4. Indonesia’s New Ethnic Elites

Gerry van Klinken1

On 20 February 2001 Dayak warriors attacked Madurese settlers living in the Central

Kalimantan port town of Sampit. By early March, police estimated that nearly 500 had

died, most of them Madurese, and most by beheading. Other estimates were much higher.

The attacks soon spread and by mid-April over 100,000 Madurese had fled the province,

most to their ethnic homeland off Java. In the whole province of 1.8 million, Madurese

only remained in the town of Pangkalanbun west of Sampit – and that far less than half

the initial 45,000. The province had been ‘ethnically cleansed’ of Madurese, 6-7 percent

of the population.2 The Dayak warriors, meanwhile, had a new hero. He was Professor

KMA Usop, who declared: ‘We have won the war… If they ever come back they will face

the same treatment.’3

All over Indonesia, post-New Order political violence is taking ethnic forms. The

Indonesian discourse (inappropriately) calls this ‘horizontal violence.’ Everywhere the

question is asked: What has happened to the Indonesia we thought we knew? The Central

Kalimantan vignette suggests we should look for an answer among local elites, who seem

to be playing new roles in an unfamiliar script.

Similar vignettes could be drawn from West Kalimantan, Maluku, Poso in Central

Sulawesi, Papua or Aceh (the latter two even less ‘horizontal’ than the others). Even

where there has been little or no violence, local elites, from Flores to Gorontalo, from

Minahasa and Banten to Riau, are building an exclusive discourse of ethnicity such as has

not been heard so publicly in Indonesia before.

One strong perspective on these elites and their constituencies is offered by Jack Snyder.4

Under certain circumstances (but not others), ethnic conflict or ultra-nationalism can

1 Email: Many thanks to those who gave their time on a visit to Central and East

Kalimantan, 12-25 March 2001, including (in Central Kalimantan) Sabran Ahmad, Tiyel Djelau, Imam

Hanafi, Donny Y Kaseduw, Suwido Limin, Marthinus Mardianus, Nordin (Walhi), Rinco Norkim, Abdi

Rachmat, TT Suan, Tantawi, Yustinus Tenung, and KMA Usop; and (in East Kalimantan) Asli Amin,

Saroanongpranoto, Paul Kadok, Benny Kowel, Sahrial Setia, Hery Romadhan, Sofyan (SBSI), Martinus

Tennes, and Roedy Haryo Widjono AMZ. Many thanks also for critical feedback on earlier drafts from

Anne Casson, Liz Chidley, Harold Crouch, Mike Malley, John McCarthy, and especially Ed Aspinall.

2 ‘Communal violence in Indonesia: Lessons from Kalimantan,’ Jakarta/Brussels: International Crisis

Group (ICG), Asia Report no. 19, 27 June 2001. A similar ethnic cleansing had taken place in West

Kalimantan over two periods in 1997-99.

3 ‘Indonesian army finds thousands of refugees in jungle,’ Associated Press, 26 February 2001.

4 Snyder 2000:80.

break out as countries emerge from an authoritarian regime. The democratic space that

opens up is then occupied less by true democrats than by anti-democratic elites, who

manipulate ethnic sentiment in order to deflect popular demands for democracy.

Democratisation is likely to fail under circumstances where democratic institutions are

weak and where elites are not adaptable to democracy. Serbia, which gave the world the

term ‘ethnic cleansing’, is an obvious example, and Snyder includes a chapter on this

country’s history before World War I.

When Snyder traces ethnic conflict in transitional situations to anti-democratic elites who

take advantage of weak institutional controls, he is taking positions in at least two

broader theoretical debates, one on the nature of politicised ethnicity, and another on the

political role of elites. In both these debates his positions are at variance with those often

taken either in the Indonesianist literature or at least the mass media hitherto.

On the issue of politicised ethnicity, the view still most commonly heard in the mass

media (though now rarely in the scholarly literature) is the primordialist one, in which

ethnicity is an ancient and fundamental reality. Over against this view, instrumentalists

such as Snyder see ethnicity as something much more flexible and subject to (re)

invention by elite opinion-makers. In the same spirit, for example, Paul Brass has written

a brilliant description of the way such elites in India manipulate ethnic feeling to promote

communal violence at certain moments critical for their own needs.5

Snyder also takes a position on the political role of elites. The theoretical literature here is

broadly divided between functionalists, who view them as a natural part of any social

system and essential to its proper functioning, and Marxians/ Weberians, who view them

as essentially parasitic.6 Elites have always played a central role in the study of the

strongly hierarchical societies of Southeast Asia. In the past, the functionalist view has

dominated, also in Indonesianist literature.7 Using the language of integration rather than

of conflict, elites were represented as the best to which a society gives birth.

Modernisation, and lately democratisation, were good things being done by enlightened

middle class elites.

However the alternative view, of elites less as society’s best servants than as its worst

exploiters, experienced a remarkable resurgence in Indonesia following the 1998 crisis.

Tim Lindsey, for example, wrote in 2000 that ‘elite bad faith’ had torpedoed legal

reform. They had conducted their real business in a ‘shadow system’ behind the scenes,

and with their military friends had turned Indonesia into a ‘black state.’8 This was by no

means an extreme view. The orthodox American free-marketeering opinion of the 1997-

98 Indonesian economic crisis was that it was caused by Suharto’s cronyism. Even inside

the country, exasperation with the ‘power elite’ was almost the main theme of Indonesian

5 Brass 1997.

6 See for example the editor’s introduction to Grusky 1994. Two texts containing still-usefull tools for

elites are Putnam 1976 and Giddens 1973: 118-127.

7 Moh. Halib and Huxley 1996. See especially the insightful chapters by Victor King on sociology, and by

Duncan McCargo and Robert H. Taylor on politics.

8 Manning and Van Diermen 2000: 283, 289, 291.

newspaper headlines in the months before Megawati Sukarnoputri finally replaced

President Abdurrahman Wahid on 23 July 2001.

The image of parasitic elites who deflect democratisation by stimulating ethnic conflict

provides a leitmotif for our inquiry into Indonesia’s new ethnic elites. However, it is

important to add one more dimension to our inquiry, namely that these are local elites and

not national ones. They are not competing for the ultimate prize of national leadership,

but for local leadership – at the level of the province. They are ‘subaltern’ elites, who

need to maintain relations upwards, in the capital, as well as downwards, among their

chosen constituencies.

India has a large literature on the increasingly complex mobilisation along communal

lines (language and religion) that takes place between sub-national groups within a multiethnic

state.9 Indonesian studies largely ignored this level of political activity throughout

the New Order, and we can learn a great deal from this literature. Surprised by the sudden

explosion of identity politics at the sub-national level since about the end of 1996, many

Indonesian opinion makers assumed that this translates to national disintegration. The

literature on India, by contrast, views identity politics as simply an added level of

complexity, that can still be accommodated within the existing nation-state.

The complexity grows as new elites – not part of the westernised national elites who rode

high on earlier waves of anti-colonial nationalism – enter the arena by mobilising hitherto

unmobilised sections of the population. These other elites could for example (claim to)

represent the traditional chiefs, princes and landlords upon whom the imperial powers

relied in colonial-dominated Asia and Africa. In the context of a weakened central state,

Indonesia is presently seeing a resurgence of such ‘new’ (or newly prominent) elites.

These subaltern elites are in competition with other such elites. They often look to the

central state to play mediating roles. Rather than leading us towards apocalyptic scenarios

of national disintegration therefore, the well-known list of hot spots enumerated above

should lead us to a revised view of the existing state. The fact that these are all local

dramas suggests a ‘disaggregated’ state, as Joel Migdal put it, one in which negotiation

between societal and state actors takes places at many different levels all the way from

the capital to the remotest village.10

Even as conflict plays out in one area, contrasting vignettes, less noticed but no less

important, play out in others. In East Kalimantan for example, not long after the Central

Kalimantan bloodletting, the district head of Kutai Kertanegara excited much admiration

among his constituency by promising largesse under the new decentralisation laws.

Syaukani HR said all tuition fees would be waved from the primary to the university

level, teachers would get a substantial monthly ‘incentive’ in their pay packet, school

principals would each get a motorcycle, and every sub-district (kecamatan) would get a

9 See for example Guha and Spivak 1988, and Brass 1974.

10 See Migdal’s Introduction in Migdal, Aful Kohli and Shue 1994.

school bus. Each of the 194 villages in the district would receive a Rp 1 billion

development grant plus a Rp 100 million rotating loan fund.11

These two vignettes, the one as irenic and constitutional as the other is nightmarish, yet

from neighbouring provinces, lead us to view the Indonesian state less as an autonomous,

highly centralised machine, and more as a multi-polar series of arenas of domination and

resistance. Local conditions can produce very different outcomes, and the ‘centre’ is

removed to an almost imperial distance. To understand this Indonesia, we can no longer

ask simply what Jakarta is doing, but need to know what local conditions allow an ethnic

fascist like Usop to emerge in one area, while a pork-barreling district head like Syaukani

prevails in the other.

