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Gifts, Belonging, and Emerging Realities Among “Other Moluccans” During the Aftermath of Sectarian Conflict


This dissertation is an ethnographic work of the interethnic relationships between Butonese residents of the Moluccas with native Moluccans and ethnic Chinese Moluccans, specifically in the ways the Butonese deal with their identity as an “outsider” (pendatang) in the realm of urban marketplaces and exchanges commodities in the rural areas. The common ground of the relationship is based on debt and exchanges commodities. It is the nature of the debt and exchanges that brings the contravenes of the ethnic relationships. On the one hand, the Butonese have grateful feelings for the generosity of the native Moluccans in providing land for them to farm, but on the other hand, the Butonese feel they are exploited when it comes to reciprocity. Likewise, the Butonese need and rely on the roles of the Chinese traders to provide money and goods, but from their exchange experiences, the Butonese realize that ethnic Chinese have economic interests behind their various generosities. These exchanges lie in mutual suspicion, lack of trust, and trickery. This kind of paradox is historically exacerbated by the social context of a post-conflict society that has not accomplished peace and reconciliation in people's everyday interactions, thus the encounters between Butonese farmers with ethnic Chinese in the shops and the encounters between urban Butonese traders with native Moluccans in the marketplaces do not necessarily represent peace after the conflict, but rather a relationship that is built based on the pragmatic motives of reciprocity and ongoing mutual suspicions.

The main question of this dissertation is how the Butonese, seen as pendatang (“outsiders")and pedagang (trader) in the Moluccas, are not only in struggle over their citizenship, but are also surviving in the realm of economic exchanges. Practically, this dissertation also questions what kind of reciprocities and contravenes consist in the interethnic reciprocity. Focusing on the ethnic correspondences after the conflict and after the decentralization policies of the late 1990s, this dissertation provides the narrations of the Butonese struggling to realign their position that is seen as "second-class". Efforts to be entangled with and be recognized by the autochthonous Moluccans demonstrate that identity is interchangeable. It can be solidified, but in the other contexts, identity can be very messy and fluid. In the post-decentralization era, Butonese have begun to realize that ethnic identity matters. In south Seram Island, rural democratization followed by state funds has opened each neighborhood, regardless of the status of its residents as natives or migrants, to have their own village administration. Rural Butonese have started to ask for their own sovereign kampung (neighborhood) to separate them from the native Moluccan tuan dusun (landowner). Meanwhile, urban Butonese traders in Ambon create their sovereign spaces in the marketplaces to block against the domination of failed local Moluccan class traders. All of these cases, both in the urban and rural areas, demonstrate the solidification of ethnic identity in the post-conflict and decentralization era. Nonetheless, the solidification of ethnicities and religions is always 'violated' by "weird" stories such as sex affairs and casual relations during rural workdays and pig-hunting cooperation in the garden between the Moluccans and the Butonese, or the Christians and the Muslims. Influences such as love, lust, and anxiety against an uncontrollable pest, as well as feelings of regret after the conflict, make the solidification of ethnic and religious consciousness sometimes irrelevant. The solidification of ethnic belonging becomes even more in question when in an attempt to be recognized as a citizen of the Moluccas, the Butonese create stories about their “poetics of place” in their lives before the conflict, their memories of their involvement in the war and their return from being displaced from their own origins in Buton to Moluccas. These narrations demonstrate that the Butonese in the Moluccans have a greater sense of belonging to the Moluccas rather than to their own origins in Buton, Southeast Sulawesi. Nonetheless, although the Butonese have this sense of belonging to the Moluccas, it does not permit them to be easily accepted as ' Moluccan' given their involvement in trade and as tenants for the cash crops that make them inherently seen as "outsiders". Thus, this dissertation describes that identity and ethnic relationship are about enigmatic stories of contravenes such as in the nature of debt, gift exchanges, and reciprocity.

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