The Nias sense of space is a curious one. Lest anyone suspect me of harbouring a complaint about the size of the rooms on the famous campus in Wassenaar, let me insist at once that I am thinking not of NIAS, the delightful research institute, but Nias, the island off Sumatra. There, space to build the splendid houses for which the islanders are justly celebrated is allocated, not according to notions of the proper relationship between authority or status and centrality or ‘social distance’, but on a system of priorities established by symbolic directions. ‘Upriver’ — a direction which only sometimes corresponds to the flow of a nearby waterway — is ennobling, whereas ‘downstream’ is demeaning. Beyond the confines of the village, ‘downstream’ designates the world of increasing remoteness. Its outer reach is the horizon, the abode of the monstrous and evil. In conjunction with the inveterate hostility the islanders have always exhibited towards intruders, this seems suggestive. The horizon, though contemplated with reverence in some cultures, is not always divine. Distance does not always lend enchantment – or if it does, the ensorcelment may be malign. Different cultures have contrasting attitudes to intrusions from far away and, therefore, different strategies for receiving the sojourner, entertaining the traveller, accommodating the migrant, and absorbing the invader.