Book Reviews by Newbooks Asia

Punks, Monks and Politics: Authenticity in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia
Julian C H Lee (Editor) and Marco Ferrarese (Editor)

Authenticity is much sought after; being described as inauthentic is an insult or an embarrassment. Being authentic suggests that a given behaviour or performance is reflective of a ‘trueness’ or ‘genuineness’ to one’s identity. From a social science perspective there is sometimes scepticism expressed about the historical faithfulness of purported behaviours – such as when something is referred to as an ‘invented tradition. However, what can be overlooked in such criticisms is an array of sociological and existential dynamics that are at play when authenticity is striven for. Likewise able to be overlooked is where the location of that authenticity is ostensibly founded; sometimes the trueness of the behaviour is located in local traditions that reach back into time immemorial, sometimes in a universal human and shared sameness, and sometimes with regard to a global phenomenon.
Punks, Monks and Politics explores the idea of authenticity as enacted in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The collective contributions reveal the sometimes contradictory ways in which the dynamics of authenticity – its pursuit, it deployment, its politics – play out in very different contexts. Whether authenticity inheres in the local or the global, amongst the majority or within a subculture, on the outside of or within people, or in the past or the present, authenticity is nevertheless valued.

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Imperial Bandits: Outlaws and Rebels in the China-Vietnam Borderlands
Bradley Camp Davis

The Black Flags raided their way from southern China into northern Vietnam, competing during the second half of the nineteenth century against other armed migrants and uplands communities for the control of commerce, specifically opium, and natural resources, such as copper. At the edges of three empires (the Qing empire in China, the Vietnamese empire governed by the Nguyen dynasty, and, eventually, French Colonial Vietnam), the Black Flags and their rivals sustained networks of power and dominance through the framework of political regimes. This lively history demonstrates the plasticity of borderlines, the limits of imposed boundaries, and the flexible division between apolitical banditry and political rebellion in the borderlands of China and Vietnam.

Imperial Bandits contributes to the ongoing reassessment of borderland areas as frontiers for state expansion, showing that, as a setting for many forms of human activity, borderlands continue to exist well after the establishment of formal boundaries.

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Personal Religion and Magic in Mamasa, West Sulawesi: The Search for Powers of Blessing from the Other World of the Gods
C W Buijs

In Personal Religion and Magic in Mamasa, West Sulawesi, Kees Buijs describes the traditional culture of the Toraja s, which is rapidly vanishing. The focus is on personal religion as it has its centre in the kitchen of each house. In the kitchen and also by the use of magical words and stones the gods are sought for their powers of blessing. This book adds important information to Buijs earlier Powers of Blessing from the Wilderness and from Heaven (Brill, 2006).”

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Storytelling in Bali
H Geertz

In Storytelling in Bali, Hildred Geertz makes a case for the importance of the role of informal storytelling as an engine of social change in Bali in the 1930s. This is a study of more than 200 texts dictated by the painters of the village of Batuan in 1936 to the anthropologist Gregory Bateson. It is completed by three years field work in Batuan in the 1980s. The tales reveal a set of strong ambivalences about the magical powers of kings, priests and sorcerers, and about social strains within villages and families. These narratives were related in the daily settings of home and coffee shop and also in the spectacular dance-dramas of the time.

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