Any study of the genesis of autochtonous social institutions in early Nusantara is necessarily based on the later historical, linguistic, socioanthropological and, to a lesser extent, archaeological data, scarce and sparse as they are. However, each category of the above-mentioned sources has its own intrinsic drawbacks. Those cannot be overcome by a mere comparison of the results achieved independently by different branches of scholarship. Therefore the author proposes a synthetic study in which linguistic, historical and anthropological skills are inextricably interwoven instead of merely alternating. The basic challenge is deducing the etymology of Old Javanese and Old Malay social terminology as it appears from written sources, thus investigating the evolution of the social structure from Proto-Austronesian to the early state period. For instance, the linguistic analysis of such Old Javanese titles as rāma 'village elder' and raka 'prince' shows that they were at the same time kinship terms, 'father' and 'elder brother' respectively. Given similar facts from the Indo-European traditions, this phenomenon cannot be taken as a mere coincidence. The ambiguity of kinship terms in ancient languages seems to be a linguistic and social universal awaiting interpretation. The juxtaposition of (1) linguistic data (tentative reconstruction of the etyma in question, i.e. Proto-Austronesian *Dama and *Daka), historical information (the meaning and contexts of the reflexes of the said etyma attested in epigraphy), and socioanthropological materials (the existence of a social organization based on age group alongside or instead of one based on genealogical kinship) allows one to modify the semantics of traditional reconstructions. Since the reflexes of an etymon were not mere kinship terms but also marked belonging to a group invested with power, it seems likely that the respective etymon originally denoted membership in a certain group ultimately defining the social position of its members. The Proto-Austronesian *Dama, for instance, could have been a classifier of the age-group of mature men of marriageable age entitled - and, indeed, bound - to have offspring: hence the later meaning 'father.' Judging from ethnological materials, members of this age-group enjoyed a privileged position and a certain authority: hence the meaning 'village elder.' The similar ambiguity of the Old Javanese title raka can be regarded as resulting from a fairly common semantic shift: 'member of the age group of young men' - 'warrior par excellence' - 'war leader' - 'chief.' Thus, the study is intended to sketch the background of the social organization as it is known from the inscriptions, i.e., the evolution of the original age-sex stratification, which gave rise to the system(s) of blood kinship, on the one hand, and the administrative system, on the other. This interpretation may be of interest both for the study of social evolution and for the development of a historical-linguistic method for the study of prehistory. Likewise, the above-described complex analysis of such Old Javanese and Old Malay titles as rakarayān, haji, etc., gives an insight into the mentality of Austronesians in various periods of their history.
Yet another key issue is the mechanism of embracing Indian culture, which became a condition sine qua non of the transfer to a new type of social organization in Nusantara. The examination of Indian lexical borrowings in Austronesian languages shows that they were mostly Sanskrit synonyms of vernacular words. This fact seems to rule out both the theory of incidental influence of a more sophisticated culture in the course of trading relations (in this case borrowings from living languages would have prevailed) and that of the alleged inadequacy of the local languages and cultures in the new social conditions (since, as the study of autochtonous institutions shows, local beliefs, titles, etc. survived in the 'indianized' societies whose structure could have been adequately described in purely Austronesian terms). Admittedly, as it was the case in a number of societies all over the world, the introduction of an alien culture had been deliberate and served to break, if only partially, with the tradition, thus facilitating the formation of new social ties.
Hopefully, the proposed approach would place Austronesian social history in a broader cultural context and contribute to the analysis of the phenomena that the traditional interpretation fails to explain.
1) On the relevant Indo-European data see, for instance, a paper by the present author: Kullanda, Sergey. Indo-European "Kinship Terms" Revisited. Current Anthropology 43, 1, 2002, pp. 89-111