Central Kalimantan

Douglas Miles wrote one of only a handful of books in English on the neglected province

of Central Kalimantan. He describes a conversation in the early 1960s with Mahir Mahar,

a civil servant who was the key figure in the long battle to create this Dayak province.

‘He [Mahar] and his political associates’ Miles reported, ‘acted on the assumption that in

an administrative unit where Ngaju [Dayak] were a majority, ethnic loyalties of the

hinterland population would keep their leaders in power against Banjarese-Malay rivalry.

However, a campaign to bolster awareness of common traditional values and interests

among people of various utus [dialect group] identity would be a necessary preliminary

to the establishment of an autonomous administrative entity’12

Here we have in a nutshell the Dayak elite approach of the 1930s. The unknowing forestdwellers

of central Borneo were about to be made ‘Dayak’ by their city cousins, who

needed a cheer squad for their own battle for the perquisites of office. How strangely

removed this is, incidentally, from the notion that the more ‘modern’ people become the

less interested they are in myths of origin.

Until 1919, the notion ‘Dayak’ had been merely a convenience in the minds of European

anthropologists. But in that year graduates of the mission school in Kuala Kapuas turned

it into a political reality when they established the Sarekat Dayak, on the model of

Sarekat Islam. In 1926 it renamed itself Pakat Dayak, and it became a political party in

1938. It set up a Sub-Committee for Dayak Tribal Awareness, to produce literature of the

kind Mahar discussed above. Scholars have for too long regarded late colonial ethnic

associations such as Jong Java, Jong Batak, and this Dayak one as mere precursors to

more inclusive national Indonesian ones. This one at least did not fit the pattern. It

spawned an unbroken succession of such associations in Borneo’s interior that persist to

the present day.

11 ‘Dana perimbangan segera cair: Kutai terima Rp. 1.4 trilyun, sektor pendidikan prioritas,’ Kompas 1

June 2001.

12 Miles 1976:126. Almost all the book-length literature in English on Central Kalimantan is either

enthropological or environmental. Two other significant anthropological texts include Schiller 1997 and

Weinstock 1983. See also King 1993 and Sellato forthc.

Professor KMA Usop’s 1996 book Pakat Dayak (1996) fits like a glove with the Mahar

tradition of ethnic awareness-raising by an urban elite. We cannot do justice to this

surprising departure from the New Order non-ethnic developmentalist discourse in this

short discussion. Not to my knowledge distributed outside Central Kalimantan, it shows

that local spaces for an ethnic identity discourse were here and there beginning to open

up already before the New Order ended. Dayak identity and the desire for a Dayak

administration are again closely inter-twined in this account. Far from being lost among

the ancestors in the mists of time, the birth of this identity is located in the interaction

between indigenous leaders and the modern colonial state. It first stirred during the

Banjar wars against the Dutch of 1859-1863, the echoes of which were heard far up the

rivers from Banjarmasin. But it burst into life in 1894, during the Tumbang Anoi peace

gathering. It was the first time Dayak chiefs had gathered in such numbers and for such a

long and intensive meeting. Tumbang Anoi was also the culmination of the Dutch

pacification of Borneo. This meeting, says Usop, ‘gave rise to an awareness of Dayak

ethnicity and helped to integrate society’ (1996: 21). The irony so evident to the outside

reader – namely that this very Dayak identity had therefore been created by the Dutch

pacification effort – is not explored explicitly.

Dutch-educated Dayak elites lobbied through Pakat Dayak for positions in the colonial

bureaucracy, and dreamed of an administration of their own. On 7 December 1946 they

came closest yet to acquiring one when Dutch administrator Van Mook gave them the

Great Dayak Council. Mahir Mahar was put in charge. It was part of the Dutch strategy to

encircle the Republic of Indonesia with collaborating federal territories.

With the Dutch gone after Indonesian independence, Great Dayak died a quiet death. But

Mahar and his friends did not give up the dream. In 1953 they set up a political

movement (Dewan Rakyat Kalimantan Tengah) as well as a guerrilla movement

(Gerakan Mandau Talawang Pancasila, GMTPS). They held a Central Kalimantan

Peoples Congress (2-5 December 1956) and won the day when they threatened to go the

same way as the Banjarese were threatening to do, namely join the nation-wide regional

revolt in 1957 known as Darul Islam/ Tentara Islam Indonesia (DI/ TII). Tjilik Riwut, a

popular Dayak TNI officer who had supported the campaign for provincehood, became

its first governor (1957-67).

The New Order brought more central control. At first governors were Dayaks weakened

by military secretaries, then from 1984 Central Kalimantan was governed by a series of

Javanese. The Dayak elite, meanwhile, chose collaboration within over revolt without.

They joined Golkar and its many organs, and helped stage-manage elections with

spectacular success. Golkar victories in Central Kalimantan substantially outstripped the

already high national average throughout the New Order. They were also higher than

those in East Kalimantan.13 This collaboration with an authoritarian state corporatist

13 The proportion of the vote won by Golkar in New Order elections in the two provinces is as follows

(information from Mike Malley, pers. comm. 17 August 2001):

1971 1977 1982 1987 1992 1997

E. Kal. 0.55 0.57 0.61 0.68 0.62 0.70

C. Kal. 0.81 0.70 0.84 0.89 0.86 0.86

regime, far less unavoidable than they themselves liked to portray it, and far more

extensive than simply electoral work, placed them in the service of metropolitan interests

often at variance with those of most of Central Kalimantan’s population. In the post-New

Order transition, this made them more likely to behave in the anti-democratic ways that

Snyder describes.

The New Order began to weaken in the early 1990s. Even though Central Kalimantan

was only about two-thirds Dayak, provincial elites began once more to cast their

campaign against centralism in the traditional terms of the loss of Dayak hegemony

within the bureaucracy. KMA Usop was their major ideologue. With him were the now

ageing individuals who had brought the province to birth, such as Sabran Achmad and

Tiyel Djelau. In 1993 they formed an association – LMMDD-KT,14 with the avowed

purpose of reclaiming Central Kalimantan (or rather, its bureaucracy) for Dayaks.

Although it failed in its first political action of demanding a son-of-the-soil (‘putra

daerah’) governor to replace Soeparmanto that year, it succeeded in elevating a local

sense of Dayak identity with clear political implications. Usop wrote the first edition of

Pakat Dayak for the organisation’s first seminar in May 1993. LMMDD-KT

commemorated the Tumbang Anoi centenary in 1994 with a local newspaper blitz.

LMMDD-KT held the Second Peoples Congress on 2-5 December 1998, timed for the

same days as the one that was first held with such success in 1956. Rejecting charges that

it was ‘primordialist’ (a New Order word for ‘racist’), the organisation underlined the

indigenous versus newcomer distinction constantly. ‘Dayaks to become masters in their

own country’was the vision it announced.15

It was the first of several such ‘people’s congresses’ held around the country by

Indonesia’s new ethnic elites. Others were held in Riau in late January/ early February

2000, in Papua in late May/ early June 2000, and in Minahasa in August 2000.

Usop is now in his sixties (b. 5 July 1936).16 A Muslim belonging to the majority Ngaju

Dayak ethnic group but with ancestors from Banjarmasin, he was the rector of

Palangkaraya University 1981-88. He has a master’s degree in philosopy from New

Delhi, and extensive journalistic experience in Jakarta and then India in the late 1950s

and 1960s. He returned to Indonesia in 1970. In recent years he kept in touch with many

non-government organisations around Central Kalimantan, often ethnic in nature.

LMMDD-KT was designed as a peak body. He was already drawn to the possibilities of

politicised ethnicity in the early 1980s, when he took part in a Pontianak meeting about

14 Lembaga Musyawarah Masyarakat Dayak dan daerah Kalimantan Tengah. The ‘daerah’ in the name was

meant to indicate an openness to non-Dayaks, but there is no evidence of that in the structure itself.

15 Manan Bunda, Pedlik Asser, Dahir Madjat, suparman Ismail, Yoas Elko, ‘Poko-poko pikiran: Visi

Dayak , menghadapi abad 21- Dayak menjadi tuan di negeri sendiri,’ LMMDD-Kotim, paper presented at

the Kongres Rakyat Kalimantan Tengah II, Palangkaraya, 2-5- December 1998.

16 ‘Prof KMA M Usop MA: “Tunjung Nyaho” dari tepian Kahayan,’ Kompas 27 February 1966. His father

was a teacher named Matseman, no doubt a relative of Sultan Matseman (d.1911), a member of the

Banjermasin royal house who retreated to the upriver Dayak communities after the dutch defeated the

Banjar in 1862 (see Usop 1996:28-41).

Free Borneo (Borneo Merdeka) that included participants from Malaysian Sabah and

Sarawak. One of his supporters remembers he led the first Palangkaraya seminar on the

political importance of Dayak ethnicity in 1986.

