The Links between Violence and Institutional Change in Hila, Eastern Indonesia


From 1999 until 2002, the island of Ambon in Eastern Indonesia was the site of a high-intensity conflict between Muslims and Christians. Apart from a tragedy in terms of human suffering, physical destruction and economic decline, this violence produced new forms of political and economic regulation in which new elites obtained the power to manipulate existing institutions defining access to resources. An important factor in this process was the issue of migration. Because about one third of the total Ambonese population was displaced at the height of the conflict (ICG, 2002), lots of people had to disband their properties and their lands. Throughout this conflict-induced displacement, customary elites took the opportunity to regain a more secure access to land by reinforcing their position as the ‘legitimate’ owners of the land. Their claims were made by referring to adat. This is a customary inspired form of resource management in which tradition and clan affiliation stand central. This process got further enforced by new legislation that came into being after the fall of the New Order in 1998 and gave a stronger legal status for ‘customary’ and ‘community-based’ forms of resource management. This will be illustrated through an ethnographic micro-study of the rural village of Hila, situated on the island of Ambon. Next, it will be discussed how violence and institutional change interrelate with each other and how this is linked to the outbreak and continuation of the violence in this specific case.

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