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Of Spontaneity and Conspiracy Theories: Explaining Violence in Central Kalimantan

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The massacres in Sampit, Central Kalimantan in 2001 were the latest in a series of horrific clashes between Madurese migrants and indigenous peoples, which, since 1996, killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands, the primary victims being Madurese. As in earlier clashes, a relatively minor incident or an isolated killing served as the trigger to a conflict more profoundly rooted in interethnic grievances, historical injustices, growing ethnic empowerment, and burgeoning political competition in Indonesia's transition to decentralized governance. The article compares and evaluates Dayak and Madurese accounts of the violence, its background and causes, focusing on a key period when latent tensions transformed into mass killings. Two different theories emerge, each positing a conspiracy: the Dayaks regarded the Madurese as out to take over the province and the Madurese accused the Dayaks of plotting to take over their land and jobs. The Dayak theory further sees the problem as one of cultural incompatibility and claims that the Dayak people spontaneously rose to pre-empt the threat posed by the Madurese. This notion that the violence was caused by cultural factors was factored into government policy and peace initiatives, and was to affect the prospects for reconciliation and return of the displaced. The authors suggest these understandings of violence played a key role in determining how the reconciliation process was run.


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