From Rebellion to Riots: Collective Violence on Indonesian Borneo examines contemporary violence in one of Indonesia’s most heterogeneous provinces, West Kalimantan. It documents how a communist rebellion in the 1960s and low-level conflicts in the decades that followed led to major ethnic clashes in the late 1990s, when an indigenous empowerment movement took shape and local elites sought to capture the benefits of decentralization and democratization. Citing fieldwork, internal military documents, and ethnographic accounts, Jamie S. Davidson’s historically-rooted analysis argues that explanations based on a clash of cultures, the ills of New Order-led development, or marginalization overlook the importance of an ongoing politicization of ethnic and indigenous identity. His research demonstrates that the endemic violence in this vast region is not an inevitable outcome of its ethnic diversity, and that the initial impetus for collective bloodshed is not necessarily the same as the forces that sustain it.
From Rebellion to Riots: Collective Violence on Indonesian Borneo is at its core a diachronic study of the genesis of a series of ethnic riots that took place in the province of West Kalimantan, Indonesia, from 1967 to 2001. Its primary purpose is to explain the origins of these riots, their persistence, the particular forms the violence assumed, and how and why these modalities changed over time. This is done with an eye on the wider context of coercive state-building in the country’s outer islands as pursued by the New Order regime (1966-98) headed by President Soeharto, its military, authoritarian ruler. West Kalimantan, a province rich in ethnic diversity and natural resources located on the westernmost part of the island of Borneo, has witnessed outbreaks of killings so extreme that they are considered by one leading scholar, Donald Horowitz, to be among the world’s most recurrent examples of deadly ethnic riots (2001, I, 411).
Yet, unlike such prominent cases as those of Sri Lanka, Assam, Karachi, and northern Nigeria, even Horowitz’s superb study lacks an adequate historical contextualization for the killings in West Kalimantan. Using ethnographic methods and tapping previously unused sources, including military documents, this book is a richly contextual political analysis that aims to fill this gap. Research methodology of this type begs a host of questions. How much value do we gain from examining a single case of ethnic violence even if it is studied over time? What can studying ethnic riots in this peripheral province tell us about other violent convicts elsewhere in Indonesia? Finally, how does this kind of research advance the study of group violence more generally? By demystifying the violence in this vast and rugged province, the author hope to provide answers to these questions by embedding the ethnic clashes in the parameters of grounded historical and political interpretation and by situating them in a larger pattern of riots in Indonesia and beyond. The conclusions the book draws will be of great interest to students of Southeast Asia and to scholars of collective violence and indigenous politics.