Ph.D. Thesis, Yale: The Un-Natural History of Culture: Ethnicity, Tradition and Territorial Conflicts in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, 1800-1997

Article excerpt

Struggles over valuable natural resources are characterized not only by conflicts over resource control, but also fundamental contests over meaning and value. In defining access rights, opponents' narratives frequently challenge definitions of indigenousness, citizenship, modernity, and tradition in order to construct contrasting identities of "rightsholders" and "encroachers." These creative identities constantly shift, articulating with new political and economic conditions to re-imagine pasts, presents and futures--with obvious implications for both the fate of resources and the well-being of resource-dependent communities. Investigation of these shitting identities and their ties to livelihoods and resources is relevant to theorizing on the nature of both nationhood and culture, as well as contributing to literature on property and agrarian studies. In Indonesian Borneo, heated negotiation over control of forest and fish resources of the highly productive flooded forests of the West Kalimantan Kapuas Lakes illustrates how narratives of rights and identity have become increasingly ethnically polarized. This study uses archival records to chart colonial and independent states' involvement in re-defining the ethnicity of Malay and Iban populations, and their consequent racially-defined entitlements. Contemporary ethnographic fieldwork illuminates the complexities of local practices of Iban and Malay identities within this history of state intervention, and traces the connections between identity, livelihoods, memory and territory under changing political, social and economic conditions. …