Published: Jul 26, 2007

More than ever before in living memory, Indonesians today feel proud that they are not just Indonesian but also Malay, Chinese, Dayak, Papuan, Sasak, or something else. During its long years the New Order never encouraged such feelings. But today it is as if the world depends on them. Observers call such feelings ethnicity. This edition of Inside Indonesia is about ethnicity. People want to feel they belong to a group that is smaller and more ‘family-like’ than the nation of 240 million.

This edition does not include articles with a focus on violence as a feature of ethnicity, although references to violence against certain groups are mentioned in several articles. Violence has, in the post-New Order period, too often been the first impression we have of inter-ethnic relations in Indonesia. It masks much more complex relations, politics, histories and cultures.

Richard Chauvel leads the edition by immediately questioning the relationship between ethnicity and being Indonesian. Can Papuans also be Indonesians in the same way that Dayaks and Minangkabau can? Is it a political or emotional decision?

Positively, changes in politics have meant that local communities can celebrate their own cultures and identities. People have responded by setting up local newspapers, political parties and community organisations. Chang Yau Hoon and Minako Sakai provide very good examples of this in their articles about the revival of both Malay and Chinese ethnic identities since the end of the New Order.

Many of the articles in this edition also show us that ethnicity is a personal issue. Very often the individual and private considerations of identifying with one ethnic community or another are disregarded. Kendra Clegg’s study of the Sasak people in Lombok draws our attention to the ways in which people even from the same region can understand their identity in different ways. In Alex Rayfield’s article on music in West Papua there is a great sense of the emotion that goes with belonging to an ethnic group or community.

But, ethnicity is also about politics and power. Here ethnicity can become an ideology and can be manipulated by powerful elites. Articles by Collins and Sirozi, Somers Heidhues and Sakai explore this idea. It should be a warning to us all.

Rahadian Permadi’s article about the solidarity of victims of state violence, reminds us however, that solidarity can be found across divisions of ‘identity’.

Jemma Purdey (jepurdey@hotmail.com) is a Guest editor of Inside Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 78: Apr - Jun 2004