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Vigilantes and gangsters in the borderlands of West Kalimantan, Indonesia

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Borderlands have long been the sites of violence, the result either of government incapacity or disinterest in peripheral regions, or of occasional attempts by states to assert control over “recalcitrant” border peoples (Paredes 1958; Wadley 2004). Borderland lawlessness, or the ambiguous space between state law, provides often fertile ground for activities deemed illicit by one or both states—smuggling and tax-evasion, for example (Tagliacozzo 2001). Border space may also allow the growth of local leadership built on those illegal activities and maintained through patronage and violence (McCoy 1999). In such situations, border peoples often enjoy a fair measure of autonomy from state interference, which may exacerbate their already ambiguous relations with either state (Martinez 1994a). In this paper, we examine issues of lawlessness and autonomy in the stretch of the West Kalimantan borderland inhabited by the Iban (Figure 1), with attention to recent incidents of vigilantism and gangsterism, and to how the ambiguity and separateness engendered by the border promotes and enhances these practices. Obviously, vigilantism and gangsterism are general phenomena throughout Indonesia but, as we show, the configuration of the borderland gives these phenomena their unique shapes here.
Original languageEnglish
JournalKyoto Review of Southeast Asia
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

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