- The Open Door: Early Modern Wajorese Statecraft and Diaspora by Kathryn Anderson Wellen
Joseph Conrad, in his 1920 novel The Rescue, wrote of the frequent travels and commercial acumen of the Wajorese people. The Wajorese, part of the larger Bugis ethnic group of Sulawesi, Indonesia, were well known in Conrad’s time as itinerant traders who established a successful network of merchant and migrant communities across maritime South-east Asia. Thus, according to Conrad, it was “a common saying amongst the Malay race that to be a successful traveler and trader a man must have some Wajo blood in his veins.”17 In The Open Door: Early Modern Wajorese Statecraft and Diaspora, Kathryn Anderson Wellen, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden, The Netherlands, takes as her subject the Wajorese diaspora in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and explores various facets of Wajorese migration, commerce, kinship, identity, and sociopolitical organization in rich detail. The result of Wellen’s work is a welcome contribution to our understanding of the history of this important Indonesian community and to the broader study of diaspora in world historical context.
Despite their relative notoriety, little has been written on the history of the Wajorese people. The difficulty of primary sources, both the indigenous manuscripts written in the Bugis language and script, known as lontaraq, and the records of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), has limited the historical study of the Wajorese and South Sulawesi’s other major ethnic communities, namely the Bugis and Makassarese peoples, [End Page 183] to a small group of scholars with the necessary language facility. Most of those studies, furthermore, are narrow in scope and directed primarily at specialists of Indonesian and Southeast Asian history. Utilizing a combination of European archival records and lontaraq manuscripts, both published and unpublished, and making judicious use of the excellent work of Dutch and Indonesian scholars, as well as more recent ethnographic research, Wellen reconstructs an important period of the Wajorese past and brings their fascinating history into conversation with nonspecialists interested in the study of diasporic communities.
The Open Door is structured with this broad readership in mind. The core chapters are organized thematically so that readers with specific interests in political organization (chap. 3), commerce (chap. 4), family relations (chap. 5), or identity and ethnicization (chap. 6) in diasporic contexts can easily find material that is useful for comparative study. These chapters are bookended by an introduction that situates the study in the larger conversation of diaspora and state formation in Southeast Asian and world history, a brief historical overview of Wajorese migration (chap. 2), a chapter covering the historical journey of the Wajorese leader La Madukelleng (chap. 7), who exemplifies the strong links between diaspora and homeland, and a succinct conclusion that places the Wajorese diaspora in comparative perspective.
At the heart of the book is Wellen’s argument that many of the socio-political processes influencing Wajorese lives in the homeland functioned similarly in diaspora, and thus the Wajorese diaspora serves as a unique and interesting case study in which “the division between state and diaspora is blurred” (p. 14). Indeed, the right of Wajorese people to freely come and go to and from their homeland is enshrined in Wajorese oral and written traditions, which use the common metaphor of the open door: “The door of Wajoq shall be open when they enter; the door of Wajoq shall be open when they leave” (p. 4). As Wellen demonstrates in each chapter, this encouragement of overseas migration and commerce by Wajorese leaders in the homeland combined with a number of long-standing cultural attributes to create a synergistic relationship between diaspora and homeland, a situation quite unlike other early modern diasporas such as the Armenians or Jews.
This unique synergy is most apparent in chapter 7, which examines the attempt by the exiled Wajorese leader La Maddukelleng to unite the people of South Sulawesi and expel the Dutch from their stronghold in Makassar, which...