Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Understanding Adat in Indonesia 1: What is Adat?

Image from here.   This is one of the
first images that comes up when
you do a google image search of
"adat Indonesia" and is the type of
thing that drives anthropologists
nuts.  More on why in the next
post in the series.  
It's been a long time since I've written anything really substantive in this blog and a lot has changed.  Since my last entry I have finished my PhD in geography, so hooray for me!  Anyway, over the past few months I've been reading and writing a significant amount about local communities and customary systems of social, economic, and political organization in Indonesia (generally referred to in Indonesian as adat), and so I've decided to write a series of blog posts introducing this concept along with some history and a description and analysis about how the role of adat is changing in Indonesia today.  The definition and recognition of adat has become an important and contested topic in Indonesia.  In this post I'll describe the definition and historical emergence of the concept of adat law during the colonial era.  In the next post I'll discuss adat in the post-colonial era, focusing mainly on the effects of Suharto's "New Order" on adat communities.  Then in the following post I'll turn to the role of adat and "indigenous peoples" in the post-authoritarian era.  At the end I promise I'll turn the whole thing towards a discussion of local people, forests, resource management and the environment, but you'll have to bear with me.  

Defining the term...

As I've often pointed out in this blog, Indonesia is a country of stunning diversity.  Many people are aware of the incredible biodiversity of the archipelago, but fewer are familiar with Indonesia's cultural diversity; there are more than 1000 ethnic and subethnic groups from Aceh to Papua and hundreds of languages spoken in between.  These many groups seem to epitomize Indonesia's national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or "Unity in Diversity".  This multiplicity of peoples stems from the fact that Indonesia is a relatively new creation; it was formed in 1945 when nationalists declared independence from the Dutch, who had, in one form or another, been the dominant colonial presence in the islands since the beginning of the 17th century.  In fact, the idea of Indonesia only emerged in the early 20th century.  Prior to this the only thing really uniting the peoples of the thousands of islands was a history of domination by the Dutch.  There had never been any coherent state that had ruled over all of the islands (though history records a number of kingdoms that were fairly expansive; read about them here and here).  

Map from Wikipedia.

Hence for most of history the conduct of social, political, and economic affairs in most parts of what is now Indonesia was primarily a local endeavor, with individual villages, village federations, and sometimes larger chiefdoms exercising relatively independent sovereignty over governance and social organization.  In other words, politics, economic activity, and culture were more or less local concerns, and thus codes of social organization emerged out of fairly specific geographic circumstances.  As you might expect this circumstances gave rise to a significant amount of geographic variation in terms of the way villages were run, resources managed, and people governed.  The term adat has come to encompass these locally-rooted systems of social organization, but as we shall come to see, hammering down an exact and satisfactory definition, or even translation, for the term is easier said than done.  Let's look at a couple of examples.       

Two of the foremost scholars of Minangkabau adat in West Sumatra not that "adat in Indonesia has become a generic term to indicate an often undifferentiated whole constituted by the morality, customs, and legal institutions of ethnic or territorial groups" (von Benda-Beckmann and von Benda-Beckmann 2011:168).  They also note that before the arrival of outside religions (Islam, Christianity, etc), adat also covered cosmology and cosmogony (and in some places it still does).  This is a really interesting definition for a couple of reasons.  First, they point out that adat encompasses "morality, customs, and legal institutions".  If we compare this to social organization in the US, for example, we can see some important contrasts.  In the US we find very well codified legal institutions, along with clear procedures for operating and changing them.  However, we often think of morality and customs as separate from the law (though many laws are based on moral assumptions), and for many of us our spiritual view of the universe comes from an organized religion, and our morality is rooted in the religious view as well (1).  At the same time, a clear separation between church and state is a fundamental precept of the political and administrative foundation of the United States.  In other words, cosmology and morality are understood by most to be in a separate societal sphere from governance.  But according to this definition of adat, all three of these elements are part of a complex tapestry comprising the social fabric (ha!). 

Other concepts of adat include Tyson's (2010:1), who explains that "adat is a fluid, contingent concept encompassing a wide range of customs and traditions unique to each of Indonesia's major ethnic groups".  In a seminal collection Henley and Davidson (2007:3) write that adat "is a complex of rights and obligations which ties together three things--history, land, and law-- in a way that appears rather specific to Indonesia".  From this definition adat seems to resemble a sort of social contract or compact, which is a familiar concept to anyone that's taken a class in the history of Western political thought.  The Lockean "social contract" is a cornerstone of our socio-political organization in the US and many other places that have modeled their constitutions and legal systems on those of the US.  However the striking thing here is that the social compact is rooted in very specific local contexts; its terms of reference are downward rather than upward.  In other words, the social contract exist between members of a community rather than a nation, which to me suggests different relationships and obligations between people.   

So we can see that there are different definitions of what adat actually is.  We also often come across the term masyarakat adat, which is sometimes translated as "indigenous people", but which I prefer to translate as "customary communities" (or better still, "adat communities").  This term refers to groups of people that have adat systems, but it too is a fairly contentious concept.  But for a definition of masyarakat adat I'll refer to AMAN, the Indonesian Alliance of Adat Communities (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara), an important and influential non-governmental organization (NGO) in Indonesia: "a group of people who, based on ancestral origin, live in a specific geographic area, have a distinct value and sociocultural system, sovereignty over their land and natural resources and control and take care of their survival by means of customary laws and institutions".  

Lastly we have a more legal definition of another term, hukum adat ("adat law"), which also appears frequently.  This definition comes from Supomo, whom we'll learn more about below: "Adat law is a non-statutory law which is mainly customary law and, for a small part, Muslim law.  It also includes case law, viz. decisions of the judge containing legal principles in the milieu in which he delivers judgment.  Adat law is deeply rooted in traditional culture.  It is a living law because it expresses the actual feeling for the law of the people.  In accordance with its very nature, adat law is permanently growing and developing like life itself" (Supomo 1953: 218-9). 

Hmmm.  Lots of different definitions referring to different things.  You can probably understand why this is such a contentious issue.  In the next section we'll look at how the colonial government used the concept of adat.   

The Construction of Adat...

"What was termed customary law could therefore not be considered timeless, precolonial local law, and despite the assertion of an unbroken continuity, actors have actualized, invented, or reinvented 'traditional' legal forms..."  von Benda-Beckmann and von Benda-Beckmann, 2011:169.    

Today most people in Indonesia have a fairly definite mental image of what the term adat refers to and can describe a number of perceived characteristics of masyarakat adat.  Many would probably even tell you that adat is a unique and distinctive characteristic of Indonesia, and that the existence of many variations of adat are part of the special identity of the expansive archipelago.  Part of this image of adat is that it is old, predating the Dutch colonial era.  However, the term adat law was first applied in 1893, and it only became a subject of scholarly scrutiny around the turn of the 20th century (Fasseur 2007).  Prior to this the Dutch colonial apparatus exhibited little if any official curiosity about the details of traditional social organization.  Rather, customary legal institutions had utility insofar as they facilitated the colonizer's strategy of indirect rule on the "outer islands", whereby they "fostered mediating institutions, adat chiefs and adat councils, enhancing the position of elites in the process" (Li 2001: 658; see Galizia 1996 for an excellent account of the relationship between Rejang elites and the colonial establishment).  In other words, in exchange for support and preferential treatment from the Dutch colonial apparatus, local leaders served as de facto representatives for the colonizers.   

