21 Mei 2013

In search of a comprehensive solution for Papua

Local newspaper Media Indonesia (April 30) quoted newly elected Papua Governor Lukas Enembe as saying that in
August, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) would visit the province “to give a present to society in Papua, in the form of a new law on special autonomy called Otsus Plus”.

Referring to the work of anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1954), SBY’s gift, in this case the Otsus Plus, represents a potlatch or a system of exchange of gifts. Gifts are made and reciprocated with interest.

In other words, there is no such thing as a free gift. Gift cycles engage people in a permanent commitment that articulates the dominant institution (Douglas, 1990).

So what is the motive behind the Otsus Plus to be given to the Papuan people? The word “present” in the Otsus case denotes the reciprocal but also asymmetric power relationship between two parties normally symbolized by material entitlement.

Metaphorically, a present could also be in the context of “giving a gift when such a person behaves or is expected to behave nicely or reach a certain achievement”. Are the Papuans behaving nicely so that they are entitled to the gift? Under what conditions? What kind of achievement have the Papuans achieved?

A present could also be an expression of joy. What is there to celebrate when the Papuans still live in hardship? Mauss argued that a gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity (and welfare) is a contradiction.

Special autonomy is indeed sensitive in its nature. Even though Otsus also regulates the transfer of authority politically, economically and culturally, the majority of Papuans simply understand Otsus as the pouring of an abundance of cash into the province.

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