We still know little about how these ethnic organisations work. Probably as important as

their lobbying work in high places and their function as mobilisational platforms is their

function as businesses. The Jakarta NGO Elsam has produced some magnificent

preliminary work on this problem for Central Kalimantan.17 Day labourers at the harbour

or in the city markets, or contract labourers at rural logging concessions, gold mining

operations or plantations, socialise in ethnically segregated groups that enjoy a level of

organisation (sometimes called ‘paguyuban’). Madurese and various Dayak organisations

are most often mentioned in recent accounts because of the conflict, but we know other

ethnic groups also existed. Donald Horowitz also stresses the job-finding function of

ethnic associations in the Third World.18 LMMDD-KT and other groups like APPGMTPs

had business interests in the environmentally damaging million hectare peat

swamp project (PLG), in agrobusiness, tourism, small-scale gold mining, and logging

(the latter two mostly illegal).19

Life in these frontier areas is tough.20 The underemployed Dayak loggers and miners who

joined these associations found protection there – not only through strength of numbers

but because their leaders had relationships with local government, police and military

figures. In exchange, they are thought to have become the Dayak organisations’ ‘special

forces’ (pasukan khusus), wielding traditional mandau swords against the Madurese.

Similarly, the Madurese fighters who put up stiff resistance in February 2001 probably

belonged to Madurese associations of loggers and miners. (We badly need studies of

Madurese socialisation in Kalimantan – some are underway at the time of writing.) The

use of strong-arm tactics by ethnic gangs of thugs in the employ of locally wellconnected

business figures is well-known not only in Central Kalimantan but everywhere

in Indonesia. Mafia-like clientelist networks flourish in the huge area where the shadow

state and the black economy meet. They are a central element in the ethnic violence that

has afflicted Indonesia since the end of the New Order.21

17 See the preliminary report by Sentot and Amos, ‘Catatan diskusi: Kekerasan di Kalimantan Tengah,’

Jakarta: Elsam.

18 Horowitz 1985: 111.

19 The name APP-GMTPs, Angkatan Penerus Pejuang Gerakan Mandau Telawang Pancasila, is

delibarately reminiscent of the guerilla organisation that fought for Central Kalimantan in 1956-’57. Mass

media references to its PLG business activities include ‘APP-GMTPS dukung investor,’ Banjermasin Post

11 January 1999; ‘Kejari Kapuas seret Ketua DPRD,’ Banjermasin Post 14 March 2000; ‘APP-GMTSP

“ikut” sidang gugatan Tay Juhari,’ Banjermasin Post 3 June 2000. A mass media reference to LMMDD-KT

involvement in tourism is ‘LMMDD-KT sukseskan Let’s Go Indonesia,’ Banjermasin Post 7 December


20 An indication of the raw exploitation of Central Kalimantan logging workers is given by Bayu

Matoangin, ‘Penebangan hutan liar di Kalteng,’ Indonesia-L mailing list 3 December 1997 (I owe this

reference to Sentot).

21 Among the allegations on the public record that the ethnic associations organised the anti-Madurese

killings was one that Dusmala (Kerukunan Keluarga Besar Warga Dusun Ma’anyan dan Lawangan) had

‘organised’ the attack on Madurese in Kereng Pangi in December 2000. Dusmala, one of the Dayak

Police and military got their cut too. Yansen Binti, chairman of the just-mentioned APPGMTPS

(whose name recalls the guerrilla fighters of the 1950s), also leads the thuggish

Pemuda Panca Marga. This organisation is made up of the sons of soldiers and is known

for its protection rackets as well as its intimidation of political activists. The connection

was not an isolated chance: Usop’s relative (brother?) Rachman Usop led the Kapuas

branch of APP-GMTPS. Together, they used their muscle to keep competitors at bay.

Madurese ethnic associations such as Ikama tended to cultivate the police, whereas

Dayak ones were closer to the military. This added the well-known institutional rivalry

between police and military to an already dangerous mix. There was an actual shoot-out

between police and military at the Sampit harbour during the evacuation of Madurese

refugees in February 2001. A decisive Dayak victory ended in the replacement of the

Central Kalimantan police chief by an ethnic Dayak in late March 2001. I personally saw

a high-ranking military (including Kopassus) delegation from Jakarta do the rounds of

Dayak traditional elites in March, while Usop himself told me: ‘We support the army.’

LMMDD-KT has branches in every district around the province, always lobbying for

Dayak influence in the bureaucracy. When the last New Order governor, Warsito

Rasman, came to the end of his term in office in July 1999, LMMDD-KT joined protests

demanding that the caretaker Jakarta appointed should not become entrenched but open

the way for a Dayak.

Usop was a candidate in the provincial parliamentary vote held in January 2000 for a new

governor. Although he had been the provincial Golkar spokesperson for many years, he

had joined an exodus from Golkar soon after Suharto’s resignation in May 1998. This

must have been a time of great uncertainty for them. After thirty years of assured

patronage, even Golkar insiders now realised it could not survive ‘real’ elections. Like

several others, he chose PDI-P. It was a good choice. In a multiparty field, Megawati’s

PDI-P swept the polls nationally (34%) as well as provincially (35%) in the June 1999

multi-party election.

LMMDD-KT was loud on the hustings preceding the gubernatorial vote. At one stage it

threatened to mobilise ‘hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, from the deepest interior

to the cities,’ to oppose two candidates it disliked.22 In the first round of the vote within

the 45-member provincial assembly, Usop seemed to come from nowhere to be only one

organisations associated with LMMDD-KT rejected the allegations (‘Sejumlah tokoh Dayak berkumpul:

Bantah akan serang Kereng Pangwi,’ Banjermasin Post 23 December 2000). Among the militant Dayak

organisations about which we know little so far are Pembela Petak Danum, and Barisan Pengawal

Pembangunan Isen Mulang. The Elsam report also mentions other groups: Kerukunan Masyarakat Dayak

Katingan Hulu, Ikatan Samba Sanaman Mantikei, Kerukunan Warga Dayak Sambu, LSM Predator, and

others. These informal groups then apparently had a kind of federative relationship with more formal

groups such as LMMDD-KT and APP-GMTPS.

22 ‘Pencalonan gubernur Kalteng menghangat,’ Kompas November 1999.

vote short of the leading candidate, Asmawi Agani, like Usop a Muslim Dayak.23

However, by the third round it was clear Usop had lost. One provincial parliamentarian

told me that religion did matter. A Muslim governor would get on better with Jakarta, but

Usop had a Protestant wife, Mutiara Usop, also a Dayak activist.

Rumours of ‘money politics’ in the gubernatorial playoff were given a boost when

Indonesian Corruption Watch brought out a report in late May 2000 giving the initials of

some of the main financial backers.24 This report was based on another report dated 10

March 2000 by the Central Kalimantan NGO Consortium (Konsorsium LSM Kalimantan

Tengah), and widely circulated among activists and politicians in Jakarta.25 The latter

used full names and is the source for the next few paragraphs.

Intense competition for the governor’s post was already evident in the large number of

candidates vying for election – no less than 14 potential governor-deputy governor pairs,

more than the rules allowed. The winning team – Asmawi Agani (Golkar) and Nahson

Taway (civil service) – was the one with the deepest pockets and the best preparation.

Rivals later leaked a list of 31 parliamentarians who had each been given Rp 100 million

(US$10,000) in travel cheques in early December 1999 as inducement to vote for

Asmawi. The night before the election they got another Rp 50 million each. To this total

of approximately Rp 4 billion in direct bribes, the investigators added other items: last

minute extra inducements to wavering members on election day, Idul Fitri ‘gifts’ to each

parliamentarian, newspaper advertisements, the cost of bringing in large numbers of

Muslim demonstrators from Banjarmasin at various times, a payment of Rp 0.5 billion

for the Interior Minister in Jakarta, and of course the costs of the lobbying team itself.

The runner-up was Prof KMA Usop. He allegedly distributed amounts of Rp 100 million

to each of 24 parliamentarians. Since 31 plus 24 adds up to more than 45, this meant that

some honorable members double-dipped. The Central Kalimantan NGO Consortium

report had photos of the new cars and motorbikes the suddenly rich parliamentarians had

bought for themselves (‘as if possessed’ – seperti kesetanan juga).

Where did Asmawi’s money come from? One of the two biggest names mentioned was

HA Sulaiman HB, a Golkar member in Jakarta’s super-parliament MPR with timber

interests (through Barito Putra Galatama) and based in Banjarmasin. Asmawi, a former

district head in South Barito (Central Kalimantan), had been in business in Banjarmasin

23 Muslim Dayaks are not as rare as many outsiders think. The idea that a Dayak who converts to Islam

‘becomes Malay’ (‘masuk Melayu’) does not apply everywhere in Central Kalimantan, certainly not in

recent times. See Miles 1976, Schiller 1997, Weinstock 1983.

24 ‘Indikasi money politics dalam pemilihan gubernur Kalteng,’ Kompas Cyber Media 29 May 2000.

