Dissociated Identities: Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in an Indonesian Society

Thursday, May 27th, 2010, 00:01 WIB
Dissociated Identities: Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in an Indonesian Society

[span class=note] Author : Rita Smith  Kipp / Publisher : University of  Michigan Press, USA, 1993[/span]

This book describes the identities of the Karo sub-ethnic group in Indonesia, whom the author considers dissociated, with the main factors: ethnicity, religion, and class in Indonesian society as general categories in constructing identities. This book originally was a PhD dissertation of the author, which at last was published by University of Michigan Press.    This book consists of 12 chapters that show detail description about Karo sub-ethnic identities and how the group is considered dissociated with factors that usually determine the construction of identity, which are ethnicity, religion, and class.

[inset side=right]This book consists of 12 chapters that show detail description about Karo sub-ethnic identities and how the group is considered dissociated with factors that usually determine the construction of identity, which are ethnicity, religion, and class.[/inset]

Chapter 1 describes theories of identity as a framework to analyze Karo identities. The author cites Geertz (1974) who stated that the identity of a person is always related to his or her social environment; from Durkheim (1964) who posited that identity is a relationship between “collective conscience” and “personality”; from Taylor (1989) who argued that identity is related to self-realization and self-fulfillment; and from Barnett and Silverman (1979) who noted that identity is always tied to economical matters, especially production     and market process. (p.7-8).

Chapter 2 describes the origin and the history of Batak ethnic group, as the main ethnic group that inhabits most of North Sumatra region. In the beginning, Karo was actually a sub-ethnic group of Batak ethnic group, but in its development, they no longer wanted to associate with Batak ethnic group and emerged as a new ethnic group, which is the process described in chapter 3. The author states clearly that “most Karo people today would deny that they are Batak … even further, they repudiate Batak label altogether: they are Karo, period.” (p.41). This is why the author argues that the Karo people are dissociated from the ethnicity point of view.

Chapter 4 describes theories of class, ethnicity, and religion as main factors in constructing identity, and how Karo people are actually dissociated with those factors in recognizing their identity. The author give evidence that “most Karo also carefully compart-mentalize religious life from issues of kinship and ethnicity, guarding these core aspects of identity from the potentiality divisive issues of faith … that Karo construct for themselves along communal lines.” (p.69). This thesis is strengthened by the description of politics of religion and culture from Indonesian government as supporting evidence, which is described in chapter 5 and 6. The politics of the government of Indonesia to maintain unity and avoid conflict based on SARASuku (ethnicity), Ras (race), Agama (religion), Antargolongan (groups or classes)] issued among citizens (p. 109), more or less also gives influence to the process of constructing Karo identities. The government tried to eliminate ethnic categories, which the author called “ethnic blindness” (p. 109), to avoid conflict, also affects Karo identities. The politics of religion, in which Indonesian government acknowledges only five official religions (Islam, Catholic, Protestant,  Hinduism, and Buddhism), closes the possibility for indigenous belief to be acknowledged. This is why Karo identities are also dissociated from religious factor, because based on their traditional belief, they are not actually included with official religions. [acronym for

Chapter 7 describes kinship as main factor for Karo in constructing their identities. The author states that “kinship is essential to Karo ethnicity because the Karo conceptual- lization of themselves as a society rests on an imagined kinship order.” (p. 125). Also the author argues that “Karo ethnic identity rests on a sense of belonging defined by kinship.”   (p. 153). Chapter 8 describes Karo’s ethnic pride as a counter of ethnic politics issued by the government. The author states that “ethnic pride stems also from the kind of ethnic politics the state would like to ignore … especially to be implicated in issues of power as well as pride.” (p. 158). Here ethnic pride is such a counter-culture developed by Karo people to build their own identity and to refuse ethnic politics of the government.

 Chapters 9 to 12 describe the influence of religions on Karo identities. Chapter 9 discusses Christianity, Chapter 10 Islam, and Chapter 11 Hinduism and Karo traditional religion. All of these religions are discussed in their relationship to the construction of Karo identities. Indeed, Karo people embrace many religions; there are Christian Karo, Muslim Karo, and Hindu or traditional Karo who still embrace their indigenous belief; therefore, Karo identities cannot be referred in relation to one religion only. The last chapter, chapter 12, discusses the possibility of the secularization of Karo identities in the future, as the effect of modernization and globalization, which indeed strengthen the argument that Karo identities is no longer related to, or dissociated with, religion as one factor of constructing identity.

This book has detailed description and deep analysis about Karo identities; therefore it can serves as one important source in studying Karo identities and ethnic identities in Indonesia in general. However, this book portrayed social phenomena in Karo and Indonesia in the 1980’s decade to the beginning of 1990’s, but social condition always change and develop; for example, the change of ethnic and religion politics after reformation. Therefore, we also need to look to other sources to broaden our perspective, especially concerning contemporary development that happened in Indonesian society.

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