Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 27(5): 425-36.
From Mantra to MatarÃ¡a: opacity and transparency in the language of Tobelo magic and medicine (Halmahera Island, Indonesia).
Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.
This paper presents a definition of the Tobelo concept of 'magic/medicine', and examines the role of matarÃ¡a ('magical formulae') within Tobelo magical/medical activities. The curative use of opaque, esoteric formulae is widely reported; Tobelo also have a specialized speech I call 'neo-Ternatese' used for this purpose. Several explanations for the opacity of magical formulae are examined; some apply to the Tobelo case and some do not. Examining the full range of registers in which neo-Ternatese is used, with sample texts, we find a continuum from transparent to opaque, paralleling a continuum of contexts from public to private (or esoteric), and we can identify the techniques used to produce (or increase) a text's opacity. Magical formulae, at the opaque end of that continuum, represent a secret, prestigious, and relatively liquid asset whose high value is maintained by several cultural conventions.