Cultural Heritage Between Sovereignty of Indigenous Groups, the State and International Organizations in Indonesia

“Culture” and “cultural property” are defined and used differently by diverse actors: by international actors, nations, governments and the civil society. In contrast to many other projects of the research group on Cultural Property, our project which focusses on Indonesia aims at catching the bottom-up perspective from the civil society’s point of view and examining its use of Cultural Property as means for political empowerment.

Starting point is the umbrella organization AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara), the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of Indonesia that uses “culture” and cultural difference as tool for their political emancipation and the fight for indigenous rights, especially the right of self-determination as well as land rights that are often hold not individually but communally.

AMAN was founded in 1999 at the first congress of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago and as an umbrella organization counts 1696 indigenous groups members. Delegates of each member group meet for a congress once every 5 years; the next congress will be held in April 2012. These conventions constitute the fundamental and legitimating basis of AMAN. The documentation of the next AMAN conference will be an important step in our organizational analysis of AMAN and its way of making use of their culture and their cultural distinctiveness in the context of international declarations – especially the ILO Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples (No 169, adopted 1989) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (adopted 2007) – and national laws stating – normally with restrictions – the rights of indigenous groups.

During the first decade of its existence, AMAN successfully created relationships with international donors, became member of an international network of indigenous peoples especially in Southeast Asia but all over the world. AMAN gained national acceptance as a political actor and important partner in the implementation of laws concerning the rights of indigenous groups or policies undertaken in the traditional living area of indigenous groups.

Thus, our research will examine the way representatives at the national office in Jakarta define “culture” and make use of it in their struggle for indigenous recognition, on the one hand. On the other hand, we will investigate how the definition and use of “culture” of individual local AMAN member groups differ from those of the umbrella organization, especially with regard to their traditional territories in conflicts and fights for land rights, cultural recognition.

In a second step we will compare AMAN’s concepts and goals with those of similar associations, for example Forum Kerajaan Nusantara (FKN), the forum of Indonesian kingdoms, Forum Silaturahmi Keraton Nusantara (FSKN) and Badan Pekerja Silaturahmi Kerajaan dan Kesultanan se-Nusantara (BP Silatnas). These organizations are less striving for the recognition of their land rights – as they are traditional heads of kingdoms – but for political role ad power.

FSKN is initiated by a prince of Kasunanan Surakarta (Surakarta Kasunanan Palace). The organization has a more rigid structure, headed by a Chairman and a General Secretary. At this stage of our research, the initial background of the creation of the FSKN seems to have come from an internal conflict within the Surakarta Kasunanan over choosing the rightful heir of the deceased King Pakubuwono XII. FSKN, therefore, became a political and symbolic tool for one of the conflicting parties to gain support and recognition from other kings and sultans.

BP-Silatnas, on the other hand, has a more loose structure and consists of kings and sultans who feel uncomfortable with the Surakarta domination of the FSKN. The BP-Silatnas has no program other than preparing national gatherings of kings and sultans to be held once a year. Despite that, the BP-Silatnas has a much higher profile than the FSKN. The first Silatnas gathering (2010) was opened by President Yudhoyono and the second one (2011) by Vice President Budiono. The BP-Silatnas gatherings also involved a princess from Malaysian Sultanate of Johor.

Unlike AMAN, which emphasizes issues related to land and access rights, the kingdom associations show more political agenda to re-assert the cultural sovereignty of palaces (kratons and sultanates) in the time of decentralization. It appears that the kingdom associations are ways to reclaim the kings’ and sultans’ cultural and political power.

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