The Dutch colonial concern for local custom arose out of changing sentiments about the nature of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized.  Around 1870 the idea that the Dutch had the responsibility to "improve" the lot of the natives of the East Indies became popular, and from this arose what's come to be known as the "Liberal Policy".  For advocates of the Liberal Policy, their native wards needed to be modernized, and the best way to do this was to create the conditions necessary for free markets to operate.  But then around 1900 the colonial zeitgeist changed again as a new monarch was installed.  The new thinking, which gave rise to the "Ethical Policy", held that the natives needed to be civilized and educated in a western mold.  If it sounds terribly condescending and even racist that's because it is, but in the spirit of the times this was a common perception, not just among the Dutch, but for all colonial powers administering overseas possessions, including the United States.  To the colonizers, local custom, and especially local law, was an impediment to the modernization and civilization processes, and so there was a movement within the Dutch parliament and colonial administration to impose a unified law code over the entire colony.  This code would replace any indigenous law, and would theoretically provide a certain and stable legal environment, which was thought to be a prerequisite for investment and economic development.  The movement to pass this unified code gained momentum in the early decades of the 20th century.  

At the same time, local communities and their customs were drawing unprecedented interest from scholars in the Netherlands.  Perhaps the most influential person in the emergence of adat as a recognized category worthy of study was a Dutch scholar named Cornelis van Vollenhoven (1874-1933), who pioneered ethnographic study of local communities in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) after earning his doctorate and being appointed to the newly-created chair of native law at Leiden University in Holland (2).  Van Vollenhoven was extremely influential as a champion for the recognition of adat as a legitimate form of social organization, supervising numerous dissertations during his three-decade tenure at Leiden, where many colonial administrators as well as future Indonesia nationalists studied law (3).  Van Vollenhoven would eventually classify all adat systems into 19 general adat law areas (adatrechtskringen) based on kinship systems and village organization.  

Van Vollenhoven has been accused of "essentializing" adat, or simplifying and generalizing it.  Perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps because circumstances dictated it, van Vollenhoven created an understandable, legible catalog of adat, boiling it all down to questions of law.  Jaspan (1965:253) notes that "before van Volenhoven and his school began codifying what to Western jurists appeared to be the juridical aspects of native custom, adat law was not a separate and independent entity, but was in most cases intertwined with the history, mythology, and institutional charters...of each ethnic or cultural unit".  Van Vollenhoven's immediate goal was to defeat the draft law that would impose the aforementioned unified legal system on all local communities throughout the NEI in order to protect common property regimes against business interests and the colonial government (Henley and Davidson 2007, Burns 2004).  One of van Vollenhoven's central observations was that a system of community property existed among most adat communities in which an area of land was held in common by all the members of the village unit.  He called this beschikkingsrecht, but now the Minang term hak ulayat is commonly applied.  Members of the community could gather forest products or graze animals depending on the characteristics of the land, but the rules were part of the overall adat framework.  Moreover, one common feature was that land could be opened up for cultivation by members of the community, and as long as the land was under cultivation the person that opened it up had the right of avail.  However, if the land was left idle for a certain period of time (determined by local adat rules), it reverted back to the community.  

Van Vollenhoven was ultimately successful in convincing enough members of the legislature in the Netherlands to vote down the law, and so it was never implemented.  Van Vollenhoven died in 1933, just as the world was entering the deepest depths of the Great Depression.  Then in 1942 the Dutch would be expelled from their colony by the invading Japanese, and even after the Japanese were defeated the Dutch never regained possession of the NEI.  


So we've seen an interesting progression here.  At first, adat was of no interest to anyone outside local communities, but for them it was essentially the rules of life.  Then in the late colonial era, thanks to the efforts of van Vollenhoven and his students, adat is codified and cataloged, but at this point it becomes expressed in terms of law, as a kind of indigenous, local analogue for western law, but incompatible with it.  But if we refer back to the definitions of adat I quoted in the second section of this article, adat seems to be much more than a mere code of laws.  Thus something must have happened between van Vollenhoven's time and the present day, some sort of adat awareness raising, or maybe even a revival!  In the next post we'll continue the story of the lives of adat in Indonesia.  


(1)  I'm not suggesting here that morality is dependent on the practice of an organized religion, so settle down.

(2) He changed the emphasis of study of this chair from Islamic law to customary law in Indonesia, which would have lasting implications for ethnographic study in Indonesia....for an excellent exegesis see Gibson 2000.

(3)  Supomo, who would go on to write Indonesia's Constitution, was a student of Van Vollenhoven's

References and for further reading

von Benda-Beckmann, Franz, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann.  2011.  Myths and Stereotypes about Adat Law: A Reassessment of Van Vollenhoven in the light of current struggles over adat law in Indonesia.  Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 167: 2-3 pp167-195.

Burns, Peter.  2004.  The Leiden Legacy: Concepts of Law in Indonesia.  Leiden, Netherlands: KITLV Press.  307pp.  

Davidson, Jamie and David Henley.  2007.  The Revival of Tradition in Indonesian Politics: The Deployment of Adat from Colonialism to Indignism.  Abindon, UK: Routledge.  377pp.

Fasseur, C.  2007.  Colonial Dilemma: Van Vollenhoven and the struggle between adat law and Western Law in Indonesia.  Ch 2, pp50-67 in The Revival of Tradition in Indonesian Politics: The Deployment of Adat from Colonialism to Indigenism.  Jamie Davidson and David Henley, editors.  Abindon, UK: Routledge.  377pp.  

Galizia, Michele.  1996.  Village Institutions after the Law no 5/1979 on Village Administration: The Case of Rejang-Lebong in South-Western Sumatra.  Archipel 51:1 pp135-160

Gibson, Thomas.  Islam and the Spirit Cults in New Order Indonesia: Global Flows vs. Local Knowledge.  Indonesia 69, pp41-70

Jaspan, Mervyn. 1965. In Quest of a New Law: The Perplexity of Legal Syncretism in Indonesia.  Comparative Studies in Society and History 7:3 pp252-266.

Li, Tanya Murray.  2001.  Masyarakat Adat, Difference, and the Limits of Recognition in Indonesia's Forest Zone.  Modern Asian Studies 35:3 pp645-76

Supomo, R.  1953.  The Future of Adat Law in the Reconstruction of Indonesia.  pp217-235 in Southeast Asia in the Coming World.  Edited by Philip W. Thayer.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.  306pp.

Tyson, Adam.  2010.  Decentralization and Adat Revivalism in Indonesia: The Politics of Becoming Indigenous.  Abingdon, UK: Routledge.  210pp.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Upcoming Publications...

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I've been posting less frequently because I have been focusing on finishing up my dissertation and on writing articles for scholarly journals.  The past few months have been quite productive for me, and I've been fortunate enough to have had several articles accepted through peer-review.  These articles will appear soon in several journals.  Below I've included publication information along with abstracts.  If you are interested in reading any of these articles, please contact me though this blog's email.

Thanks for reading, and I'll be making at least one or two posts later this month on customary law in Indonesia.

1.  Bettinger, Keith Andrew.  IN PRESS.  "Death by 1,000 Cuts: Road Politics at Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park.  Conservation and Society.

Abstract: This paper examines how decentralization reforms have led to an increase in road proposals in the districts around Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park (KSNP). Roads through the park, which is still under the authority of the central government, are illegal, but the newly empowered districts argue that the park's existence is an unfair obstacle to regional economic development, and that the roads would aid in the improvement of the local economies. The article examines Sumatra's extractive economy in a historical context, arguing that past economic patterns have helped to shape the conflicts over access to resources at KSNP. District elites are attempting to maximize their access to and benefits from natural resources using a variety of strategies to push for the construction of roads through the park. Three case studies illustrate discursive and strategic practices utilized by district elites to gain support for roads. These strategies include the discursive construction of a new district geographic identity, the use of formal powers to encourage informal and illegal activities, and the formation of ad-hoc coalitions across scales.

2.  Bettinger, Keith Andrew.  IN PRESS.  "The Secret Valley Divided: Administrative Proliferation in Kerinci Valley, Jambi Province, Sumatra, Indonesia".  Journal of Rural Indonesia.

