De facto decentralization and community conflicts in East Kalimantan, Indonesia : explanations from local history and imlications for community forestry

TitleDe facto decentralization and community conflicts in East Kalimantan, Indonesia : explanations from local history and imlications for community forestry
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsRhee S, Lye T-P, de Jong W, Ken-ichi A
EditorLye T-P, de Jong W, Ken-ichi A
Book TitleThe political ecology of the tropical forests in Southeast Asia : historical perspectives
PublisherKyoto University Press; Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press
Call NumberM 2004 A 1374
Keywordsconflicts, Dayak, decentralization, Excerpta Indonesica, forestry, HISTORY, INDONESIA, Kalimantan Timur, local history, MALINAU

The implementation of the Indonesian decentralization laws, passed in 1999 in an attempt to counter secessionist tendencies by allowing resource-rich regions a higher stake in the profits, is progressing at a slow pace. However, de facto decentralization is taking place as local communities, government, companies, and NGOs are maneuvering strategically based on their own interpretations. This paper presents a case study of the effects of de facto decentralization in the Malinau district of East Kalimantan. It fosuses on four Dayak groups living in four contiguous villages collectively referred to as Lokasi Gabungan: the Kenyah village of Rehol, the Merap village of Gayansen, the Punan Malinau village of Caulan, and the Punan Tubu village of Labi. The author first traces the history of these four groups from pre-colonial times to the present, focusing on the political-economic dimension of their interactions with each other and with outsiders. The Merap migrated to the Malinau watershed in the second half of the 19th century with the assistance of local Punan groups, and established themselves as the dominant group. The Kenyah. who settled in the area in large numbers from the early 1970s during a period of massive government-sponsored resettlement programmes, have since challenged Merap dominance in the region. With the enactment of the decentralization laws, the various Dayak groups in the region have come to believe that their traditional land rights have been restored to them. This has been instrumental in changing the attitudes of local inhabitants to the point that some groups have entered into direct negiotiations over land rights with companies - sometimes excluding other parties involved such as timber concessionaires. The (perceived) increased political clout of local groups also create new possibilities for both conflict, both between ethnic groups (for instance between Kenyah and Punan, whom the former characterize as 'backward' (i.e., in similar terms as the ones used by outsiders to refer to the Dayaks), and with communities (e.g., between village leaders and their constituents). After a brief discussion of implications for community forestry initiatives, the author concludes that their is a strong possibility that without adequate mechanisims to ensure downward accountability, regional autonomy will benefit companies and local elites more than the local communities it purports to represent.