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Population Anxiety in Black Papua: The Politics of Reproduction and Racialization in Peripheral Indonesia

  • Author(s): Rasidjan, Maryani Palupy
  • Advisor(s): Adams, Vincanne
  • et al.
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My dissertation focuses on black subjectivity and indigeneity in relation to family planning in Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province, and the site of over fifty years of contested sovereignty. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in a women’s empowerment center, government health clinics at the interface between family planning and Papuan pronatalist projects, and in-depth interviews with Papuan women, providers and activists, I explore how black Papuan women are both the targets and agents negotiating the political technologies of family planning. Population emerges as a “problem” in this setting where anxieties over population are addressed through Indonesia’s national family planning program—rooted in a history of development and population control—and local Papuan pronatalism programs that seek to address the social fact of a steady depopulation of black indigenous Papuans. The simultaneous surveillance apparatuses of the Indonesian family planning program and Indonesian security structures are political technologies in which Papuan women are distorted into hypervisible victims, patients or potential insurgents and invisible in the realm of legitimate and agentive Indonesian citizenry. The coupling of these biopolitical and necropolitical projects are the conditions under which antinatalist and pronatalist women’s reproductive health programs unfold in Papua.

Women’s reproductive health brings into high relief how indigenous black Papuan women have become the critical site for state and global health interventions that are governed by anxiety and uncertainty. One of these anxieties has to do with Indonesia’s stellar global health record of successful family planning and the epidemics that belie this record. Another anxiety emerges in the politics of racial difference—as the steady depopulation of indigenous black Papuans. I assert that the articulation of Papuan identity is neither inevitable nor by chance, but always historically contingent, flexible and “actively being remade” (Clifford 2001, 475; Hall 1996[1980]). My dissertation describes how blackness finds purchase in Papua and explains how attending to a Papuan blackness—as necessarily tied to indigeneity, Dutch, German and American missionization practices, and Indonesian military occupation—is central to understanding the impacts of the family planning program on Papuan women and families. Whereas other groups making indigenous rights claims in Indonesia have articulated their identities as predominantly Christian, masyarakat adat, or as colonial subjects, and sometimes a mix of some or all of the above, no single other group articulates all of these as intersecting nodes with black identity. The claim to a racial difference—that is blackness—poses questions to Indonesian sovereignty that it has yet to answer.

In this dissertation I argue that blackness emerges in the production of a particular kind of Papuan indigeneity vis-à-vis biopolitical and necropolitical technologies. It is coupled with Melanesian identity as a signifier of difference between indigenous Papuans and occupying Indonesian forces. However, blackness circulates in Papua, not only as a nodal point of difference making, but as a method and strategy for sharing, loving and expressing pride and kinship to include islands of Melanesia and beyond, extending to the African geo-body. That is, in reference to having a “social heritage” of oppression beyond Papua’s borders (Du Bois 1943).

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This item is under embargo until April 8, 2021.