After the fall of president Suharto Indonesia implemented sweeping decentralization reforms with the goal of rebalancing powers and responsibilities between the central government and the regions.  Among the raft of new laws was legislation that allowed for increased proliferation (pemekaran) at the district/municipality and provincial level.  In theory administrative proliferation would increase citizen participation and efficiency in governance.  After 12 years the number of districts in Indonesia has nearly doubled, but there are indications that the performance of new regions is not living up to expectations.  This paper examines one case: the creation of the administrative municipality of Sungai Penuh, which was split off from Kerinci District, Jambi Province, Sumatra, in 2009.  I find that the process of new region creation in Kerinci has been dominated by local elites and has actually decreased unity within the district and has given rise to a movement to further sub-divide the district.  The implementation of pemekaran created new tensions, and very likely will undermine the medium and long-term prospects for development in the region.

3.  Bettinger, Keith Andrew.  ACCEPTED.  "Puncak Andalas: Functional Regions, Territorial Coalitions, and the Unlikely Story of One Would-Be Province".  Indonesia.

This paper examines an under-the-radar campaign to establish a new province on Sumatra from pieces of three existing provinces (Bengkulu, West Sumatra, Jambi).  Previous scholarship has shown that proposals for new provinces in Indonesia generally revolve around identity politics or territorial coalitions.  I describe in this essay the territorial coalition supporting Puncak Andalas province while arguing that there is another important factor: the existence of a coherent formal or functional regional identity.   The proposed Puncak Andalas province differs from other cases in that there is no ethnic or religious marginalization, nor has the area ever been united as a discrete political, cultural, or economic region.  Therefore the territorial coalition must create a regional identity.  Moreover, every other province created since the fall of Suharto, as well as all of the potential provinces currently being deliberated by the Ministry of Home Affairs have been or would be formed from a single "mother province".  Thus the case of Puncak Andalas reveals a novel strategy for provincial formation.  Although this new strategy faces unique challenges, if successful Puncak Andalas province could serve as a template for a flood of new proposals to carve provinces out of hitherto unconnected corners of existing provinces.  This paper describes an incremental long term strategy utilized by local elites to mobilize support for intervening goals, each of which is easier to achieve than the formation of a new province, but each of which makes the goal of provincial formation more realistic.  This chain of events has unwittingly been set in motion by Indonesia's decentralization and democratization reforms.  However, while local elites pursue this strategy to increase their prestige and rent-seeking opportunities, they reify and thus render intractable the marginalization of already peripheral groups through the formation of relatively poor administrative regions.  Now that the moratorium on new districts and provinces has apparently lapsed, initiatives to establish new regions will undoubtedly gain renewed momentum.  This analysis adds to our overall understanding of the processes and politics of new region formation. 

4.  Bettinger, Keith Andrew.  ACCEPTED.  "Political Contestation, Resource Control and Conservation in an Era of Decentralization in and around Indonesia's Kerinci Seblat National Park".  Asia-Pacific Viewpoint.

This paper examines the direct and indirect impacts of Indonesia's decentralization reforms on national park-based conservation using Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park (KSNP) as a case study.  Though in the years immediately following the fall of president Suharto there were significant spikes in illegal logging in parks throughout Indonesia, this uptick was the result of opportunism stemming from the confused nature of decentralization.  Illegal logging has since decreased but now new stresses to parks have emerged.  This paper examines three intersections of decentralized politics at the district level and national park-based conservation.  These three intersections are tied to key laws passed after the fall of Suharto and are manifested in conflicts stemming from administrative proliferation, road construction, and center-periphery struggles over the control of state resources.  This paper ties these legacies of unfinished decentralization to increased levels of encroachment at KSNP.  Fifteen years after the end of Suharto's authoritarian Orde Baru, these intersections represent unanswered questions about the extent of decentralization which threaten to undermine Indonesia's protected areas.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

2020 Vision: Shocking News Regarding Indonesia's Climate Future

Last week one of the most highly-regarded scientific journals in the world, Nature, published an article based on research conducted by my good friends and colleagues in the Department of Geography at the University of Hawai'i.  The study, which uses projections from dozens of climate models to predict dates for the onset of "climate departure", is particularly noteworthy for Indonesia, because it projects the archipelago will experience climate departure sooner than any other place on the planet.  The date for Jakarta is 2029, and it's even early for Manokwari in Papua, which is projected to experience "climate departure".  In this post I'll discuss the study and what its findings mean for Indonesia.

First of all, it's important to understand what is meant by the term "climate departure".  The researchers used historical temperature data from all over the world to create a special kind of digital map that shows trends in temperature for the past 150 years.  On their map of the world they created a grid with more than 800 cells, each with maximum and minimum temperatures.  Next they used projections on future climate generated by very sophisticated computer climate models.  These are the same models that are used by  the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their periodic reports that summarize current knowledge and research on the effects of anthropogenic global warming and climate change.

Courtesy of Abby Frazier and Mora et al.  

Next the team used the maximum temperature from the last 150 years as a baseline.  Then they looked at the projections of future climate change and compared them against the historical maximum.  As you can see from the example graph for Hawai'i, the average temperature is increasing and will continue to increase into the future.  The research team noted the year in which the projected average temperature increased permanently beyond the historical maximum as the year for permanent "climate departure".  In other words, after the year 2020, the coldest year in Manokwari will be hotter than the hottest year ever recorded.  As shocking as the study's findings are, they are all the more frightening for Indonesia because that country will experience permanent climate departure sooner than virtually every other location on the planet.  In general the study indicates that places in the tropics will experience climate departure sooner than places outside the tropics.

Note the historical maximum temperature.  
For Indonesia global warming is nothing new.  The country has been dealing with the effects of climate change for years now.  These effects include later onset of monsoon rains, which are crucial for agriculture.  Changes in seasonal cycles hit farmers hard because it makes it difficult for them to know when to plant their crops.  Moreover, if the rainy season gets shorter, which has happened in many places throughout Indonesia, rain gets concentrated over a shorter period of time, which means more floods.  Moreover, rainfall has become much more variable, and so unexpected droughts have become a common occurrence.  The permanent climate departure indicated by the UH study means that these periodic perturbations will the new normal.  In addition, yields of important staple crops will decrease.  A 2011 study conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines indicates that every one-degree increase in minimum temperatures decreases rice yields by 10%.  Rice is the single most important food for the vast majority of Indonesians, and so lower yields will increase prices.  Other global warming-related changes will include stronger and more frequent El Nino events, which exacerbate during or flooding trends.  Warmer temperatures are also expected to lead to increased malaria and dengue fever.  And all of these impacts will fall disproportionately on the poor.

This is a big deal in Indonesia, where according to World Bank figures 43% of the population, or more than 100 million people, live on less than US$2 per day.  A significant portion of the population (the exact percentage varies significantly from province to province) earns their living from agriculture.  Thus lower yields and higher prices affect agricultural workers in two ways: first they are able to grow less, and second it costs more to buy food.  This overall inflation of food prices threatens to undermine the impressive progress Indonesia has made fighting poverty over the decades.

Global warming is also affecting fishing, both at the artisanal and industrial scales.  As a 17,000 island archipelago, fishing has traditionally been very important in Indonesia and many people make their living from the sea.  However, studies (For example, see Cheung et al 2010 in the references) have shown that the effects of global warming have been felt in tropical fisheries, and patterns of displacement and decreased productivity will continue into the future, paralleling increased global average temperatures.  One study suggests that catch potential will increase by as much as 40% in the Indonesian exclusive economic zone (EEZ).  Many fish and invertebrate species have a tendency to shift their distributions in response to climate change, and generally they move towards higher latitudes, away from the equator.