25 The introduction to this untitles collection of documents is Konsorsium LSM Kalimantan Tengah, ‘Suara

keprihatinan terhadap dilantiknya Gubernur Kalimantan Tengah periode 2000-2005,’ Palangkaraya 10

March 2000. It was signed by office holders of LSAR-KT, LRPL-KT, PPSDM-KT, and Gerak Kalteng.

The key document in the collection is a 16-page undated, unsigned account of the money politics

allegations, marked ‘top secret’ (‘sangat rahasia’), entitled ‘Polemik pemilihan gubernur Kalimantan

Tengah – bila hasil pemilihan disahkan adalah memalukan – tidak ada lagi kepastian hukum dan etika serta

moralitas.’ Other documents include sworn testimonies to the police, copies of official letters, and news


and allegedly owed Sulaiman money. Sulaiman thought Asmawi was more likely to

repay if he were governor. The other was the young tycoon Abdul Rasyid, similarly a

MPR member (utusan daerah) for Central Kalimantan, notorious for supporting illegal

felling in Tanjung Puting National Park at the time, yet regarded as a local hero by the

Dayak leaders of various ethnic associations. Business interests also ensured support

within the Golkar party – several named parliamentarians were building contractors.

Usop’s money, meanwhile, appeared to have come via the hands of a navy colonel named

Beny Supama. Its ultimate source was unknown. Since Usop lost, and the mysterious

funder believed not all the Rp 4 billion in his war chest had been spent, he was asked to

repay the remaining Rp 1.5 billion.

Usop’s financier, Heryanto Garang, bizarrely, had also acted for Asmawi – a double

agent. Garang was the secretary-general of Usop’s ethnic association LMMDD-KT, as

well as the leader of the parliamentary PDI-P faction in the provincial parliament to

which Usop belonged (not even Golkar!). He had good business connections, with

Sulaiman as well as with Col. Beny Supama.

These hidden lines of influence connecting elite business interests with ethnic and party

political vehicles illustrate how the ‘shadow state’ works in Central Kalimantan. Stung by

the defeat, Usop’s group decided to expose the whole sham through the aforementioned

NGO consortium, even at the risk of damaging the reputation of their own leading man.

Money politics had been important in the New Order too, but never under the public

scrutiny that became normal after reformasi.

How does all this connect with the violence of February-April 2001?

Parties had never been important in Central Kalimantan as avenues of political

articulation between society and the state. As elsewhere throughout the New Order, they

had been patronage organisations that tied local elites to Jakarta. As the patronage failed,

leaving local elites without protection from above, these individuals needed to revive

relations with the mass of society. Parties as they knew them were poor vehicles for that.

Throughout Central Kalimantan’s ethnic cleansing upheaval, parties whether at the

national or the provincial level remained silent. Even (separate) visits from Vice

President Megawati and President Abdurrahman Wahid to tour the devastated towns

were not occasions to assert a party view on the national situation, but seemed merely

part of a game being played between rival elite cliques in Jakarta.

The vehicle for political articulation in Central Kalimantan was the ethnic association.

Madurese had Ikama (Ikatan Madura). The name of its chairman H Marlinggi KK, the

leading Madurese businessman in Sampit, was often in the news. Police interrogated him

(with another Madurese named H Satiman) on 29 May 2001 over his knowledge of the

violence. Marlinggi also led a Madurese stevedoring association/ company (Tenaga Kerja

Bongkar Muat, TKBM).26

26 Some biodata on is in ‘H. Marlinggi, tokoh Madura yang lolos dari amuk rusuh Sampit: Berkat menantu

Dayak, rumahnya tak dibakar massa,’ Jawa Pos 13 March 2001.

Dayaks had LMMDD-KT, APP-GMTPS, Dusmala, and many more besides.27 Nonethnic

associations, by contrast, were few in number, and this translated to a weak civil

society.28 The paguyuban had been around for a long time, serving as mutual help

organisations, recruitment agencies, as well as elite lobbying groups. Now they were

being rapidly politicised as mass organisations. Observers had never paid them the

attention they deserved – they should have been more critical of the wishful claims made

by officials of the developmentalist state that ethnicity was no longer politically potent in


The emergence of the ethnic association as political party in 2001 raises the question:

Why did provincial elites choose this ethnic way of mobilising, in preference to some

other way? If the answer is ‘because it is effective’, this suggests the primordialists were

right after all and society does ‘naturally’ fall into ethnic divisions. Such an answer will

embarrass instrumentalists, who attribute so much voluntary agency to the elites that they

do not need to have their hand forced by ‘natural’ divisions in society. However, I

suspect we may find that clientelism provides us with the key to resolve the riddle. The

clientelist nature of the ethnic business association returns the initiative to those at the top

of the hierarchy. We do need more research to determine how recruitment fell into the

ethnic pattern we have described. But it is easy to imagine business-cum-political elites

preferring to build a loyal following by recruiting along ascriptive kinship, religious or

ethnic lines. Doing this at the same time reinforces barriers to the kind of threatening

cross-ethnic class solidarity they want to avoid.

Usop remained a rival to Asmawi after the election. His vehicle was still mainly the

LMMDD-KT. It joined a loose coalition of mostly ethnic NGOs (as well as some

political party representatives) that frequently launched verbal attacks on Asmawi. The

issues were the usual parochial ones – Asmawi’s election had been irregular, he had been

corrupt in his previous post as district head, he was handling sports corruptly, his wife

was corrupt, and so on.

Even when Usop did use his party the PDI-P, it was a matter of special lobbying rather

than of the normal consultative procedures. In July 2000 the PDI-P issued a letter calling

for Asmawi to be made ‘non-active.’ But the letter seemed to come as a surprise to senior

PDI-P officials who were visiting Palangkaraya at the time.30 NGOs with which Usop

was close pressured Asmawi to resign from various associations of which Asmawi was

27 Dozens of other organisational names appear besides the signatures on various statements and petitions

collected in the ‘Red Book’ about the Sampit violence brought out by LMMDD-KT: ‘Konflik etnis Sampit:

Kronologi, kesepakatan, aspirasi masyarakat, analisis, saran,’ Palangkaraya: LMMDD-KT 8 March 2001.

28 They include two environmental organisations: a branch of the national organisation Walhi, and Yayasan

Tahanjungan Tarung (YTT).

29 For a rare and suggestive study on the importance of these ethnic associations in behind the scene elite

lobbying during the early New Order in two Indonesian provinces, see Ichlasul Amal 1992. In West

Sumatra, they were the Islamic BKPUI and the traditionalist LKAAM; in South Sulawesi, it was Corhas,

the cops of active and retired army officers from South Sulawesi.

30 ‘Pimpinan PDI-P terkejut atas surat F PDI-P soal gubernur Kalteng,’ Kompas 30 July 2000.

ex officio chief, with some success. In November 2000 Asmawi struck back at them with

a defamation court case. However, Asmawi was not well – according to some reports he

had a stroke during the February 2001 disturbances and was often hospitalised in


LMMDD-KT was also active in lobbying for candidates at a lower level. In the same

month of January 2000 in which the new governor was elected, the organisation placed

its support behind a candidate for district head (bupati) in East Kotawaringin, whose

capital was the timber entrepot town of Sampit. His name was Wahyudi K Anwar, of

mixed Dayak and Javanese descent. This was successful. However, the relationship was

to turn sour within a year.

In both these cases, LMMDD-KT faced foes who were practically as ‘Dayak’ as they

themselves. This was awkward in terms of the Dayak empowerment rhetoric LMMDDKT

promoted. The reality was that, with or without LMMDD-KT’s help, Dayaks had

successfully entered the top levels of local government all over Central Kalimantan after

the end of the New Order. Nevertheless, awkward or not, the history of LMMDD-KT’s

attempts to defeat governor Asmawi throughout 2000 must lead us to read its

involvement in the anti-Madurese ethnic cleansing of February-April 2001 as a

continuation by other means of the same political program.

I am arguing, in other words, that the anti-Madurese campaign was for these ethnic

associations only their secondary objective. The primary objective was to dominate

provincial politics, informally if not formally. To achieve that, the Madurese could

almost have been selected at random from among the other perhaps equally abundant

settlers – Javanese, Banjar, Bugis – as a common enemy.

This may appear to be a highly voluntarist, conspiratorial view that fails to account for

the sheer magnitude and horror of the ensuing violence. Again, we do need more research

on how public opinion is formed in a poor and unequal Third World society such as this.

However, Central Kalimantan, unlike West Kalimantan, does not have a long history of

Dayak-Madurese violence. I suspect the volatility of public opinion, so often

demonstrated in outbreaks of violence around Indonesia, must be connected with the

disempowerment at the lower socio-economic levels of society caused by widespread

clientelist dependency on elites. A fascinating historical example of this volatility is the

sudden outbreak of widespread anti-Chinese violence in West Kalimantan in 1967.

