Fear and Uncertainty: Local Perceptions of the Sorcerer and the State in an Indonesian Witch-hunt

in Asian Journal of Social Science
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Abstract

In 1998, around one hundred alleged sorcerers were killed in Banyuwangi District, East Java. Most scholars treated the killings as a conspiracy. My evidence indicates that local residents have been killing 'sorcerers' for at least the past half century. Rather than a conspiracy, the increased numbers of killings in 1998 can be attributed to: 1. A perception that the reform movement ca 1998 incorporated violence against sorcerers, as much as social or political protest; 2. Attempts by officials to safely relocate 'sorcerers', by identifying those to be relocated. Officials thereby inadvertently confirmed the identities of 'sorcerers' and gave encouragement to potential killers; 3. A perception that officers of the police and army were afraid they would be accused of human rights violations if they prevented local residents killing 'sorcerers'.

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