The situation is dire for Planet Earth, but even more so for tropical countries like Indonesia.  However, there might be a silver lining for the expansive island state.  Due to annual forest burning and deforestation, Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses.  While this fact is astonishing, it means that Indonesia can exercise some control over its climate fate.  By reducing emissions from burning and deforestation Indonesia could buy critical time that could be used for planning, adaptation, and amelioration.  In the most optimistic scenarios Indonesia could become a pioneer and leader on the world stage in developing innovative and creative ways to reduce emissions and prepare for what is to come.  As they say it's always better to act than react, and in the case of Indonesia it's all the more urgent, not only for the sake of the poor that will be hardest hit by climate change, but for the future of the country in general.  Not only will Indonesia experience climate departure sooner that countries outside the tropics, but it will also experience the onset of permanent climate change before its neighbors in the Southeast Asian region.  This means the potential loss of competitive advantage and influence, which in the long run could hinder Indonesia's economic development ambitions.

The climate story is complex and multifaceted.  The effects of climate change will be felt in Indonesia in many ways, too numerous to explain in this post.  However, the UH study shows us all we really need to know: climate change is coming, and soon.

Map courtesy of Mora et al.  

Special thanks and congratulations to the team at UH for an eye-opening research project.

References and For Further Reading

Cheung, William W.L., Vicky W. Y. Lam, Jorge L. Sarmiento, Kelly Kearney, Reg Watson, Dirk Zeller, Daniel Pauly.  2010.  Large-Scale Redistribution of maximum fisheries catch potential in the global ocean under climate change.  Global Change Biology 16:1 pp24-35.

Mora, Camilo, Abby Frazier, Ryan Longman, Rachel Dacks, Maya Walton, Eric Tong, Joseph Sanchez, Lauren Kaiser, Yuko Stender, James Anderson, Christine Ambrosino, Iria Fernandez-Silva, Louise Guiseffi, and Thomas Giambelluca.  2013.  The Projected timing of Climate Departure from Recent Variability.  Nature 502: 183-187.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Geografika Nusantara Reaches 100,000 Hits...

Wow yesterday this blog reached the 100,000 hits milestone, which is pretty neat.  I started this blog in 2010 at the suggestion of an elementary school principal who thought it might be neat for young students to be able to learn first hand about Indonesia.  For the first few months of this blog's existence, I was writing from that perspective.  Then, as I got deeper into my fieldwork, the blog evolved to become a place where I could discuss current events in Indonesia, describe life in that country, sometimes vent my frustrations from being in the field, and try out new ideas.

I haven't been posting much over the past year because I'm home from the field and am concentrating on teaching, writing my dissertation, and submitting articles to peer-reviewed journals.  But today makes me realize that this is just important; the 100,000 hits milestone makes me realize that this blog has become a useful resource for those working on Indonesia-related topics, or for people with an interest in that fascinating country.  So I'll resolve to write more here....there are a couple of current issues related to forests and national parks that are currently unfolding in Indonesia that I'd like to discuss.

So thanks to everyone that has read this blog.  I hope you've enjoyed it, and I hope it will continue to be of use to you in the future!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Indonesia Extends its Moratorium on "Deforestation"

Photo from Jakarta Globe.  Used without permission.  
Two years ago Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) signed Presidential Instruction (Inpres) 10/2011, which imposed a moratorium on the issuance of new licenses for converting primary forests and peatlands into other uses, including oil palm plantations.  Yesterday (May 15, 2013), SBY signed an extension of the moratorium which would keep it in place in its current form for an additional two years.  The original moratorium was put in place in May of 2011 as part of an agreement between the governments of Indonesia and Norway whereby the latter would provide US$1 billion to help reduce deforestation.  In return the Indonesian government would take steps to establish a nationwide conservation strategy aimed at reducing carbon emissions.  The deal was part of a commitment on the part of SBY that Indonesia, currently the #3 emitter of greenhouse gasses, would voluntarily reduce its emissions by 26% by 2020.  In this post I'll apply the tools of geography and political ecology to explain the obstacles which would need to be overcome to make the moratorium an effective policy tool.

 Has the Moratorium Been Effective?

The idea behind the moratorium is that it would give planners and policymakers time to develop better mechanisms of forest governance.  Thus the presidential instruction was directed at the heads of three ministries, five cabinet-level offices, and all of the nation's governors and district heads, since they all have a role in the granting of forest concessions.  One of the most important things to recognize about the inpres though is that it is not a legislative document; rather it is more of a strategy blueprint or set of guidelines to be followed.  Consequently there were questions as to the effectiveness of the inpres as well as its interpretation at the various levels of government.  Moreover, observers also raised questions as to how much land was actually protected by the new document.  Different estimates were released by different government offices, varying by as much as 50%.  Analysis by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), an influential think tank, showed that a significant portion of the land covered by the map contained in the inpres was already protected in national parks and other conservation areas, and so the moratorium extended protection to a mere 22.5 million hectares of forest, rather than the 72 million claimed by the Ministry of Forestry (Murdiyarso et al 2012).  Most observers noted that the failure to include secondary forests and forests that had been logged already constituted a significant weakness, since these areas constitute more than 50% of the nation's total land area and are highly susceptible to conversion to other uses, included oil palm or fiber plantations.  

Additionally, a number of exceptions in the moratorium undermine its overall effectiveness.
From Murdiyarso et al (see references).  Used without permission.
The first exception covers applications for concessions that had already been approved by the Ministry of Forestry.  Secondly, land deemed strategically important for national projects such as geothermal and petroleum development is exempted.  These exceptions (along with a couple of others) created a significant amount of "wiggle room" and left the provisions of the moratorium open to interpretation on a number of levels. And much like the original moratorium, the current extension has drawn fire from critics.  Some of the most vociferous opposition to extending the moratorium has come from Indonesia's palm oil growers.  A major trade group, the Association of Indonesian Palm Oil Producers (GAPSI) argued that the moratorium was bad for the economy because it prevents the expansion of oil palm cultivation, which, according to the trade groups, creates jobs and brings foreign exchange.

"We firmly reject any proposal to extend this moratorium because we stand to lose more than we gain from it", said Topan, a spokesperson for GAPSI (1).

Challenges at Every Level...

To really understand why the moratorium likely won't be as effective as conservationists would hope we have to examine the actors, institutions, and processes operating at various scales.  This is a topic I've discussed in this blog in the past as well.  At the risk of oversimplification, scale refers not only to the physical location of actors and institutions, but also to the scope and extent of their power and influence (2), especially as it relates to other scales.  In this analysis I'll be discussing the global, national, regional, and individual scales as they relate to this moratorium.  These scales aren't merely nested units; they interact with one another and influence once another.  And just because one "level" might seem to be "higher" than another (e.g. the global and the regional), this does not mean that it has more influence.  It is also important to understand that these scales are not monolithic; i.e. at each scale there are lots of different interests and viewpoints, and sometimes these differing perspectives come into conflict with one another.  For example, planners and policy makers in Indonesia want to take advantage of its resource wealth to improve the lives of the nation's people.  I have described in this blog various aspects of this resource wealth, which includes mineral and petroleum deposits as well as rich volcanic soils, and so one of the easiest pathways to material improvement, at least in the short run, is through exploitation of these resources.  But at the same time there are national-scale "actors" interested in sustainable development and ensuring that the environment is not degraded and that ecosystem services are not compromised for future generations.  There is also a significant amount of corruption at the national level.  Thus we can easily see how there might be conflict in the public policy sphere at the national level.

