Chapter 4 turns from the vulnerability officials felt in the face of technology to their efforts to reassert mastery. The chapter analyzes several technology demonstrations, which were a critical element of initial attempts to establish contact with new native groups on both sides of New Guinea and in the rest of the colonial world. The chapter shows how the shooting of firearms, the playing of gramophones, and other spectacles functioned as what the analytic philosopher John Austin has called “speech acts.” It argues that these demonstrations briefly created the impression that particular colonial officials were responsible for their devices’ agency and hence possessed a sovereignty consisting of their supreme and absolute power over their own acts. Covering three distinct moments in the Wissel Lake District’s history, this chapter begins with H.J.T. Bijlmer’s and Jan van Eechoud’s initial forays into the region in the 1930s and ends with accounts from the 1950s showing how individual Papuans were themselves laying claim to technology’s power. The chapter ends with a discussion of how ethnographic writing functions as a kind of technology demonstration.
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