From Head-hunter to Organ-thief: Verisimilitude, Doubt and Plausible Worlds in Indonesia and Beyond

Research output: Research - peer-reviewJournal article

DOI

In the last couple of years, so people in Indonesia claim, head-hunters – figures of dread and fascination that have haunted societies, politics, and the public imagination in Indonesia at least since colonial times – have begun to adopt a novel and troubling tactic. Instead of decapitating their victims and using the human heads in construction rituals as they used to do, head-hunters are now allegedly harvesting the victims’ organs for sale on the international organ market. Based on a comparison of ethnographic material from North Maluku, a province in the eastern part of Indonesia, and news reports I trace the shift from head-hunting to organ theft and suggest that this plasticity is not merely a symbolic representation of changing political and economic realities. Rather, I argue, the organ-stealing head-hunters are part of a global travelling package that includes and entangles organ trafficking practices, media accounts, political imaginaries, and social anxieties within the same field of reality and possibility, a field of verisimilitude in which fiction and fact, rumour and reality, are fundamentally blurred. The article proposes a ‘more-than-representational’ approach to the organ-stealing head-hunter that sees him not as a representation of politics but as a co-producer of political worlds and scales of anxiety. This approach, I argue, challenges the sharp epistemological distinction between symbolic representation and political reality that informed (but also incommoded) the analyses of head-hunting rumours in the 1980s and 1990s.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOceania
Volume87
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)38-57
ISSN0029-8077
DOIs
StatePublished - 2017

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