At the global scale can think about this in terms of the wider world economy.  In the past Indonesia has used its competitive advantage in cheap labor to advance its industrial sector, but most manufacturing employment is limited to the island of Java.  The population density on Java extremely high and there is little room for agricultural expansion, and most land is fairly intensively used.  This is not the case on most of Indonesia's "outer islands", though.  Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua are all much less densely populated and have far greater land, which is seen as a potential resource.  Moreover, the economies of these areas are mainly based on agricultural activity.  To illustrate this I've selected four provinces on Sumatra (3) and three from Java and listed the percentage of labor employed in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in the table below (4).  As you can see, a far greater percentage of the labor force is employed in manufacturing in the Java provinces, and much more people are employed in agriculture on Sumatra.  Not only that, but the populations of Central and West Java dwarf the populations of the Sumatran provinces, and so in terms of absolute numbers there are way more employed in manufacturing on Java.

Agriculture Manufacturing
Bengkulu 63.27 3.46
West Sumatra 39.3 7.39
South Sumatra 57.12 4.53
Jambi 57.95 2.57
Central Java 34 19.1
West Java 21 20.5
Banten 13.9 25.2

This is important because it illustrates diverging economic development trajectories.  Java is densely populated, heavily urban, and because land is all but used up the manufacturing and service sectors are the engines of economic growth.  Sumatra, like Kalimantan, Papua, and several other large outer islands, is rich in natural resources and still has a significant amount of land that has not been cultivated.  Thus the exploitation of natural resources as well as agricultural expansion figures prominently in economic development planning, and district and provincial governments very actively court domestic and international investors that can help extract, process, and market resources.  Unfortunately, though, much of the aforementioned land is forested, and many resource deposits (including large amounts of coal and gold) are located in national parks and other protected areas.  So there is significant pressure to convert land from forests to plantations.  Moreover, most of the commodities that are the engines of growth on the outer islands (palm oil, rubber, coal) are not for domestic consumption; rather they are produced for export, and so the dynamics of the international marketplace come into play.  For example, the Bukit Barisan mountains, which run practically the full length of the island of Sumatra, are filled with coal.  In recent years there has been a coal mining boom on the island driven in part by demand from China, which is rapidly expanding its electricity generating capacity mainly through the construction of coal-burning powerplants.  China is also driving rising demand for rubber, since the population is so large and incomes are rising.  More and more people want to buy cars, and cars need tires, which require rubber.  Lastly there is huge global demand for palm oil, which is a key ingredient in thousands of food and hygiene products.  Cheap palm oil allows for the production of cheap food and cosmetics, which are the stock and trade of "big box" chains like Walmart, Tesco, and Carrefour, which are expanding their global reach and thus driving demand.

Expanding agricultural production on the outer islands is part of a coordinated, national strategy for economic growth.  For example, in 2009 the central government introduced a plan to expand agricultural production in an effort not only to enhance food security domestically but also to increase exports.  The commodities included in the plan included corn, sugar, soybeans, rice, palm oil, tea, coffee, cocoa, tuna, and shrimp.  Several of these I've discussed previously in this blog; these are tree crops that are generally grown on large plantations on Sumatra.  The plan involved significant increases in land given over to oil palm cultivation.  More recently the heavily-publicized Master Plan for Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI), which lays out Indonesia's economic development strategy for the next quarter-century, places tree crops such as palm oil and rubber at the center of Sumatra's role in the future (intensive rubber development is indicated in areas shaded orange in the map, whereas palm oil is shaded green).

This national strategy is consistent with the interests of regional (provincial and district) leaders throughout the country as well.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, Indonesia embarked upon ambitious decentralization and democratization reforms following the fall of longtime strongman ruler Suharto in 1998.  District and provincial governments gained a great deal of power and autonomy, whereas previously they had essentially been part of a top-down, centrally-directed authoritarian system.  On the outer island regional leaders inherited two things from the previous regime: a history of overreliance on primary sector activity and relatively underdeveloped infrastructure (when compared to Java).  Thus the obvious way forward from the perspective of regional governments, is through extensification of plantation crops like rubber and palm oil and the expansion of mining activities.  The way the current system is set up, district and provincial governments get to keep a high percentage (80%) of taxes and other revenues generated from these types of activities, which provides funds for "economic development".  Although many regional governments seek to expand their manufacturing sectors, they lack the experience and expertise to develop policies to encourage growth in the industrial sector.  Moreover they are often at a disadvantage not only to other countries like China, but also to other islands (Java) within Indonesia.

Lastly, when we look at the "individual" scale we can learn a lot as well.  Individuals make land use decisions, and they vote for their leaders, and so the aspirations of individuals are important in regional (and national) elections and hence policy.  In rural Sumatra virtually everyone is in favor of oil palm expansion, even many conservationists.  They see it as a way to lift people out of poverty and improve standards of living.  If oil palm plantations are operated on the basis of equity, where local farmers and the larger plantation company have fair shares in the profits, it is argued that returns on oil palms are far greater than any other land use.  This is borne out by Feintrenie et al (2010; see references), who conducted research spanning more than a decade in several villages in the vicinity of Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park.  They show farmers are very much in favor of oil palm expansion, and even when there are conflicts with oil palm companies, local farmers still prefer oil palm to other crops.  They point to two main reasons: 1) high profitability and return on investment  and 2) ease of management and less labor when compared to other crops.  These researchers also argue that oil palm has increased economic development and has brought new economic opportunities.

In the End....

So when we think about the moratorium in the grand scheme of things, we can see that there are big hurdles to success.  In the short run, at least, virtually no one in Indonesia benefits from the moratorium, and there are very strong actors and interests arrayed against it.  Thus even if the lobbying efforts of industry groups have failed to prevent the extension of the moratorium, its content and coverage has been watered down to the point where it likely will have no effect on broader currents in the agricultural sector, because these are driven by larger macroeconomic trends.  And since the moratorium is seen as contrary to the interests of regional governments and individual farmers, enforcement ad compliance is not likely to be a high priority at these levels.  But what I hope is clear from this post is that it's not greed or careless disregard for the environment and atmosphere on the part of farmers that leads to the failure and ineffectiveness of initiatives like the moratorium.  It's rather in the way the world works as actors, institutions, interests, and economic currents operating at various scales come together to drive deforestation.


(1)  Quoted in Jakarta Globe "Palm Oil Planters..."

(2)  There is a very rich and sometimes frustratingly esoteric literature on scale in geography.  Geographers now tend to accept that scale is "socially constructed", which means that scales are not pre-existing containers of human activity, but rather grow and evolve over time.  Thus the influence of a particular scale may change.  

(3)  These are the four provinces that surround Kerinci Seblat National Park, where I did my PhD fieldwork.

(4)  All of the data in this table are taken from statistical yearbooks published annually by the provinces.  The data here is from the 2012 yearbooks, with the exception of Bengkulu province, which comes from the 2010 yearbook.

References and For Further Reading

Austin, Kemen, Stuart Sheppard, and Fred Stolle.  2012.  "Indonesia's Moratorium on New Forest Concessions: Key Findings and Next Steps".  WRI Working Paper.  World Resources Institute, Washington DC.  Available online here.

Feintrenie, Laurene, Wan Kian Chong, and Patrice Levang.  2010.  "Why do Farmers Prefer Oil Palm?  Lessons Learnt from Bungo District, Indonesia".  Small-Scale Forestry 9, pp379-396.

Indonesia Pledges to 'Feed the World'.  Erwida Maulia, Jakarta Post January 30, 2010.  Available online here.

Murdiyarso, Daniel, Sonya Dewi, Deborah Lawrence, and Frances Seymour.  2012.  "Indonesia's Forest Moratorium: A Stepping Stone to Better Forest Governance?"  Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR.  Available online here.  

Palm Oil Planters Bid to End Deforestation Moratorium.  Jakarta Globe May 10 2013.  Available online here.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Ancient Kingdoms of Sumatra

Photo of Candi Bahal at Padang Lawas from Wikipedia.

