Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Vigilant signage and the ephemeral in the magical landscape of the Moluccas: an analysis of Nuaulu scare charms

Ellen, Roy F. (2023) Vigilant signage and the ephemeral in the magical landscape of the Moluccas: an analysis of Nuaulu scare charms. Folklore, 134 (4). pp. 556-587. ISSN 0015-587X. E-ISSN 1469-8315. (doi:10.1080/0015587X.2023.2228579) (KAR id:104151)


Scare charms, in Ambonese Malay matakau, have long been a feature of the Moluccan landscape, but are little documented. They are erected by landowners or resource-owners either in response to infringements and thefts of property or to protect property from interference and theft. The sanction that makes them effective is the threat of spirit or some other kind of supernatural revenge or punishment. This article’s systematic treatment of Nuaulu matakau from the island of Seram shows how scare charms work as part of a system of sanctions. Particular emphasis is placed on a landscape perspective that permits us to see them as a spatially distributed set of material objects in relation to other physical signs and spiritually supported institutions involved in both resource and environmental management and social control.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/0015587X.2023.2228579
Additional information: For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising.
Uncontrolled keywords: scare charms; Moluccas; Indonesia; resource management; magical landscapes
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council (
Depositing User: Roy Ellen
Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2023 11:43 UTC
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2024 11:30 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Ellen, Roy F..

Creator's ORCID:
CReDIT Contributor Roles:
  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.