'New Barbarism' or Old Agency among the Dayak?

Reflections on Post-Suharto Ethnic Violence in Kalimantan

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 Yale University michael.dove@yale.edu
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The collapse of the 33-year-long military dictatorship of President Suharto in 1998 was closely preceded and followed by outbreaks of ethnic conflict and violence across the country. This violence quickly attracted the attention of scholars, far more so, ironically, than did the mostly ‘quiet’ but equally destructive violence of Suharto’s long and oppressive rule. Anthropologists and other social scientists have since produced an extensive literature on the outbreaks of ethnic violence in Indonesia (Anderson 2001; Hüsken and de Jonge 2002; Wessel and Wimhöfer 2001), especially Sulawesi and eastern Indonesia (Acciaioli 2001; Aragon 2001; Klinken 2001; Spyer 2002; Vel 2001), and its historic antecedents (Colombijn and Lindblad 2002; Nordholt 2002; Wadley 2004). The following analysis will focus on the violent conflict between Dayak and Madurese that broke out in Kalimantan in 1997 and flared up sporadically during the years that followed. Whereas outside observers, including this writer, reacting against ‘new barbarism’ media accounts, tended to attribute this conflict to the political-economic legacy of Suharto’s New Order regime, the Dayak themselves attributed it to cultural differences with and offenses by the Madurese. This indigenous explanation, claiming ‘agency’ at the expense of political inexpediency, poses a challenge to scholarly conventions of representation.