A couple of years ago I made a post about some ancient kingdoms of Indonesia.  These included Majapahit, Old Mataram, and Sri Vijaya.  The first two of these had their centers on the island of Java, while the former was located on Sumatra.  These three kingdoms are quite famous and all have been studied and written about extensively, and they all have relatively famous archaeological sites.  Recently I have been doing a significant amount of background reading on the history of Sumatra, and so I thought it would be appropriate to describe some of the lesser known kingdoms that had their capitals on Sumatra.  In this post I'll discuss chronologically three Sumatra-based kingdoms: Panai, the kingdom of Adityawarman, and the Jambi-Palembang states that emerged after the decline of the Majapahit empire.  I want to stress here that there is a significant amount of discussion amongst scholars concerning these kingdoms since there are few written records and much of what we know comes from expert interpretation of archaeological findings.  Thus please don't take this dilettantish blog as the final word.  Check out the references; they are all quite interesting, and there are numerous other sources if you are interested in delving a little deeper into the fascinating historical mysteries of Sumatra.

The Panai Kingdom of Northern Sumatra

I first learned about the kingdom of Panai while reading
Map from Wikipedia.  Note the location of
Panai, Jambi, Palembang, and Melayu.
a memoir by FM Schnitger (see references), an archaeologist who was active all over Sumatra during the late colonial period.  Schnitger's writings, though at times irritatingly colonial, pique one's curiosity by opening the door to the vast but little-known history of Sumatra.  He describes the ruins of Padang Lawas (in North Sumatra) as the remnants of the Panai kingdom, which, according to him, appeared in Chinese chronicles as early as the 7th century.  Schnitger asserts that Panai, which was known to the Chinese as Puni or Poli, was the most important state on the island of Sumatra by the year 1000, but shortly thereafter was sacked by Rajendracoladewa, the king of Chola in southern India.

According to Schnitger, the impressive ruins of Padang Lawas were constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries.  He writes that the temples indicate that Panai was a Hindu state, but a later scholar (Mulia 1980) writes that it was a Buddhist kingdom.  Little is known about the history of this kingdom because the inscriptions (1) found at the ruins describe the magic and Tantric cults which presumably were the function of the temples, rather than the realms kings and history.  For a description of the religious leanings of the Panai we turn to Schnitger (1983 [1939]:73-4):

The Bhairawas of Terrible Ones worshiped their gods under horrible solemnity, by preference during the night at cemeteries.  At these orgies, they dedicated to the gods piles of human corpses, in high flaming fires; the stronger the smell of the burning corpses grew, the greater it pleased them, because this stench, which in the inscriptions is compared with the smell of ten thousand flowers, brought salvation from the sphere of generation  Usually the ceremony (which was a symbol of the destruction of the earthly bonds) commenced a few hours after nightfall.  The living victims destined for sacrifice were laid down in a definitely determined attitude, which can well be seen in the drawings; resting on the back, the feet were folded under the body, the hands tied up and the head bent backwards, the chest thus being fully expanded.  Then the priest would approach, and quickly inserting a large knife in the belly of the victim, he would pull it upwards with a jerk so that the whole body was ripped open up to the lower rubs.  The victim would mostly die after a few minutes in violent pain.  The priest would then place himself upon the convulsing body, cut away the heart, fill a skull with blood and empty it at a draught several times in succession.  If by drinking this incomparable beverage, this superior wine, he gradually entered into a state of inebriation, then he would light the fire and would sink into deep meditation.

Camphor, a forest product with numerous
medicinal uses.  An important trade good in
Panai and other early Sumatran kingdoms.
Picture from Botanical.com.
My professional colleagues in archaeology and anthropology are probably going to scream at me and unfriend me on Facebook for saying this, but it sounds like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  In other words, awesome.  Anyway, according to Mulia, Panai eventually was absorbed into the great empire of Majapahit in the 14th century.  It is unclear from the materials I have read what happened to them after that, but Leonard Andaya references "the presumably Batak kingdom of Panai" (2002:386), and so it is possible that the people of Panai were among the ancestors of the Batak, a large ethnic group which today inhabits a large part of North Sumatra.  However, I asked a couple of Batak friends if they had ever heard of Panai and they told me they hadn't; rather they related to me the popular history that the Batak trace their ancestral home to the area around the Toba supervolcano (Lake Samosir).  But whatever may have happened to the people of Panai, they left an impressive complex of at least 16 temples, which I will be sure to check out next time I am in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, at least until recently, the site was being targeted by treasure hunters who were excavating the ruins (see Jakarta Post article here).  

Adityawarman and the Sumatran Heart of Darkness

Photo from Wikipedia.  

The second kingdom chronologically is the highland domain of Adityawarman, which was founded in approximately 1347 in the interior of Sumatra up the river from Dharmasraya, which is now in West Sumatra province.  The history of Adityavarman's kingdom is even more unknown than that of Panai, and there are conflicting sources.  For example, the Wikipedia page on Adityawarman refers to him as the founder of the Minangkabau dynasty of Pagarruyung, but other sources (Miksic 2007, Kulke 2009) suggest that Adityavarman's lineage might have ended shortly after his reign.  I chose to include Adiyawaraman's kingdom in this post because I was fascinated by the story; it sounds very much like a Sumatran "Heart of Darkness".  Adityavarman's tale, as near as I can tell, is as follows.

Adityavarman was born in the late 13th century into a noble family in the capital of the powerful Majapahit empire.  His mother seems to have been a princess from the aforementioned kingdom of Dharmasraya (2), and so Adityavarman was granted titles and a position authority in the Majapahit hierarchy.  After two diplomatic voyages to China in the early 14th century he was sent to Sumatra for one reason or another, most likely to administer Majapahit dependencies, or conduct diplomacy with small "kingdoms" nominally beholden to Majapahit.  At some point, though, Adityawarman decided to strike out on his own, and in 1347 he moved up the river into the highlands, usurping royal authority and proclaiming himself king (maharajadhiraja; see Kulke 2009:232) and disavowing any obligation or overlord.

Like the Panai rulers, Adityavarman was a devotee of the Sivaitic Bhairava cult (Schnitger 1989[1939]).  One of the most visible symbols of his rule is a 4.41-meter (14.5 feet) statue, presumably of himself, now located in the National Museum in Jakarta.  Kulke (2009:229) calls this ghastly statue "Southeast Asia's largest royal 'portrait sculpture'".  For a description we again turn to Schnitger:

A terrifying figure, it represents the Malay ruler Adityawarman, with a knife and a skull in his hands, serpents twined about his ankles, wrists, upper arms, and in his ears, standing on a recumbent human body, which in turn rests on a pedestal of eight grinning skulls.

Schnitger goes on to explain that human sacrifice, the drinking of blood, and the "rattling of human bones" (24) were important parts of Bhairaya rituals.  Thus one might imagine Adityavarman "going up the river" to found a kingdom of sensual mayhem where divine sanction was manifested in death and sexual bacchanalia.  Though Adityavarman is also remembered for leaving the among the most royal inscriptions of any ruler in Southeast Asian history, many of these have yet to be interpreted.  Ironically after his death Adityavarman's kingdom seems to have been absorbed by the deep jungle which gave rise to it; though his son succeeded him his kingdom may have been destroyed in the late 14th century (shortly after his death) by Majapahit.

