.

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Table des illustrations

Titre 1. Location of Sumba Island (Indonesia).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3143/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,1M
Titre 2. A. map of the administrative districts distribution, whose boundaries more or less reproduce the old ones between ethnic groups; B. distribution of languages.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3143/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,8M
Titre 10. Biography of Wesaluri dolmen 7.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3143/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Titre 11. Biographies of dolmens 6 and 7 of Wesaluri.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3143/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,8M
Titre 12. Biographies of dolmens 3, 6 and 7 of Wesaluri.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3143/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,1M
Titre 13. Aerial view (drone) of the village of Manuakalada (Mamboro).
Légende Cliché F. Monna.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3143/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 13M
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Christian Jeunesse, Noisette Bec-Drelon, Bruno Boulestin et Anthony Denaire, « Ethnoarchaeology of funeral practices: aspects of the management of current dolmens and collective tombs in the tribal societies of Sumba Island (Indonesia)—abridged version »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes, 9.2 | -1, 165-179.

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Christian Jeunesse, Noisette Bec-Drelon, Bruno Boulestin et Anthony Denaire, « Ethnoarchaeology of funeral practices: aspects of the management of current dolmens and collective tombs in the tribal societies of Sumba Island (Indonesia)—abridged version »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes [En ligne], 9.2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 07 décembre 2021, consulté le 07 juin 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/pm/3143 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/pm.3143

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Auteurs

Christian Jeunesse

jeunessechr@free.fr
Université de Strasbourg, UMR 7044 ARCHIMEDE

Articles du même auteur

Noisette Bec-Drelon

becdrelon_noisette@live.fr
UMR 7269 LAMPEA, Aix-en Provence

Bruno Boulestin

bruno.boulestin@u-bordeaux.fr
UMR PACEA 5199
Université De Bordeaux
Allée Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire CS 50023
33615 PESSAC Cedex

Anthony Denaire

anthony.denaire@u-bourgogne.fr
Université de Dijon, UMR 6298 ARTEHIS
6 Boulevard Gabriel
21000 DIJON

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