Quoting techniques recommended in various American psy-war manuals, the Indonesian

military commander responsible for this area at the time claimed proudly in a selfpromoting

book that the pogrom was the result of a successful intelligence campaign. Its

objective was to change Dayak perceptions of the Chinese from friendly traders to

treacherous communists. The techniques included mysterious assassinations to

exacerbate inter-ethnic hatred, followed by the formation of Dayak ‘revenge teams.’31

31 Soemadi, ‘Peranan Kalimantan Barat dalam menghadapi subversi komunis Asia Tenggara,’ Pontianak:

Yayasan Tanjungpura, 1974, esp. Ch V. Thanks to Nancy Peluso for this reference.

Donald Horowitz has commented on the tendency for a polarity to emerge even if the

situation is multi-ethnic(1985:182). The fact that intra-Dayak conflict had to be dressed

up in terms of Dayak resistance to outsiders led the various Dayak factions to outdo one

another in their zeal to excoriate ‘outsider’ Madurese in early 2001. Not a single Dayak

political figure condemned the ethnic cleansing against Madurese.

Dayak communities used to live isolated lives along the major rivers, but in the 1990s

that isolation was broken by a bitumen road built right across the province from

Palangkaraya via Sampit to the harbour town of Pangkalan Bun. Logging tracks soon

branched off this road into the remotest forests. Many outsiders, particularly Madurese,

laboured on the road and ended up settling along its length. Gold rushes burst out in

several places and attracted thousands. Gambling, prostitution and karaoke bars followed.

Palm oil plantations were established in the denuded alang-alang wasteland along the

road, and increasingly in the forested areas away from them. Government was left far

behind, or rather, took part in the frontier spoils of illegal timber extraction and the gold

rush bonanza.

Employment along the road fell into the pattern of ethnic niche sectors described above.

This is where the ethnic associations played their most vital role. Ethnic

compartmentalisation gave the inevitable clashes an ethnic edge. Although little is known

about it, the first significant recent Dayak-Madura disturbance in Central Kalimantan

took place in the gold rush shantytown of Tumbang Samba in September 1999. In July

2000 Malay labourers clashed with the followers of a Madurese timber boss known as

Mat Ribut in Sampit’s port town of Kumai.

In December 2000 another Dayak-Madura riot broke out in the gold rush town of Kereng

Pangi (Ampalit), halfway between Palangkaraya and Sampit. This involved the murder of

a Dayak militant named Sendong on 15 December. By some accounts, he had been a

leading fighter in the Tumbang Samba event the previous year. Others said he was an

ordinary drunk miner.

Sendong’s death would not have been so remarkable in itself if the Dayak elite had not

picked it up and turned it into a cause celebre. They took the inchoate anger of these

hard-pressed miners and first turned it a discourse of Dayak chauvinism, and then into a

program to expel all Madurese from the whole of Central Kalimantan (and only from that

province, as if administrative boundaries mattered).

They complained about police inaction over Sendong’s death (remember that the police

were supposedly allies of the Madurese) and suggested it was racially motivated apathy.

Usop, Sabran Achmad and Simal Penyang, all leading figures in LMMDD-KT, toured

the affected area in Kereng Pangi alongside the governor, ostensibly to ‘calm’ Dayak

anger but all the while stoking it with inflammatory remarks. Led by Usop, they warned

Jakarta that Dayak anger was growing. Sabran Achmad, of the 1957 struggle, in an

interview during the tour converted the death of Sendong into an agenda to reassert

indigenous control over the entire province by means of militant ethnic purification:

‘Central Kalimantan was born from struggle and the sacrifice of human blood. This

province was not a gift from the central government. So people from outside have to be

able to adapt to the customs and social characteristics of this region.’32

In February their ‘warning’ of rising Dayak anger came true in Sampit, when an incident

that could have been contained escalated into full-scale ethnic warfare. Madurese, who

had been arming themselves for conflict (allegedly with military style grenades),

apparently had the run of the streets of the town for the first two days, but on 20 February

well-organised Dayak fighters struck back and drove all the Madurese out of town,

killing (usually beheading) hundreds.

Dayak fighters planned their attacks at the centrally located Rama Hotel in Sampit.

Among those at the hotel was the secretary of LMMDD-KT’s Sampit branch, Fedlik

Aser, a forestry official.

As the world’s journalists flew into Palangkaraya and drove to Sampit, LMMDD-KT

spokespersons presented them with an eloquent discourse of Dayak victimhood. Usop

was quoted repeatedly as a ‘Dayak anthropologist.’ ‘Headhunting has been revived again

because it was provoked by violence,’ he told one journalist. ‘They are using traditional

weapons to defend themselves and to send away evil because it disturbs the harmony of

life.’ He said to another: ‘Generally speaking the Dayak community in Central

Kalimantan is open to anyone, from whichever ethnic group. However, if the migrants

(settlers) cannot adjust to local values, then it is better that they voluntarily


Within three weeks the organisation had produced a ‘Red Book’ containing a remarkably

coherent account of Dayak patience exhausted by the ‘cultural’ shortcomings of the

Madurese, who had in their view provoked the violence. It was a settler’s responsibility

to adapt to local customs, adhering to the principle of ‘holding up the sky where the feet

touch the ground’ (di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung). Madurese (no other

settlers were mentioned) were portrayed as inherently violent and criminal. Dayaks by

contrast were inherently peaceful but with a (genetic?) memory of headhunting that had

been awakened by Madurese provocation. No doubt recalling the successful expulsion of

Madurese from West Kalimantan in 1997 and 1999, the authors of the many brief

statements by LMMDD-KT member organisations collected in this book demanded that

all Madurese should leave ‘for their own safety’, and none should be allowed to return.

Petitions in it were signed by dozens of Dayak organisations, which ‘asked’ LMMDDKT

to be their representative.

When police arrested Dayak militants at the Hotel Rama in Sampit – human heads littered

the hotel grounds – LMMDD-KT lobbied successfully to have them released because

their arrest was inflammatory. One journalist told me the men had been deciding who

was preeminent among them, based on who had the most Madurese heads. Fedlik Aser

32 ‘Situasi Ampalit masih mencekam: Warga mengungsi ke Markas Polda Kalteng,’ Kompas 19 December


33 Richard C. Paddock, ‘Reviving a savage practice,’ The Los Angeles Times 3 March 2001; Editorial ‘The

Sampit violence,’ Jakarta Post 23 February 2001.

was among those arrested, but his connection with LMMDD-KT was never mentioned in

either the local or the national press – perhaps journalists did not know.

Tempo news weekly put a less ‘cultural’ spin on the story. It revealed that the Sampit riot

started the day before Sampit district head Wahyudi was to install a wide range of new

officials, under the regional autonomy laws that had come into effect six weeks earlier.34

Tempo claimed that, contrary to Dayak expectations, the officials to be appointed on 19

February 2001 were not close to LMMDD-KT. Fedlik himself had lost his job in the

downsizing that regional autonomy brought in its wake.

When carrying out field work on the decentralisation process in East Kotawaringan in

2000 (of which Sampit is the district capital), Anne Casson found large sums of money

were flowing through the district head’s office. The money was a result of a decision

taken soon after his election to legalise the illegal timber industry (including that taken

from national parks) and thereby tax it for the district’s coffers.35

The intra-elite battle, on this view, was for control of the newly empowered, newly

wealthy, but as yet quite fluid district government apparatus. Usop claimed in an

interview with the author that Wahyudi ‘had Madurese blood.’ ‘It was also rumoured that

Wahyudi had been ‘bought’ by Madurese businessman Marlinggi.

Whatever LMMDD-KT’s direct involvement in the blood-letting may have been – the

people of Central Kalimantan deserve a thorough investigation – it certainly must bear

responsibility for the racist rhetoric it let fly at a time of serious social upheaval.

Presumably it did this in the knowledge that racist ‘othering’ is one of the most effective

mobilisational tools in almost any heterogeneous society, especially one lacking strong

democratic institutions.

The anti-Madura campaign brought together elite and mass perceptions in a remarkable

concert. We really do not have the data to know what poor Dayaks thought. Several

observers who lived there before the outbreak told me they had noticed no particular anti-

Madurese discourse among average Dayaks. But speaking with hindsight, one activist

said to me that for ordinary Dayaks, the Madurese had become a tangible and local

representation of the New Order – culturally alien, economically aggressive, and

collectively violent. Trapped in an ethnically segmented job market (experienced as

‘natural’ even if it was by no means natural), and disempowered by the New Order’s

development policies, poor Dayaks could easily come to identify the Madurese as a

dangerous ‘other.’ This was poor reasoning of course, for Dayak elites played a far bigger

role in bringing the New Order to Central Kalimantan than did poor Madurese, who

struggled to make a living in the market place. But the ethnic segmentation of the job

market, reinforced by a ten-year history of elites constructing social reality in ethnic

34 ‘Mencari akar, mencari jawaban,’ Tempo 5-11 March 2001.

35 Anne Casson, ‘Ethnic violence in an era of regional autonomy: A background to the bloodshed in

Kotawaringin Timur,’ RMAP Occasional Paper, Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Project, Research

School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU, Canberra, 2001.

terms, perhaps made it seem reasonable to them to think life would get better once the

Madurese were gone.

