Weapons of the wild : strategic uses of violence and wildness in the rain forests of Indonesian Borneo

TitleWeapons of the wild : strategic uses of violence and wildness in the rain forests of Indonesian Borneo
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsPeluso NL, Slater C
Book TitleIn search of the rain forest
ChapterP. 204-245. : ill., krt.
PublisherDuke University Press
CityDurham, NC etc.
Call NumberM 2004 A 3103
KeywordsChinese, cultural identity, Dayak, Development Policy, ethnic conflicts, Excerpta Indonesica, headhunting, HISTORY, INDONESIA, Kalimantan Barat, Konfrontasi, Madurese, military history, natural resources, orba, resources exploitation, stereotype, Tropical forests, VIOLENCE, warfare

In this essay, the author examines the ways 'wildness' and violence have shaped common views of rain forests and forest dwellers in western Kalimantan. The icon of the Borneo headhunter has played and continues to play a central role in the imagery employed by various actors in order to control the area, its population, and its resources, from colonial times to the present day. Colonial reports, travelers' tales and ethnographic accounts resonated with the 19th-century European fascination with 'savages', giving rise to the legend of the Wild Man of Borneo. Dayak men were invariably described as 'warriors', 'cannibals' or 'headhunters'. The suppression of headhunting became a primary objective of colonial rule, as this practice was considered a menace to trade and natural resource exploitation. In the 1960s, the headhunter image re-emerged in the aftermath of Soekarno's undeclared war against Malaysia (Konfrontasi). Under the regime of Soeharto, the Indonesian military manipulated Dayaks into violent action against the ethnic Chinese. The image of wildness was subsequently used by the regime to marginalize the Dayaks politically and culturally, excluding them from the benefits of development policies which transformed the physical and social landscape through an extensive road network, forest conversion, resource extraction, and resettlement. A mix of Dayak, Madurese, and Javanese farmers now cultivated wet rice fields left behind by the Chinese. In 1997, violence broke out between Dayaks and Madurese settlers. The 'Bornean headhunter' resurfaced in the international press coverage of the events, echoing Indonesian journalistic accounts from the 1960s. While The Dayaks strategically used this imagery to strike fear into their enemies, they did actually not consider their actions as headhunting (ngayau), but as acts of war. Most 'warriors' were not forest-bound hunters, but drivers, plantation workers, loggers, and commercial farmers, who were transported to their targets by trucks rather than moving stealthily through the forest in small bands. The author concludes that the image of the Borneo headhunter has constituted a critical part of efforts to control the rain forest landscape, its inhabitants, and its resources.