Parasitism in Colonial Interactions

Part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series book series (CIPCSS)


In historical as in anthropological approaches a dichotomous idiom prevails in the description of European intrusions into indigenous societies. ‘Barbaric’ practices, such as headhunting, figure prominently in this imagery: they are doomed to elimination by European colonialism that imposed ’civilization’ on ‘savage’ and exotic tribes. Recently, this colonial idiom has been criticized by post-colonial theoreticians who resort to the concept of hybridity. This chapter argues, however, that both colonial and post-colonial vocabularies are inadequate to describe symbiotic associations between indigenous and European realms, in particular between headhunting and pacification in colonial Timor, and provides an alternative analytical framework. Building on the notion of mutual parasitism, a new way of conceptualizing intimate colonial interactions between the European and indigenous collectives is proposed.


Human Head Colonial Power Colonial Government Unequal Exchange Mutual Parasitism 
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  1. 1.
    Around the fire in the glades, in the glades, by moonlight, All together, all together, all together we go dancing. The heads of enemies, the heads go jumping. Enemies, forgive us, enemies, crack, and roll! Ui! The war in the mountain is the land terrifying. It is sounding the drum, it is the war sounding. The poem is evocative of Timorese headhunting rites and songs. Alberto Osório de Castro—Portuguese poet and amateur ethnographer and botanist—wrote the verses while serving as a judge in Timor in 1908–1911. Alberto Osório de Castro, Flores de Coral. Poemetos e Impressões da Oceânia portuguesa (Dili, 1908, reprint Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional, 2004, vol. I), p. 406.Google Scholar
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    A well-established body of evidence in biology also points to blurred boundaries between what biologists traditionally call ‘mutualism’ (symbiosis with reciprocal benefits) and ‘parasitism’ (symbiosis with unilateral benefits). Some parasites can positively stimulate organisms, sometimes and in some contexts for mutual benefit. Cf. Frédéric Thomas, François Renaud and Jean-François Guégan (eds), Parasitism and Ecosystems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Ricardo Nuno Afonso Roque 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Social SciencesUniversity of LisbonPortugal

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