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Kirksey, S. Eben 2000 Saya Makan Sembarang (I Eat Anything): The Changing World of the Oge Bage Mee, BA Thesis, Division of Natural Sciences, University of South Florida.

(see http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/~wolf0983/thesis_files/SAYA%20MAKAN%20SEMBARANG.HTM).
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    © S. Eben Kirksey, 2002. Use of any part of this thesis for any purpose must be acknowledged.

Abstract

The people of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, have been framed by the colonial literature as "primitives" who have a culture that is frozen in the past. Academic theories are closely tied to this construction and function as philosophical justification for the low status that the Irianese occupy in the world economy. These academic models, in conjunction with restrictions imposed through the process of obtaining research permits and through the guidelines of funding institutions, have constrained research in Irian Jaya. I have used the topical focus of this thesis, how the Oge Bage Mee distinguish between edible food and inedible things, to challenge several assumptions about the people of Irian Jaya. Additionally, I critique perceived relationships between emic explanations of eating restrictions and natural sanctions.

The Oge Bage Mee adapt to unpredictable contingencies by maintaining a diverse set of subsistence strategies: animal husbandry, gardening, silviculture, hunting and gathering, and cash economy. Despite previous descriptions of these people as belonging to a clearly demarcated ethnic unit, "Mee" (the people) have complex identities that overlap with neighboring groups. The location of animals within Oge Bage Mee taxonomic classes is an important factor in determining their edible status, yet the diversity of specific names for different animals shows great variation among interlocutors. Different social groups within Oge Bage Mee society have specific eating restrictions. These restrictions may be violated by individuals who maintain their independence from traditional norms. While eating restrictions that have generalized supernatural sanctions may be disregarded, many specific animals and places have dangerous spirits associated with them that continue to foster avoidance. Beliefs are in a state of dynamic transition as people question traditional assumptions and seek new understandings of the world around them.


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