For the elite, who rarely went to the market and thus had little direct experience of ethnic

segmentation at that level of the economy, the anti-Madura campaign was useful for a

quite different reason. Their interest lay not in getting rid of thuggery in the markets and

karaoke bars but in winning control over the public service. Central Kalimantan’s towns

have a high dependence on the public service – much higher than in East Kalimantan.36

Moreover, regional autonomy involved wholesale restructuring of the local bureaucracy –

many jobs were lost, but new ones were being created through a range of new districts

(kabupaten) being set up.

The elite political battle could apparently no longer be fought within the corridors of the

Golkar office (and the military headquarters), but had to be carried to the streets. The

result gave meaning to Paul Brass’ analysis of a communal riot as in essence a form of

collective action. ‘[They] are best seen’, Brass writes, ‘as dramatic productions with large

casts of extras. They are… partly organised… [E]xtensive ad-libbing occurs in order to

convey the impression of spontaneity.’ The organisers, of whom there are many kinds,

are ‘riot specialists’, part of an informal network that influential actors can call on in

times of political crisis (1997:18).

The ethnic associations – businesses-cum-political parties – brought the elites and the

masses together in ways that fundamentally undermined the formal institutions of the

state. The informal – indeed black – flow of money, communication and authority

relations these associations represented gutted the formal institutions of the state. They

completely displaced the multi-ethnic formal political parties in the arena of political

articulation. By their use of money and threats of violence, they emasculated the

autonomy of the elected assemblies to make political appointments. They undermined the

work of the security apparatus with their successful high-level lobbying against police

officers who had ordered the arrest of men who clearly had a case to answer in relation to

the violence. And they destroyed non-ethnic civil discourse with a barrage of propaganda,

made worse by an irresponsible press both foreign and domestic that did not take the time

to investigate critically.

The dependent relationship many poor people had with their elite patrons, in a frontier

environment where the black economy and the shadow state far outweighed their formal

counterparts, closed off any possibility that indigenous Dayak resistance might have

turned against the horrendous state-sponsored capitalist destruction of the environment in

Central Kalimantan. Instead of fighting to reclaim their forests and rivers for their

families, poor Dayaks found themselves fighting other, equally impoverished people on

racist grounds.

36 If we assume that the non-agricultural working population approximates to the urban working

population, then we can estimate the proportion of the urban working population employed in the civil

service. In Central Kalimantan, that proportion is 17%. Compare East Kalimantan’s 8%, and the Indonesian

average of 8% (Statistik Indonesia 1998, Jakarta: Central Bureau of Statistics, 1998, calculated from tables

3.2.5 and 3.2.15)

As almost the last Madurese left the province in April 2001, Asmawi remained governor.

Formally speaking, there had been no change in Central Kalimantan’s political structure.

But informally – and this was the decisive arena in this situation of state failure – the

change was remarkable. Led by Usop’s LMMDD-KT, the ethnic associations enjoyed a

Dayak hegemony far greater than any they had seen before. The common Madurese

enemy had united both the mass of Dayaks as well as the Dayak elite behind its


In mid-March, governor Asmawi invited dozens of the mysterious Dayak warriors

(pangkalima perang) to join him on a ‘peacemaking’ mission. (That the peace meeting

was held in Java rather than Central Kalimantan illustrated the dependency of this

subaltern provincial elite on the metropole).37 At the same time he told a ‘traditional’

ritual gathering that he wanted all the Dayak warriors released who had been arrested at

the Rama Hotel.38 When the national police arrested Usop on 3 May for his role in

instigating the violence, governor Asmawi, his rivalry with Usop of January 2000

apparently forgotten, apparently added his voice to pleas for his release.39 He also

supported the replacement in April of provincial police chief Brig-Gen (Pol) Bambang

Pranoto with a Dayak.40 In June 2001 governor Asmawi lent his financial support to the

‘Third People’s Congress’, again dominated by Usop, which again held the Madurese

responsible for the violence and reiterated calls for them not to return to Central


Riding the wave of popular anti-Madurese sentiment created by the ethnic expulsion had

all the following advantages: (a) it could unite the typically fragmented Dayak interests

behind one banner – that of the LMMDD-KT if possible; (b) it would intimidate other

ethnic groups (Banjarese, Javanese, Bugis, Chinese) to acknowledge Dayak hegemony,

for fear of being lumped with the Madurese and losing their heads too; and (c) it would

send a message to Jakarta that the old Golkar mechanism, weighted in favour of Jakarta,

would no longer do if Jakarta wanted to keep the peace in far-flung regions of the

country. In all these, the elite program was quite successful. But success came at the cost

of enormous disruption in the short term, considerable risks of a backlash in the mid

term, and complete uncertainty in the longer term.

37 ‘Asmawi ajak “Pangkalima” Dayak,’ Kalteng Pos 17 March 2001.

38 ‘Indonesia: East Kalimantan religious, military chiefs sign pact of understanding,’ BBC Worldwide

Monitoring 19 March 2001.

39 ‘Pangkalan Bun kembali rusuh, dua tewas: Dimintakan alih status hukum Prof Usop,’ Kompas 6 May


40 ‘lodewyk [Penyang] becomes first Dayak to serve as C. Kalimantan Police chief,’ Jakarta Post 28

March 2001.

41 ‘Kongres Rakyat Kalimantan Tengah Tahun 2001,’ Palangkaraya, 4-7 June 2001 (unpublished

conference papers).

East Kalimantan

Ethnic associations exist in East Kalimantan as well. Some observers there told me in

March 2001 they feared these might play a role as destructive as that in Central

Kalimantan. These fears are not entirely unfounded, as we shall see briefly, yet the

important point is that they have so far not become politically decisive in East


Dayaks make up probably substantially less than a fifth of East Kalimantan’s population,

and almost none in the large cities. They are moreover not politically united. Lacking a

history of pan-Dayak mobilisation such as that in Central Kalimantan, they largely

identify through associations at more local, ‘sub-ethnic’ levels. The other indigenous

peoples of East Kalimantan, whom anthropologists call ‘Malays’, similarly classified

themselves in the 2000 census as Pasir, Kutai, Berau, Bulungan, Tidung, etc – that is, by

the name of the sultanate to which their ancestors were tied.42

Especially in upstate areas in East Kalimantan’s far north, the politics of the rampant

proliferation of new districts (kabupaten) appear to be driven entirely by such highly

local ethnic identities. The new district of Malinau (1999, upstream from Tarakan and

notorious for illegal logging) was fought over by rival Kenyah and Lun Dayeh groups –

each of them ‘Dayak’, and each making up only about 15% of a heterogeneous district


If in Malinau the ethnic competition was quite open, elsewhere it masqueraded under

political parties. Nearby Tidung, a small and now defunct sultanate, was evidently an

arena for Kenyah Dayaks who control PDI-P versus Lun Dayeh Dayaks in Golkar. The

oil and harbour towns of Tarakan and Berau, meanwhile, were controlled by the Bugis

(who have 33% and 22% of the populations there respectively), whereas Nunukan (an

entrepot for Malaysian trade/ smuggling) was under the influence of descendants of the

Sultan of Tidung (although it is the biggest Bugis town of all – 45%!).43

Unlike in Central Kalimantan, there are very few Madurese in East Kalimantan. The

settler community is dominated by Javanese (nearly 30%), Bugis (nearly 20%), and

Banjar (from South Kalimantan, nearly 15%).44 These too have their ethnic associations.

The Bugis, for example, have their Kerukunan Keluarga Sulawesi Selatan (KKSS, the

South Sulawesi Family Association). This long-standing (yet under-studied) association

has branches all over Indonesia, wherever the highly mobile Bugis are found. Under the

New Order it was a part of the Indonesian state corporatist system, regularly declaring its

wholehearted support (‘kebulatan tekad’) for President Suharto. This made some

42 Calculated from preliminary results of the 2000 census, which contained a question about ethnicity (with

thanks to Bp Joko Pitoyo, BPS Katlim). These figures do not yet include East Kutai and Kutai Kertanegara,

which both have substantial Dayak populations. Without these two districts, those who classify themselves

as Dayaks of one sort or another come onlyto 8.8%, whereas those who classify themselves as some kind of

Malay come to 24%.

