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Vitality and Excremental Agents in the Indonesian Coffee Industry

Fri, March 17, 12:45 to 2:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Floor: Lower Concourse, Grand Ballroom West

Abstract

During a March 2010 visit to meet with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met with controversy when his gift of luxury coffee beans for Rudd was impounded by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). Famously expensive and reputedly rare, the beans drew the attention of the AQIS because of their excremental origins. Yudhoyono had brought civet coffee (kopi luwak)— coffee beans retrieved from the feces of civets, or cat-like, omnivorous, arboreal, nocturnal mammals. The controversial gift might seem like a simple luxury, valued because of its cost and rarity. But within Indonesia, civet coffee is also thought to increase a man’s vitality, drawing both on traditional Chinese medicine and local understandings of power. Additionally, as the production of civet coffee has shifted from the gathering of feces from wild civets within the vicinity of coffee orchards to a process involving caged civets, the industry has gained increasing attention from transnational animal rights organizations for the treatment of the animals. In this paper, I examine the shifting role of civets in the production of civet coffee in relation to broader understandings of the agency of civets within the Indonesian coffee industry. I argue that traditional Javanese understandings of power (Anderson 1998) influence not just the production of civet coffee, but also the way in which humans and civets coexist in Indonesia.

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