Panel 3A – Identity, Culture & Heritage


Panel 3A – Identity, Culture & Heritage–Commonality & Alterity within Cosmopolitan & Historical Territories 

This panel aims to present several cases of collective struggle for the preservation of vernacular know-how, religious practices and values. The social groups described have to manage profound and, sometimes, brutal economic and political transformations, following the global trends that see 1. the integration of nation-states into the global economy, which intersects in a triangular relationship with 2. the reinforcement of states as social regulators and with 3. the resulting tension amid territorial, communitarian, or religious identities (Jean-François Bayart 2017).

  • Conservative identity-centered movements, based on religious, nationalist, or ethnicist repertoires, are often promoted and sponsored by the States, or essentialized by the regional-scale governments. How can the social groups contribute to affirming their heritage and culture without falling into the trap of reification and the political uses of formalized identity?
  • How can individuals emancipate themselves from identity-based normative frames and, reciprocally, how can collective action and organization defend their values in front of liberal anti-social political tendencies and individualistic development models? How can vulnerable populations, such as minority political groups, autochthonous people, and migrant populations, be taken into consideration in relation to the territorial and memorial issues they face?


Host institution: ALTERSEA (Co-Host: SEA Junction)

Chairperson: Vatthana Pholsena (National University of Singapore)


Puji Hastuti (Universitas Indonesia, Indonesia) – State Sovereignty and The Rupture of Mamatik Tradition Among Indigenous People in North Borneo

Abstract: This paper aims to examine the rupture within the indigenous community as the impact of the creation of borders by nation-states. The paper will discuss the decline of indigenous material knowledge of the people in Hulu Sembakung, a transborder area of North Borneo. This community struggles to preserve Mamatik, a handicraft tradition designed to produce daily goods (rice containers) or sacred objects (traditional mat as dowry). Mamatik tradition is a knowledge-sharing culture among cultural communities that live in Pensiangan River (Malaysia), the Sedalir River (Indonesia), and the Sembakung River (Indonesia). Apart from functioning as a material culture contributing to social cohesion, Mamatik tradition is also a symbol of environmental sustainability. However, it has been unbalanced when the modern state of colonial heritage produced an Indonesian-Malaysian state entity that enforced strict community separation. The states affirmed their sovereignty without paying attention to the way cultural practices were interwoven with the dynamics of this cross-border society. The community then was fractured into different citizenship identities. The separation that occurred threatened the existence of Mamatik and the cultural knowledge it conveys: cohesive values, environmental preservation, and gender equality. At the same time, the governments from the two states do not address the issues represented by Mamatik tradition which also detriments the well-being of the indigenous community. Until now, the community struggles to revive Mamatik tradition with external support, such as local government and an empowerment program initiated by a craft artist from Switzerland, Margrit Linder.

Keywords: material knowledge, transborder identity, river-based communities, North Borneo.

Bio & contact: Puji Hastuti graduated from the University of Indonesia in 2014. She was involved in several qualitative and quantitative survey research projects, within several institutions, namely the Research and Development of Harian Kompas, Demographic Institute, Faculty of Economics, the University of Indonesia, and the Director-General of Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture. Since 2018, Puji has joined as a researcher the Population Research Center (P2K), Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), where she was involved in several research projects: City-Human Ecology Cluster Team, Palu 2018 Disaster Rapid Assessment Research Team, West Papua 2019 National Priority Research Team (PN), and Maritime Education Sector Design Team 2020. She is also part of the editorial team of the IPSK Journal of the Indonesian Society of the Republic of Indonesia (Jurnal Masyarakat Indonesia, JMI).

Video presentation

Sarah Anaïs Andrieu (EHESS, France)Kasundaan, wayang golek and political identity in West Java, Indonesia

Abstract: The political decentralization process at stake since the early 2000s in Indonesia is accompanied by various local identity claims. In West Java, the claim for Sundanese identity’s manifestations reaches various aspects: clothing accessories, the display of cultural symbols in the public space, the infatuation for cultural “idiosyncratic” practices, and even some socio-religious claims calling themselves “Kasundaan” or “Sunda Wiwitan”. Although mainly present in urban circles, these claims always refer to few rural settlements disseminated throughout West Java and Banten provinces. 

This paper will start with an overview of the Sundanese identity claim in West Java, rooted in the myths and history of Sundanese society. I will show that wayang golek, a highly popular rod puppet theatre, is at the core of the process, suggesting alternative narratives of identity. This echoes the very creation of the genre in the 19th century as it was supposed to answer Java-centred culture that dominated the region for centuries before the colonization by the Netherlands. We will see further how this kind of Sundanese renewal was mobilized in political campaigns for provincial elections in 2018 and presidential elections in 2019, as candidates played identity politics to attract voters or using it to counter radical religious positions. Finally, the paper will look at the situation in 2021, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemics, as these movements continue to develop on the Internet.

Keywords: wayang golek, performance, Sundanese identity, West Java, identity politics.

Bio & contact: Sarah Anaïs Andrieu earned her PhD in Social Anthropology and Ethnology at EHESS, Paris. She works since 2005, about cultural and heritage politics, particularly regarding “traditional” practices in Indonesia. Living in Bandung since 2006, she has been working on Sundanese wayang golek puppet theatre considering its identity, mystical, heritage, and political dimensions, ranging from local observation to the apprehension of international policies (2005-2018). She has also been studying the practice of female circumcision in West Java (2014-2015) and powerful objects (pusaka) (2018-2019). Her current topics still cover heritage and memory processes as linked to cultural practices. In 2020, she starts new research about (a)-religious alternative groups and identities (Kasundaan, New Age, and atheism) in Indonesia.

Video presentation