A Guitar Too Far: Makassar Ebony & the Lust for Wood

21 Nov 2019
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Daniel Lewis
Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science & Technology at The Huntington Library

Sylvia Tiwon
Associate Professor of South & Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley

Dr. Daniel Lewis will deliver a lecture drawn from his latest book project on the global history of twelve tree species. Dr. Lewis is the author of three academic monographs, most recently Belonging on an Island: Birds, Extinction and Evolution in Hawai’i (Yale, 2018). Professor Sylvia Tiwon will serve as a discussant. She is a specialist of Indonesian literature, mythology, and oral discourse.

The topic of discussion is makassar ebony. The Makassar ebony (Diospyros Celebica) is a species of flowering tree endemic to the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. It has been described by one botanist as “the blood diamond of the tree world,” known principally for its acoustic properties that have made it a highly desirable wood for use in musical instruments. In recent decades, the U.S. federal government has raided the offices of the Gibson Guitar Company and other musical firms for their violations of the Lacey Act for importing ebony to enhance the sound quality of their guitars. Beyond these matters, however, lies yet another story that Dr. Lewis will cover:  the role of ebony in traditional Japanese architecture. In his talk, Dr. Lewis will discuss how imports of ebony were quietly but extensively used in the construction of traditional Japanese houses – in the process, subverting our understanding of “tradition” as it is linked to this global trade.

Sponsored by: 

CSTMS ♦ Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities ♦ Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies ♦ Center for Southeast Asia Studies

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