16.3. From “Suku Terasing” to “Masyarakat Adat” : An Evolution a mobile term

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Create Date10 October 2016

Riwanto Tirtosudarmo (LIPI)


This paper traces the evolution of a term used both by the officials, activists and the scholars to describe a particular group of people that inhabit in a geographically isolated location and generally perceived as “marginal” socially and politically. A characteristic that seemingly embedded in this group is its indignity. Tania Li (2010) argued that “indigeneity is a mobile term that has been articulated in relation to a range of positions and struggles; in which a permanent attachment to a fixed area of land marks them as culturally distinct group”. Following Tania Li, this paper analyze the changing articulation of this respected group in which the related term representing “a range of position and struggles” as given by scholars and officials, but also by the social activist that advocating their indigenous and cultural rights. “Suku Terasing” is a term used by anthropologist, such as Koentjaraningrat, that is regarded as the Father of Indonesian Anthropology, in the heyday of Suharto’s New Order.

The term evaporated following the demise of Suharto’s repressive government in 1989 and replaced by “Masyarakat Adat” strongly endorsed by social activist and NGOs, both national and international, emphasizing “indigeneity as its main character. The paper argued that while the realities concerning this marginal group is basically unchanged the discursive contestation continually changing depending on the perception and interest of the elite and the dominant groups