Dances with Heads

Parasitic Mimesis and the Government of Savagery in Colonial East Timor

in Social Analysis
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Abstract

This article explores the conjunction between mimesis and parasitism as a colonial mode of relating with forms of ‘savagery’ in state administration in relation to both the colonial Self and indigenous Others. The article examines the participation in 1861 of Portuguese Governor Afonso de Castro in a headhunting ceremony, the ‘feast of the heads’, which was held in colonial East Timor. By following a dispute concerning the problems and merits of the governor’s compliance with this ritual, it conceptualizes the trade with savagery within colonial government praxis as a parasitic form of mimesis. In this context, the dangers of bracketing the self and surrendering to the forces of otherness allowed for headhunting ritual energies to be extracted and exploited to the colonial state’s advantage.

Contributor Notes

Ricardo Roque is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon. He is also an Honorary Associate in the Department of History at the University of Sydney. He works on the history and anthropology of colonialism, human sciences, and cross-cultural contact in the Portuguese speaking world from 1800 to the twentieth century. He has published widely in Portuguese and English on the history of physical anthropology and colonial encounters in East Timor, Goa (India), and Angola. He has also published on the theory and ethnography of colonial archives. He is the author of Head hunting and Colonialism (2010) and co-editor of Engaging Colonial Knowledge (2012). E-mail: ricardo.roque@ics.ulisboa.pt

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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