Jambi and Palembang 

The last kingdom I want to discuss in this post is actually two kingdoms, Muara Jambi, which are thought by some to be the capital of Sri Vijaya.  There are also ruins at Palembang, but neither of these sites are directly related to the more recent kingdoms of Jambi (which developed on the Batang Hari river) and Palembang (which developed on the Musi river).  These latter-day kingdoms seem to have emerged in the 16th and 17th  century.  The new Palembang Sultanate was founded by nobles fleeing from the collapsing Majapahit empire who allied with local leaders to form a new independent realm.  Jambi arose an an independent realm a little later on.  The ascendancy of Palembang and Jambi appears to be directly related to the international pepper (Piper nigrum) trade.  Pepper was developed as a cash crop in this area in the 1500s and Jambi and Palembang both lay outside the reach of the powerful Achenese and Banten kingdoms, and so they weren't compelled to sell their pepper to the respective royal monopolies (Colombijn 2002).  Instead they could sell directly to the Europeans at a lower price, and so the Dutch and English East India companies set up trading posts in the early 1600s (B Andaya 1993).  By this time the two often competing polities already had close ties due to frequent intermarriage, and were regarded by European visitors as essentially one large clan.
Plan of Palembang Palace from here.
Jambi and Palembang, but they were so closely related in terms of kinship and geography that they are often treated together.  These two states developed in the coastal plain of eastern Sumatra in the core of what had once been the heartland of the great Sri Vijayan empire.  I wrote a previous post about the ruins of

However relations with the Europeans weren't smooth, and after repeated incidents both the English and Dutch left Jambi.  The lack of an external market led to a decline in the power and prestige of Jambi.  Elsewhere in insular Southeast Asia (3) historians have commented on upstream-downstream dynamics, where downstream rulers were able to assert control over upstream populations because they could control traffic on the waterway.  However, thanks to the scholarship of Barbara Andaya we know that the upstream areas of central Sumatra (including Kerinci and areas inhabited by Minangkabau) were linked by jungle pathways and established communication routes, and so upstream groups didn't have to trade with a particular downstream ruler if the conditions weren't favorable.  This seems to have been the case in Jambi in the 18th century, and eventually the sultanate fell under the authority of the Dutch colonial government.  At the same time the Palembang sultanate was able to reach more lucrative and lasting agreements with the Dutch, so they held out a little longer, but eventually they too would become part of the Dutch colony.

Map of Palembang, Jambi, and environs from Kathirithamby-Wells (1993).  See references.

This is just a brief, impressionistic history of three kingdoms that existed on Sumatra.  In my reading I encountered references to many others, some mere mentions of nearly unknown states that once existed and no doubt commanded vast realms of people and resources, but now are little more than a name.  It reminds me of Percy Shelly's poem Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.  ear them, on the sand,
Half sung, a shattered visage lies whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear--
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!"
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'


(1)  Mulia (1980) says that the inscriptions are from the 11th to the 14th century.

(2)  I say "may have been" here because most of the sources I have consulted agree that she was from a kingdom called "Malayu", which was a coastal state that was evidently part of the Sri Vijaya confederation and was, in approximately 1275 annexed by Singasari (which gave rise shortly thereafter to Majapahit), but there seems to be some disagreement as to where Malayu actually was.  Some sources indicate that it was Dharmasraya.

(3) "insular" Southeast Asia refers to island Southeast Asia.


Andaya, Barbara Watson.  1993.  To Live as Brothers: Southeast Sumatra in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.  324pp.

Andaya, Leonard.  2002.  The Trans-Sumatran Trade and the Ethnicization of the Batak.  Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land en Volkenkunde 158:3, pp367-409.

Colombijn, Freek.  2002.  The Volatile State in Southeast Asia: Evidence from Sumatra, 1600-1800.  The Journal of Asian Studies, 62:2 pp497-529.

Kathirithamby-Wells, Jaya.  1993.  Hulu-Hilir Unity and Conflict: Malay Statecraft in East Sumatra Before the Mid-Nineteenth Century.  Archipel 45, pp77-96.

Kulke, Hermann.  2009.  Adityawarman's Highland Kingdom.  pp229-252 in From Distant Tales: Archaeology and Ethnohistory in the Highlands of Sumatra.  Dominik Bonatz, John Miksic, J. Davide Neidel and Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz, editors.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 509pp.

Miksic, John.  2007.  From Megaliths to Tombstones: the Transition from Prehistory to the Early Islamic Period in Highland West Sumatra.  Indonesia and the Malay World 32:93 pp191-210.

Mulia, Rumbi.  1980.  The Ancient Kingdom of Panai and the Ruins of Padang Lawas  Bulletin of the Research Centre of Archaeology of Indonesia #14.  Jakarta.  36pp.

Reid, Anthony.  2005.  An Indonesian Frontier: Acehnese and Other Histories of Sumatra.  Singapore: National University of Singapore.  439pp.

Schnitger, F.M.  1989.  Forgotten Kingdoms in Sumatra.  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.175pp.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Human Territoriality and Indonesia's Kerinci Seblat National Park

Just over a quarter of a century ago an influential geographer by the name of Robert Sack wrote a book called Human Territoriality.  The basic idea behind quintessentially geographic book was to describe ways in which physical spaces are used to control people and resources.  Sack (and other scholars) refer to this as "territoriality"; he defines territoriality as "the attempt by an individual or group to affect, influence, or control people, phenomena, and relationships, by delimiting and asserting control over a geographic area" (19).  In this post I'm going to attempt to apply this concept of territoriality to Kerinci Seblat National Park on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia to see what it can tell us about the viability of various strategies to address the problems I've focused on in this blog and over the course of my research in Indonesia.  These problems include illegal logging, forest encroachment, and poaching.

The Concept of Territoriality

On the surface it seems pretty obvious: those in power, be they governments, the boss, or parents, create certain rules of use or access for different places.  You can probably think of a lot of examples here in Hawai'i, both in terms of the way we live our lives now and in how the Old Hawaiians organized their society.  Military bases are accessible only by certain populations.  There are some beaches where we can fish, others where we can't.  Certain behaviors are proscribed in certain places, like smoking.  These could all be considered territorial strategies.  But territoriality isn't new.  You are probably familiar with the Kapu system, much of which involved control over access to many spaces and the types of behaviors allowed in others.  The Kapu system is a good example of territoriality.  Another remarkable Old Hawaiian example of territoriality is the concept of pu'uhonua, which refers to places of sanctuary and refuge designated by the chiefs.  A person that had broken the kapu could find shelter in a pu'uhonua, where he or she would be protected from punishment and in some instance be given a clean slate upon leaving the pu'uhonua.

Sack's contribution to our common sense understanding was to identify a number of different types of territoriality and then dissect these strategies to understand the underlying assumptions upon which they are based.  Sack called these assumptions tendencies".  The ten tendencies he identified are combined in different ways to control people and resources.  Another important contribution of Sack's work is the understanding that territoriality is always "socially constructed"; this means that it is rooted in and derives its meaning from culture and society.  And because culture and society change over time, territoriality emerges in different ways at different points in history.

The list below describes Sack's 10 "tendencies".  See how many you recognize and how they are manifested in our society.

1.  Classification.  This involves making rules for things based on their location rather than by what they are.  When a youngster declares her room off-limits to her bratty brother she is classifying everything in the room based on location.  If it is in the room it's off limits.  If not, its not off limits.

2.  Communication.  This is manifested in terms of boundaries, signs, uniforms, and any other symbol that signals to people that specific rules are in place.  A "no parking" sign would be a good example.

3.  Enforcement.  This involves the use of power to enforce the rules of territoriality. Enforcement is always necessary because without it no one would pay attention to all the other tendencies.

4.  Reifying Power.  "Reify" means to make something visible or to treat an abstract thing as though it were concrete.  We can't always see power, and so this tendency makes power visible.  To me the Oval Office is a good example of reification.  It is off-limits to all but a very select few.

