I am writing a book that explores the cultural and territorial politics of violence, identity, and landscape in the western districts of West Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo. I am looking specifically at how violence has been related to resource extraction, land control, and the construction of ethnic and national identities. Based on my own fieldwork and archival research since 1990, the book will document and analyze the forms, contexts, and representations of violence, and how violence has reshaped access to and control over the agrarian environment.
The violence cannot be separated from the specific historical and environmental conditions of the forested regions where the shaping and claiming of these agrarian landscapes have taken place.
I will also examine the parallel ways that two sets of peoples have imagined, experienced, and constructed these landscapes—Chinese and Salako peoples, who have moved through and settled in this region for three centuries. In reviewing archival materials, newly available secondary materials, and my own field notes and collected documents, I have found that the region cannot be described as only Dayak or Indonesian. Rather, the landscapes that have emerged from this study have been layered landscapes, and their visibility or invisibility has much to do with the politics of representation and history. Violence in different historical moments has shaped these patterns of layering and the capacity to actually “know” or to “see” the landscape in particular ways. Moreover, the violence cannot be separated from the specific historical and environmental conditions of the forested regions where the shaping and claiming of these agrarian landscapes have taken place. From customary Dayak lands and fruit forests to Chinese gold mines and rubber or pepper farms, to vast networks of irrigated rice fields, to production forestry zones, to watershed protection reserves, to military staging grounds, to sites of ethnic violence, various types of claims have emerged here through the politics of landscape. Past claims to territory are preserved not only within the practices and memories of people, but written on the landscape itself. I will discuss why political and communal violence have occurred in some historical moments and not others, and how violence has erased some claims from the landscape while preserving others.