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Dances with Heads

Parasitic Mimesis and the Government of Savagery in Colonial East Timor

Ricardo Roque

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.

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Introduction

Mimetic Governmentality, Colonialism, and the State

Patrice Ladwig and Ricardo Roque

Engaging critically with literature on mimesis, colonialism, and the state in anthropology and history, this introduction argues for an approach to mimesis and imitation as constitutive of the state and its forms of rule and governmentality in the context of late European colonialism. It explores how the colonial state attempted to administer, control, and integrate its indigenous subjects through mimetic policies of governance, while examining how indigenous polities adopted imitative practices in order to establish reciprocal ties with, or to resist the presence of, the colonial state. In introducing this special issue, three main themes will be addressed: mimesis as a strategic policy of colonial government, as an object of colonial regulation, and, finally, as a creative indigenous appropriation of external forms of state power.