In the sixteenth century, Makassarese in the South Sulawesi courts of Gowa and Talloq began to write. What they chose to write were historical texts that chronicled their origins and preserved the words of their ancestors. Scholars once knew how to make sense of such an event: it could not be but a watershed, a fundamental change or turning point of the first magnitude. Such is the nature of what we liked to call the “transition from orality to literacy,” yet more careful examinations have suggested that this confidence in the very idea of a shift from orality to literacy was misplaced. Literacy and orality are not states of being that are simply manifested in places like Makassar. This article extends the efforts of scholars to grapple with the considerable overlap, symbiosis, and exchange that seem to characterize a boundary once believed to demarcate firmly orality and literacy. Considerable work has gone into documenting the inadequacy of trying to delineate what formal characteristics mark oral and literate productions. For example, Wendy Doniger notes that it is only when we distinguish among texts that were composed orally, preserved orally, or performed orally “that we begin to glimpse the complexity of the problem” (1991, 31). Similarly, what should we do about traditions such as Javanese wayang in which oral performances are based on stories in texts, even though few puppeteers own, consult, or have even seen the written texts (Sears 1996)?

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