Published: Sep 11, 2007


Gerry van Klinken

With less than half of the population, the thousands of islands that lie outside Java make up 93% of the archipelago's land area. The colonial Dutch already knew that things are different in the 'outer islands'. Thinly populated, the area is quite unlike the intensively cultivated and now increasingly industrialised island of Java. In parts, the economy is extractive. All the mines, forests and giant plantations are there. Elsewhere it is impoverished - 'nothing but rocks', as President Habibie said about East Timor. The outer islands retain a frontier atmosphere first created by the Dutch. As in America's Wild West, tycoons and gun-slinging thugs play fast and loose with the natives and the bush.

The June 7 election result tends to confirm this image of the colonial frontier. Golkar got thrashed all around the archipelago, but it retained a lot of votes, and even areas of dominance, in the outer island periphery. The map of provinces where Golkar won a majority - from West Kalimantan all the way to Irian Jaya - makes us think the New Order lingers still out there. The election brought an exhilarating renewal to the heartland of Java, as Laine Berman and John Olle point out in this edition. But in Aceh for example, as Vanessa Johanson tells us in a riveting report, it was a failure.

East Timor is not alone. The vast outer islands region confronts us with colonial violence and exploitation in so many places it should make us think more seriously than the Jakarta-obsessed media have done to date. Roger Moody and Kathy Robinson in this edition of Inside Indonesia take us to the nickel mines of Sulawesi. Andrew Kilvert takes us to Irian Jaya, Geoffrey Gunn to East Timor, and Phillip Winn to the remote and beautiful town of Bandaneira. The people who live there are all hoping the renewal Indonesia is experiencing will touch them too. We hope you enjoy the trip!

Gerry van Klinken (editor@insideindonesia.org) is the current editor of Inside Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 60: Oct-Dec 1999