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Being Malay in Indonesia

Histories, Hopes and Citizenship in the Riau Archipelago

Nicholas J. Long

Publication Year: 2013

In 1999, the people of Indonesia's Riau Archipelago were angry. Resentful of decades of "internal colonialism" by Mainland Sumatra, and concerned that they lacked the education and skills to flourish in a globalised world, they dreamed of inhabiting a province of their own. When the post-authoritarian state committed itself to democracy and local autonomy, they lobbied vigorously and successfully for the region to be returned to its "native" Malay residents. Riau Islands Province was born in 2004. This book explores what happened next. Living in a new province created "for Malays" forced Riau Islanders to engage with thorny questions over what it meant to be Malay and how to achieve the official goal of becoming globally competitive "human resources". Putting nuanced ethnographic observations of life in the islands into a provocative dialogue with theorists ranging from Žižek to Sartre, this book explains how feelings of unsettledness and doubt came to permeate the province as a result of its very creation. Offering fresh perspectives on commerce, spirit beliefs, education and culture, Being Malay in Indonesia challenges much of the received wisdom in the anthropology of Southeast Asia and makes a powerful case for the importance of feelings, sentiments and affect in studies of local development and political change.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6

...since 1979 the southeast asia Publications series (seaPs) has brought some of the best of australian scholarship on southeast asia to an international readership. it seeks to publish leading-edge research by both young and established scholars on the countries and peoples of southeast asia across all disciplines of the humanities and social sciences with particular encouragement to interdisciplinary ...


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pp. vii-7

List of Maps and Tables

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pp. viii-8

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-29

Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago is a place of remarkable diversity. A group of over 3,200 islands nestling in the waters of the South China Sea (Map 0.), only a few kilometres of water separate grimy industrial ports from picturesque tropical islands in which small fishing villages stand on wooden platforms above the tidal zone. ...

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Chapter 2: Provincial Capital

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pp. 30-62

As one of the officials working at Tanjung Pinang’s international their initial forays into the Riau Islands. It was one of the perks of his job. Describing himself as a “man of learning”, he hoped that one day he could become a lecturer in harbour design and used his work as a means of securing the opportunity to share ideas with ...

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Chapter 3: Poisoned Histories

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pp. 63-97

...“No, please! Get out!” screamed Rahmi, “I don’t know anything! Leave this house at once!” Her frail figure seemed more hunched than ever, and tears began to shine on her cheeks. Her grandchildren cowed against their parents’ legs, their faces transfixed. Rahmi re-gained her composure, stood upright and turned to face me. “I do ...

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Chapter 4: Marketplaces

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pp. 98-126

This myth was subscribed to by virtually everyone I met in the Riau Islands. Malays themselves attested to it and non-Malays were quick to use it to underscore their own contributions to the economy. From a historical perspective, such a pronouncement is certainly surprising — as the cosmopolitan trading class of many of Southeast ...

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Chapter 5: Neighbourhoods

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pp. 127-147

Obliged to interact with and live alongside masses of anonymous, culturally distinct and potentially hostile strangers, urban dwellers enjoy new opportunities but also face new dangers. Residents of Tanjung Pinang are no exception. The town offers them jobs, services and “modernity” — attractions potent enough to draw in a steady ...

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Chapter 6: Hauntings

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pp. 148-172

I had spent the whole afternoon with Pertiwi and her family, and corrugated iron roof, we could barely hear ourselves speak, so drew together in the corner of the living room, close enough that there was no need to shout. Joko, Pertiwi’s youngest son, pulled out his showed two boys smiling near a food stall. In the background lurked ...

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Chapter 7: The Human Resources Crisis

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pp. 173-205

...scruffy looking man on a motorcycle parked beside me and asked me example, looking for a wife? I replied somewhat curtly that I was a social scientist who was there to do research, whereupon he grabbed my hand and shook it warmly. “Have you come here to solve the human resources crisis?” he asked, breaking into a joyful grin. “That’s ...

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Chapter 8: Achieving Malayness

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pp. 206-241

Khaidir looked great in his costume. He at least thought so, and I was inclined to agree. An 18-year-old who had recently graduated from senior high school, he was about to take part in a cultural parade ( pawai ) with a group of his old school friends. To make sure they looked the part, they had all rented luxurious Malay clothes ...

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pp. 242-251

In January 2012, as I was finalising the manuscript of this book, I received a phone call from Tirto, a high-ranking civil servant in interview. Tirto explained that he was about to participate in an official audit of Indonesia’s regional autonomy, a project that would evaluate whether or not decentralisation had been a success, attempt ...


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pp. 252-255


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pp. 256-273

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About the Author

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p. 274-274

Nicholas J. Long is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His first degree was in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, Research and a PhD on social, cultural and political change in the Riau Islands. Having worked in Cambridge for four years, initially ...


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pp. 275-288

E-ISBN-13: 9789971697969
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971697693

Page Count: 302
Illustrations: 2 maps, 3 tables, 14 images
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: New