In this article I consider the rise of violent ormas—civil mass organizations—in Indonesian society. Using examples from Jakarta, East Kalimantan, and the Minahasa, I show that such groups deploy a discourse combining democracy, identity, and the willingness to use violence to mobilize local society against (real or perceived) threats to its well-being. I show that while popular support allows the ormas to become powerful in local settings, such support is inherently unstable and dependent on regular demonstrations of capacity and intent. Too much unrest or the ignoring of popular interests will cause an ormas to lose support. As with successful governments, maintaining the peace and providing societal assistance rather than public displays of violence are what keeps successful ormas going. I argue, therefore, that ormas, like governments, are subject to societal control.
Human cultures and groups, when defining themselves, compare themselves with others. Names used to denote other groups often refer to characteristics associated with these groups, frequently in a way that expresses the superiority of the naming group or the strangeness or even danger of the named group. Derogatory terms such as ‘barbarians’, ‘head-cutters’ or simply ‘edible ones’ are examples of names referring to dangerous traits. The number of groups in the world using a name for themselves that translates simply as ‘human’ to differentiate themselves from neighbouring groups is staggering.
In this article we look at rights discourses and law as an arena of struggle in which local people attempt to gain and secure access to localities of value. Following administrative decentralisation in 1999, throughout Indonesia, individuals and communities lodged land claims. To support these claims, multiple sources of legitimation were used. Among others: customary rights; a history of using the land; or official land law. We focus on the interaction between these groups and the government officials whose authority is required to grant access. We look at conflicts, as well as alliances, in nine different settings and discern three basic constellations through which legitimation is sought: (1) national state institutions; (2) regional autonomy opportunities; and (3) extra-legal arrangements. We find that the lowest levels of government offer the best chances of success but that security increases with higher levels of ratification. We show that broad alliances present an efficient strategy to gain rights to land and that it is vital for local communities to include government bodies, or capture official law’s agency.