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Being Special, Becoming Indigenous: Dilemmas of Special Adat Rights in Indonesia

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Abstract From 1998 onwards Indonesia’s reform era (reformasi) has captured the imagination of growing numbers of observers, experts and scholars. Policies of decentralisation and enhanced public participation projects have reawakened old debates surrounding indigenous rights, power and status. This article examines the dilemma of special rights, particularly those related to the political revival of customs and traditions (adat istiadat). Calls for exigent recognition and redistributive rights for particular groups and ‘unique’ village communities frequently take the form of indirect regulatory negotiations and direct struggles for land. Case studies from Sulawesi are therefore used to examine heavily contested processes of decentralisation and local autonomy, which in many respects enable the revival of local adat. Distinctions are made between static and fluid views of adat, between being special by virtue of birthright on the one hand, and becoming indigenous by way of deliberate political intervention and mobilisation on the other.

Affiliations: 1: University of Leeds


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