5.  Displacing.  In certain instances territoriality can distract your attention away from what is actually controlling your behavior.  For example, if you have ever thought to yourself (or castigated someone) by saying "you can't do that here!" then you are illustrating displacement; you are controlling your behavior not because a powerful entity has made a rule, but rather because you have made a connection in your head that certain behaviors are not appropriate in certain places.

6.  Impersonal.  Territoriality helps governance because it makes relationships impersonal.  One of the examples Sack uses is a prison guard who is responsible for a block of cells rather than people.  The guard's responsibility and duty is defined as a specific place.

7.  Neutrality.  This tendency means that the subjects (you and me and everyone else) take for granted the fact that there are different rules for different places, and so we don't really question it.

8.  Container/Mold.  This means that a certain place or area is assigned a particular function or role in society.  Sack uses the example of a city; its authority is delineated by borders, even though in reality the city may extend beyond the borders.

9.  Emptiability.  This allows us as a society to reassign roles to certain places.  Sack's example is an empty lot; you may think of a vacant building.  In reality these places are not "empty," but we see them that way and this enables the space to be assigned a different use or owner.

10.  Engendering more territoriality.  This basically refers to the way that we organize new things.  Using territorial strategies allows us to compartmentalize certain aspects of our society.

According to Sack, these 10 tendencies come together in different combinations to organize society in different ways.  For example, his combination of hierarchy and bureaucracy combines all ten of the tendencies to define pretty much every relationship and responsibility in society.  Magic representations are another combination, this time consisting of reification and displacement.  In the case of magic places, reification makes authority visible, but displacement means that people control their behavior based on what they consider to be the magical properties of the place, rather than because of rules established by some powerful authority.  Sack would say that our informal prohibition against taking sand from the beach here in Hawaii would be an example of this.

Hopefully you can get the idea.  He comes up with 14 different combinations, but these obviously aren't exhaustive.  And we have to remember that Sack invented the tendencies.  I think they are useful conceptual tools though and I will explain why in a moment.  But first I want to reiterate that territoriality changes over time; it is tied to particular epochs or moments in history, so a combination of territoriality that was in place 200 years ago might not still be effective today.  So changes in territoriality can be associated with changes in social conditions.

The Tendencies of National Parks

I like Sack's framework because I can see how it can be applied to national parks, which I study.  By now it should be clear to you that national parks are tools of territoriality; they have very clear rules of access and there are certain behaviors that are illegal there.  Moreover, many parks have zonation systems so that certain activities (camping, gathering non-timber forest products) may be okay in some areas but proscribed in others.  But I think we can come up with a unique combination of "tendencies" that are used in national parks (specifically Indonesia's national parks).  Some of these tendencies are obvious, others not so.  I also want to make the point this combination of tendencies is connected to a certain socio-political configuration; in this case, the authoritarian New Order regime of former president Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from 1966 to 1998.  I will elaborate on this point below.

1.  Classification.  This is pretty clear; it refers to systems of zonation in a park itself but would also refer to a park's place in a large national or global network of parks.  For example, Kerinci Seblat National Park is important because it protects very rare lowland dipterocarp forests as well as rare animals like the Sumatran tiger.  It has a role, a function within a larger network.  The role of a centralized government is important for coordination, which is essential for this type of classification.

2.  Communication.  This consists of uniforms for guards, signs, and border markers.  For a large park like KSNP, which covers a lot of local jurisdictions, central authority is important for coordinating this communication.

3.  Enforcement.  This consists of not only regulations and laws but also forest policemen to enforce the laws.  Again, central authority is important to give the guards legitimacy, or in more vernacular terms "to get their back".  There are also elements of standardization and coordination here.

4.  Reifying.  Some parks are visible reminders or symbols of the power of the state.  They are "national" properties, and symbols of the greatness of the realm or regime.  Thus obviously the nation or central government is key to this tendency.

5.  Displacement.  In US national parks we can say that "good citizens" control their behavior in parks because they respect the park.  But in reality they are following rules imposed by the federal government.  Indonesia (and many developing countries) are different because most people don't perceive the park in the same way as we do in this country.  But I am asserting here that parks have an important displacement function in Indonesia, but it is a different displacement function.  Suharto's rule was extraordinarily corrupt, and the dictator's family and supporters were generously rewarded for their loyalty.  Often this reward came in the form of exclusive access to natural resources like timber.  Thus protected areas (not just national parks) were established to reserve resources like trees for certain people and groups with close ties to the regime.  The displacement function in this case is such that non-privileged people are conditioned to believe that they can't use the resource not because of corruption, but because the resource is important for conservation or ecological reasons.  The role of a strong central government should be obvious here.

6.  Impersonal.  The forest guards, who were quite powerful at KSNP during the New Order, are responsible for protecting a certain territory, rather than for controlling people.  Central control is really important in this case because in many park the park's guards and administrators were brought in from other islands so they didn't have any connection with the people living in and around the park.

 7.  Container/Mold.  Indonesia started to gazette parks around 1980, a time when the global environmental movement was getting into full swing and when concerns about deforestation in tropical countries were gaining a lot of momentum.  Thus the parks exhibit the container/mold tendency because they are a designated place where conservation happen.  Moreover, beginning around the same time international conservation agencies, rich country donors, and multilateral organizations like the UN started making huge sums of money available for conservation projects.  Thus national parks fit the mold of a place where projects like that are implemented; they become a target for international donors.  Here the role of a strong central government is key because these types of agreements need to be negotiated and coordinated, and that is one of the things central governments do reasonably well.

Why is this Important?

This is important because it allows us to see the conditions under which Indonesia's national parks were established and what types of political circumstances enabled the parks to function.  It is very clear that the parks are a product of an authoritarian government.  However, in 1998 Suharto stepped down, and his government ended.  Immediately thereafter those that inherited the reigns of power in the country started to pass laws (which I have described in other posts) which dismantled the top-down centralized authoritarian regime.  Thus many of the conditions that allowed for the establishment of the parks have changed.

Over the past 15 years Kerinci Seblat National Park has experienced huge problems with encroachment as tens of thousands of farmers have moved (illegally) into the park.  While the park had problems before the fall of Suharto, it now faces some threats to its very existence coming from all sides.  And it's not only encroachers, district governments are antagonistic to the park as well because they are not able to legally access the resources within the park.  Thus the national park as a territorial strategy is being fundamentally challenged by many actors that have been empowered by the decentralization reforms.

This is a very important realization because if we understand this we can start to think about why certain strategies that are currently used to control poaching, encroachment, and other forest crimes might not be very effective.  We can also use this new understanding to try to come up with new strategies that might be more effective.  For example, an academic paper I recently read about Kerinci Seblat National Park makes some recommendations for the future.  According to this paper (whose author I have tremendous respect for), enforcement resources should be focused on several (four) key access points in the province of Bengkulu to control forest crimes.  However, this recommendation fails to take into consideration the socio-political changes that have taken place that render the enforcement strategy less than effective.  In other words, this strategy of increased enforcement would be based on the old conditions rather than what is the current reality.  It is fine to say "we should increase enforcement", but given the current circumstances that is much easier said than done.  Moreover the newly-empowered local interests that have been brought into power by the decentralization reforms are precisely the same interests that are coordinating, controlling, and benefiting from illegal activities within the park.

In conclusion, we have to understand the fundamental "tendencies" upon which the efficacy of a national park depends.  In the case of Kerinci Seblat National Park, the socio-political conditions upon which the park was established no longer exist, and so territoriality based on those conditions will no longer work.  The new task, then, is to create a new territorial strategy that is more compatible with the current socio-political realities.  Which tendencies reflect what is actually happening on the ground?  Only by addressing this question will we be able to ensure the long-term survival of the national parks of Indonesia, along with the natural treasures contained therein.


Sack, Robert David.  1986.  Human Territoriality: Its Theory and Practice.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  256pp.