The Origin of Petroleum at Lake Kutubu

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Essay Excerpt

In 1989 I was in southeast Irian Jaya briefly, and while in Merauke, the regency capital, I visited several craft shops that sold artifacts - mostly Asmat style carvings of the male body in its sexual potency, many depicting anal homosexual intercourse, some even suggesting self-intercourse in that manner, as in two men depicted head to toe. Even to my inexpert eye, it was clear that these artifacts were produced solely for tourist consumption, and after having visited Irianese villages, I was doubtful that there was any form of Asmat religion within which the artifacts still played a role. As crude as some of the carving was, the wood was nevertheless of a rich black color, with a satisfying smoothness and sheen - quite ebonylike in its look. I asked the shopkeeper about the kind of wood used by the local carvers and the process by which it was prepared, and he replied that the Asmat artists used old crankcase oil to achieve that beautiful shiny luster. What poetry in those new artifacts! How effectively has the procreative, generative substance of Western society coated the bodies and tools of pagan peoples, erasing the old blood, sweat, and semen that they hitherto embodied, leaving the oily trace of the West's most artificial organic substance, the most fragile blood of our machines (37).

Weiner, J. F. "The Origin of Petroleum at Lake Kutubu." Cultural Anthropology 9.1(1994): 37–57.

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