Thursday, February 04, 2010

Pg. 99: Peter Metcalf's "The Life of the Longhouse"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: The Life of the Longhouse: An Archaeology of Ethnicity by Peter Metcalf.

About the book, from the publisher:
For two centuries, travellers were amazed at the massive buildings found along the rivers that flow from the mountainous interior of Borneo. They concentrated hundreds of people under one roof, in the middle of empty rainforests. There was no practical necessity for this arrangement, and it remains a mystery. Peter Metcalf provides an answer by showing the historical context, using both oral histories and colonial records. The key factor was a pre-modern trading system that funneled rare and exotic jungle products to China via the ancient coastal city of Brunei. Meanwhile the elite manufactured goods traded upriver shaped the political and religious institutions of longhouse society. However, the apparent permanence of longhouses was an illusion. In historical terms, longhouse communities were both mobile and labile, and the patterns of ethnicity they created more closely resemble the contemporary world than any stereotype of “tribal” societies.
Read an excerpt from The Life of the Longhouse, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

Peter Metcalf is professor of anthropology at the University of Virginia.

The Page 99 Test: The Life of the Longhouse.

--Marshal Zeringue