43 I owe this information to Roedy Haryo Widjono AMZ (pers. comm. 21 March 2001).

44 From preliminary results of the 2000 census. When East Kutai and Kutai Kertanegara are included, these

settler figures will decline somewhat.

observers disparage these organisations as little more than the passive object of Suharto’s

manipulation, but they were not passive. In exchange for this calculated gesture, KKSS

maintained high level contacts with cabinet and the captains of industry. But it also

helped small businesses, and kept in touch with the masses by, for instance, helping out

Makassar’s fanatical football supporters when lack of money stranded them in Jakarta.45

In East Kalimantan, KKSS in late 2000 and early 2001 lobbied successfully to have its

candidates elected as mayors of the provincial capital Samarinda and of oil town

Bontang.46 In those cities, Bugis respectively made up about 14% and 29% of the


These examples from northern East Kalimantan led one exasperated Samarinda NGO

activist to reflect in my presence: ‘Regional autonomy is an “anything goes” arena of

competition. Everyone uses [racist] “son of the soil” criteria to become district head or

mayor. The prize is symbiosis with the foreign investor…. I am not optimistic about

cosmopolitanism in Indonesia, including East Kalimantan. The ground is fertile for a

return to authoritarianism.’48

Yet the indications are that the opportunity structure in East Kalimantan’s metropolitan

heartlands is far less supportive of an ethnic conflagration than in Central Kalimantan.

The Samarinda-based ethnic associations seem determined to avoid mobilisational

tactics, and instead to restrict their role to the elite backstage lobbying they had always

conducted under the New Order.

There is an East Kalimantan pan-Dayak organisation based in Samarinda, but it has not

built access to the mass of rural Dayaks. The Persekutuan Dayak Kalimantan Timur

(PDKT, East Kalimantan Dayak Alliance) was revived after the end of the New Order

from an embryonic predecessor that went back to the early 1980s. (That early one was led

by Otto Liah). Chaired today by the ageing former Golkar national parliamentarian

Martinus Tennes, it has successfully lobbied for ‘proportional’ Dayak representation in

some top bureaucratic positions. One of its executives recently became one of two deputy

governors for the province (Yurnalis Ngayoh), and another became district head for the

new district of West Kutai (Rama Asia).

Non-government organisations that do have access to the Dayak grassroots, meanwhile,

are aware of how counter-productive ethnic mobilisation can be for Dayak welfare. They

have carefully kept their advocacy to the policy level.49

45 On kebulatan tekad, see ‘BPP KKS Sulsel mengusulkan Pak Harto jadi president lagi,’ Kompas 10

March 1997; on the soccer players, ’75 pendukung PSM telantar di Jakarta,’ Kompas 12 October 1996.

46 I owe this information to Sarosa Hamongpranoto SH (pers. comm 20 March 2001).

47 From preliminary results of the 2000 census.

48 Roedy Haryo Widjono AMZ (pers. comm. 21 March 2001).

49 Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (Aman) is an Indonesian-wide alliance of indigenous peoples

campaigning on mining and forrestry rights. Its East Kalimantan chairperson is Yoni Lukas. Putu Jaji,

Plasma and Aliansi Pemantau Kebijaksanaan Sumberdaya Alam (Apksa, led by Niel Makinuddun) are

Realising that political transitions are dangerous moments when ethnic mobilisation is

likely to raise tension, elites belonging to various ethnic associations in East Kalimantan

established a forum early in 1998 designed to reduce such tension. The Forum

Komunikasi Persaudaraan Masyarakat Kalimantan Timur (FKPMKT) meets regularly

and energetically in the luxurious Hotel Senyiur in Samarinda (owned by timber tycoon

H Yos Sutomo). The chair rotates every three months among the four leading groups –

Bugis, Banjar, Java and Dayak. Another forum, perhaps less high powered, was set up

during the Sampit outbreak in February 2001. It is called Forum Komunikasi Antar-Etnik

(Forkas). At least in the large cities, ethnic mobilisation thus seems unlikely.

The very heterogeneity of those cities helps make them immune. Samarinda (population

650,000) and Balikpapan (460,000) are large settler cities. The vast majority of their

populations originate from outside East Kalimantan – 91% and 99% respectively.50 Its

elites are drawn from coastal trading communities such as Banjar and Bugis, as well as

Javanese, who traditionally have emphasised achievement rather than ascription, and who

have used ethnicity to divide and rule rather than to mobilise.

Moreover these cities have relatively vibrant civil societies. The two independent labour

organisations in Samarinda, Leksip and SBSI, are multi-ethnic and excited about the

possibilities that regional autonomy will offer their constituency. SBSI recently won a

major victory against the mining giant Kaltim Prima Coal. Their optimism has so far

survived thuggery launched against it by groups claiming to be ‘anti-communist’

Muslims but in fact sponsored by local established business and government figures.

One reason for the elite disinterest in violent competition is that the abundant money

comes from a large-scale mining and oil industry, which is far more institutionalised than

Central Kalimantan’s forest frontiers. Syaukani, the pork-barreling district head of Kutai

Kertanegara from late 1999, is a Kutai commoner. Located near present-day Samarinda,

the Kutai sultanate was once by far the most important of the half dozen or so sultans

based at river mouths on the east coast of this jungle-covered island.51 The invention of

the petrol engine and the discovery of oil at Balikpapan provided the context in which the

Dutch effectively bought Sultan Alimuddin (1902-20) with oil royalties. The sultanate

was transformed from a commercial aristocracy into a bureaucratic one. Indonesian

independence saw the aristocracy decline in favour of a modern educated elite, many of

them Banjarese in Samarindra.

From this time on and into independence, the polity of what in 1957 became the province

of East Kalimantan was that of an urban settler society that lacked any connection with

its indigenous hinterland, not even through a remnant local aristocracy. Indeed the

aristocracy suffered a serious blow when the military under Colonel Soeharjo (‘Hario

other groups who are working particularly with the new, Dayak-dominated, district government of West

Kutai on environmental and indigenous welfare politics.

50 From preliminary results of the 2000 census.

51 Burhan Magenda 1991.

Kecik’) had many of them murdered in 1964 in the name of ‘anti-feudalism’ (Magenda

1991: 46).

The lines of patronage for the settler elites, especially Banjar but also Bugis and

Javanese, ran at first through the PNI, a nationalist party of bureaucrats, as well as

through the military. After the New Order the PNI connection shifted almost seamlessly

to Golkar. Golkar benefitted not only the Banjarese children of Sukarno era PNI people,

but broadened itself to accommodate other emerging groups as well, including some


After 1950 oil revenues no longer flowed to East Kalimantan, but the region’s vast timber

resources were a different matter. Governments in East Kalimantan always saw it as only

appropriate that, in the absence of oil royalties, they should have the right to grant local

forestry concessions and levy local fees and taxes. This ‘right’ remains a bone of

contention between Samarinda and Jakarta to the present day. The timber boom did not

begin in earnest until the 1970s. Much of it was controlled by international capital and

centralised in Jakarta (through the HPH system of forest concessions), but there were

sufficient loopholes to allow a local rake-off substantial enough to satisfy most East


As East Kalimantan-Jakarta elite relations survived the 1965-66 upheaval in Jakarta, so

they seem also to have survived the end of the New Order in 1998. Samarinda toyed with

the idea of federalism, but decided it didn’t really need it and quashed the proposal that

had already passed the provincial parliament.52

When in October 1999 Syaukani was elected district head of Kutai Kertanegara by the

district assembly (DPRD-II), he had a record of Golkar loyalty that had defied the storms

of reformasi and an electoral defeat four months earlier.53 As the East Kalimantan

chairman of Golkar, he had been realistic enough to acknowledge that the new electoral

rules were more democratic, even though he stood to lose up to 40% of his cadres who as

bureaucrats were excluded from election. He confidently told a foreign journalist just

before the election that he expected a 70% win: ‘We fed them for 32 years. They won’t

betray us.’54 They did betray him, but as it turned out it didn’t matter. Much as in Central

Kalimantan, the Golkar vote dropped by more than half from the previous election, to

only 30%. Most of the defectors voted PDI-P. Yet, having won the election, PDI-P won

practically no important positions in the bureaucracy. Golkar simply continued to

determine almost all senior government appointments, including Syaukani’s own.

52 ‘Daerah cabut tuntunan federalisme,’ Media Indonesia 27 December 1999. the earlier demand (8

November 1999) had been pushed largely by the Islamic parties, but was on second thoughts overturned by

Golkar, PDI-P and TNI factions in the provincial assembly.

53 He was born in Tenggarong on 11 November 1948, and has been a civil servant since he graduated in

economics from Jember State University (Est Java) in 1978. He had run for district head once before, in

1994. When defeated by a Jakarta-backed candidate, also from Golkar, most members of the district

assembly walked out in protest. Syaukani was clearly seen as a strong ‘local’ candidte (Thanks to Dias

Pradadimara, pers. comm 29 August 2001).

54 Margot Cohen, ‘Indonesia’s election blueprint opens door to hot contest: Golkar will have to play by

new election rules,’ Far Eastern Economic Review 11 February 1999.

