Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Separating Sisters from Brothers: Ethnic Relations and Identity Politics in the Context of Indigenous Land Titling in Indonesia

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Separating Sisters from Brothers: Ethnic Relations and Identity Politics in the Context of Indigenous Land Titling in Indonesia

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The explosion of (trans)national commercial land transactions has triggered public and scholarly debates on economic and political strategies of land grabbing, including green grabbing (Borras & Franco, 2012; Stephens, 2011). Largescale commodification of land for whatever production or conservation purpose is entangled with land reforms, agricultural dispossession, enclosures, and exclusions governed by complex regimes (Borras, Hall, Scoones, White, & Wolford, 2011; Hall, Hirsch, & Li, 2011; Li, 2010). One focus of public and scholarly land grabbing debates is the emergence of conflicts where companies restrict local communities' access to resources or drive indigenous people off their land (Turner & Caouette, 2009). In Southeast Asia, the agrarian transition has created new sites of struggle in which counter-hegemonic movements and forms of resistance take place in often very novel ways by tapping into collective frames such as ethnicity and identity (Potter, 2009). Worldwide, the transnational con- cept of indigeneity has become a powerful tool in conflicts over land and restoration between local communities and other stakeholders. The concept itself has advanced from references to doomed or dying tribes to positive, rights-based discourses (Dove, 2006, p. 192; Merlan, 2009; Tyson, 2011, p. 653) and it is often central in reclaiming localities and formulating territorial claims by communities and villages. For instance, the International Labour Organizations' (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989 (No. 169) in Independent Countries decreed that national governments should give back lands that were traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples and let them set their own priorities (Colchester, Anderson, Firdaus, Hasibuan, & Chao, 2011).

As the concept of indigeneity is related to special rights and entitlements, the identification of indigenous peoples is a demanding process that seemed to be solved by stressing people's right of self-identification (ILO, 1989). Yet, apart from several characteristics suggested in the ILO convention,1 indigeneity has been taken to imply firstorder connections between group and locality (Dove, 2006; Merlan, 2009). Whereas indigenous rights activists often pursue a "strategic essentialism" (Li, 2000, p. 399, see also Großmann, Padmanabhan, & von Braun, this issue) to legitimate territorial claims, there is a broad consensus in scholarly debates on the relational character of indigeneity (Dove, 2006; Li, 2010; Merlan, 2009). Indigenous peoples are defined as much by their relation to the state as by any other intrinsic characteristic they might possess (Merlan, 2009, p. 305). Indigenous peoples, scholars suggest, should be firmly set against the modern nation state which they reside in or are enclosed by (Tyson, 2011, p. 653). At the same time, the category of indigeneity distinguishes 'natives' from others. The self-identification as 'indigenous' is thus a process and a positioning (Li, 2000) that realigns the ways groups and communities relate to the nation, the state, and the 'non-indigenous' population (Steinebach, 2012). Whereas shifting power relations between the state and indigenous groups have been the focus of scholarly and public debates, the relation between the indigenous and non-indigenous population has not received much attention. This applies to the Indonesian context as well, in which land conflicts are virulent and can be found on a total area of 1.28 million ha. The conflicts are mainly related to the plantation sector (Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria, 2016, p. 5). In such conflicts, the strategic employment of collective frames such as ethnicity and local (indigenous) identity has been essential for legitimating territorial claims (Peluso, 2009) and has proven successful to reclaim "ethnic homeland" (Hall et al., 2011) from the state (Benda-Beckmann, 2005, 2011; Hein et al., 2016; McCarthy, 2005, 2007, 2009). While community-state relations have been in the center of much research (Peluso, 1995; Steinebach, 2012; Thorburn, 2004), the shifting power relations between communities themselves have been paid only little attention (Afiff & Lowe, 2007; Bakker & Moniaga, 2010). …

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