The loss of Golkar electoral support, no less in Kutai than in East Kalimantan generally,

could conceivably have driven Syaukani to mobilise popular support by appealing to

some ‘glorious’ local past. The Kutai sultanate’s fabulous wealth early in the twentieth

century has possibilities for conservative myth-making. In fact the sultanate, which has

experienced something of revival since its Hario Kecik nadir, does play a role in the

populist style Syaukani adopted. But his demand in January 2001, for example, that the

National Museum return the royal crown and sword to a museum in Samarinda indicates

that he has in mind the kind of ‘civic’ pride represented by Yogyakarta’s sultanate, not

something more militant.55

Instead, Syaukani has built popular support by vigorously pursuing the entirely

constitutional possibilities offered by the new decentralisation laws of 1999. These came

into effect nationally on 1 January 2001, but in Kutai they had been in operation much

longer. Kutai was one of the 27 ‘model’ districts, one in each province, given greater

autonomous powers under a 1995 ruling (PP8/ 1995). Enthused, governor Ardan the

following year ordered all the other districts in East Kalimantan to also prepare for

autonomy. Jakarta was less enthusiastic at the time, but after 1998 officials from East

Kalimantan joined a team in Jakarta that helped draft extensive decentralisation laws.

Riau, West Nusa Tenggara, and Irian Jaya were also represented on the team.

The reason for Kutai’s enthusiasm was obvious. Under the new rules, districts stood to

reap a vastly increased share of the economic resources located within their borders –

especially oil and gas, minerals and timber. East Kalimantan is the island’s most

industrially advanced province, and Kutai is its richest district. It is home to major oil and

gas fields as well as coal mines. Syaukani’s liberal promises to his constituency in June

2001 were fulfillable. Where previously the district’s development budget stood at Rp

200 billion, in 2001 it leapt to Rp 1,400 billion (approximately US$140 million), even

though its area had been substantially reduced after three districts had been split off in

mid-1999.56 The rump Kutai district was now called Kutai Kertanegara, and the others

were East Kutai, West Kutai, and Bontang. Much of the Kutai Kertanegara money has

been spent on a substantially enlarged bureaucracy.

An essential part of Syaukani’s populist style is what his detractors called the ‘light house

project’ (proyek mercusuar). In August 2000 he announced the start of construction of a

large tourist theme park on an island in the Mahakam River, to be built mostly with

private money. Environmentalists were horrified when, to fill a huge aquarium in the

park, he ordered fisheries officials to trap several of the highly endangered fresh water

55 ‘Peninggalan Kerajaan Kutai di Museum Nasional,’ Kompas 11 January 2001.

56 The amount of so-called ‘balance funds’ (under decentralisation law) initially budgeted for Kutai

Kertanegara was only Rp. 900 billion. But in April 2000 an instruction came down from the Mining and

Energy Minister increasing Kutai Kertanegara’s allotment, at the expense of its eastern neighbour East

Kutai. Syaukami had persuaded the ministerto recalculatebased not on the location of underground oil

reserves but on the location of producing oil wells, a formula which greatly favoured Kutai Kertanegara.

East Kutai district head Faroek Awang, peeved, described Syaukani as an excellent lobbyist (‘East

Kalimantan fails to solve regencies dispute over income shares,’ Petromindo 5 May 2001- here the figures

differ somewhat from those quoted in the text above).

dolphins endemic only to the Mahakam River. They screamed again when he at first

refused to remove the equally endangered white monkey (bekantan) from the island to a

safer location. (Syaukani has an appaling environmental record. A European delegation

threatened a boycott of timber products for the ‘well-organised destruction’ of the

198,000 hectare Kutai National Park in his district.)57

The park was located opposite Kertanegara, the seat of the Kutai sultanate. Ever with an

eye on the symbolic gesture, he said the Sultan of Kutai would get ‘local autonomy’

(otonomi wilayah) when the park was inaugurated on September 2001. What kind of

autonomy this would be was not further specified, but no doubt he was aware that sultans

are good for tourism. Indeed, on the great day he appeared in the national newspapers

posing proudly beside the newly acknowledged Sultan Aji Muhammad Salehudin the


As head since its inception in October 1999 (formal inauguration 30 May 2000) of the

national association of district heads Apkasi (Asosiasi Pemerintah Kabupaten Seluruh

Indonesia), he constantly called Jakarta’s bluff when the latter suggests the regions are

‘not yet ready’ for decentralisation. Among the issues on which he pressed Jakarta hard

were the regions’ control over forestry resources, the right to borrow overseas, and new



What do these two examples tell us about the post-Suharto Indonesian state? Michael

Malley wrote one of the last substantial chapters on centre-periphery relations in the New

Order.5960 In keeping with the view commonly held at the time of Indonesia as a highly

centralised polity, he concluded: ‘So long as regional government remains accountable

upward and inward to the centre rather than downward and outward to the indigenous

population, local grievances are likely to go unaddressed and local unrest is likely to

continue’ (Malley 1999:97). What we have seen in this paper does not entirely invalidate

Malley’s conclusion, but does put a different perspective on it. Central Kalimantan’s

elites managed to create total mayhem without Jakarta being able to do anything about it.

East Kalimantan’s elites, meanwhile, demanded, and received, enough money to multiply

some districts’ budgets several times over.

Instead of continuing to view the Indonesian state as a highly centralised machine that

can exist almost autonomously from society, these vignettes suggest a more fruitful

approach. Disaggregating the state allows us to see a series of quite separate arenas for

57 ‘Governor responds to NGO protest,’ Indonesian Observer 24 January 2000.

58 ‘Selamat jalan, “Bule” Kutai,’ Kompas17 November 2000 ; ‘Rencana penangkapan pesut agar

dibatalkan,’ Kompas 24 November 2000; ‘H Aji Muhammad Salehudin II Sultan Kutai Kartenagara,’

Kompas 24 September 2001.

59 The contributions were apparently substantially ready by the time Suharto resigned.

Michael Malley, ‘Regions: Centralization and resistance’, pp.71-105 in Donald K Emmerson (ed), Indonesian beyond

Suharto: Polity, economy, society, transition, NY/ London: ME Sharpe, 1999.

state-society interactions at various levels. In each arena, group identities are constructed

in a generally Gramscian fashion. These identities are not necessarily exclusive (that is,

people can have parallel identities), nor are they sharply outlined. However, especially

where democratic institutions are weak, they form the language with which elites

compete for power by mobilising their supporters.

Central Kalimantan is quite a different arena to East Kalimantan. Indonesia, moreover, on

this view begins to lose its character of a homogeneous nation-state, politically and

nationally integrated. Instead it assumes the appearance of a pluralist empire, in which

the various parts are constantly engaged in a drama of collaboration and resistance with

the remote imperial centre.

Central Kalimantan in 2001 erupted into catastrophic violence, while East Kalimantan

did not, because they were different arenas, which allowed different kinds of political

actors to emerge. The opportunity structure was different in the two provinces.

Provincial political life flows from its urban centres. Central Kalimantan’s main towns of

Sampit (population 120,000 before the expulsions), Pangkalanbun (110,000) and

Palangkaraya (160,000) resembled the backwaterish towns of northern East Kalimantan

(which also saw some ethnic mobilisation) more than they did the sprawling, affluent

settler metropolises of Balikpapan and Samarinda.

Whereas the urban wealth indicators for East Kalimantan showed the existence of a

substantial middle class and proportionately few urban poor, the picture was reversed in

Central Kalimantan’s much smaller urban community. Where the profile of urban per

capita domestic consumption in East Kalimantan showed a single peak at the high end

(Rp 125,000 per person per month at 1998 prices), and a smaller bulge at the low end, the

same profile in Central Kalimantan peaked at the low end (Rp 70,000), with a smaller

bulge at the high end.61

The elites of Central Kalimantan faced fewer institutional obstacles than did those in East

Kalimantan to dangerous ethnic modes of competition for state resources. They faced

fewer non-government organisations who might challenge their tactics in public.

As a result, the wealthy and well-connected elite of East Kalimantan weathered the 1998

collapse of the New Order with undinted confidence, while the small town elites in

Central Kalimantan experienced it as a major crisis. Samarinda seemed to take the

transition in its stride – the money kept flowing (ever faster!) and no one seemed to care

that Golkar had lost the elections. For Palangkaraya, meanwhile, it turned into a zero sum

game for the spoils of office in which few holds were barred.

Without suggesting that corruption is less endemic in East Kalimantan than elsewhere in

Indonesia (Syaukani was himself accused of dubious funding tactics for Golkar before

61 Calculated from Statistical Yearbook 1998, Jakarta: BPS, 1998, pp. 520-521.

the election62), East Kalimantan looked like a wealthy little bourgeois republic, whose

elites were brimming with ideas for the future. Alternatively, we can picture it as an

efficiently run colonial outpost, growing prosperous on its unrestrained exploitation of

the hinterland. While admittedly East Kalimantan’s ethnic composition would not have

made it easy to do so, the instrumentalist view of ethnicity is that elites who are so

inclined can invent ethnic conflict out of unlikely materials. However, in East

Kalimantan, they deliberately avoided that choice.

Central Kalimantan, by contrast, had many aspects of a failed state, in which black

money and ethnic conspiracies hollowed out any pretence to authority the formal

institutions of state might have possessed. In the absence of viable institutions to restrain

them, its elites, Snyder-like, adopted violent ethnic mobilisation to achieve their antidemocratic



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