The Political Demography of Indonesia

Shane Barter

From Colonization to Nation-State provides an expert overview of the multi-faceted political demography ofIndonesia.Indonesia provides a fertile case for studying the politics of population changes and movements. It is the world’s fourth most populous country, the most populous Muslim country, and it dwarfs its Southeast Asian neighbours. Within this population one finds remarkable ethnic diversity, considerable mobility, and even violence related to demographic tensions. This wealth of material allows the author to tackle a wide range of topics, including transmigration, spontaneous migration, migration and development, forest squatters, Indonesians abroad, and political violence.

This book exemplifies the quality scholarship being produced by Indonesian authors and publishers.
Riwanto’s breadth of experience makes for a well-rounded, informative book. In many ways, this volume is more of a collection of works, organized around a cohesive theme, than it is a traditional solo-authored text. The papers sometimes overlap, the book lacks a single argumentative core, and the chapters were written at different times. In terms of evidence, the author engages directly with several key studies, quoting important works at length while also adding new analysis. The book also involves some fieldwork and analyzes a range of primary government documents. One of the book’s strengths is the breadth of academic approaches utilized by the author. Along with political science and demography, there are also generous portions of history, sociology, environmental studies, conflict studies, and even anthropology. The author refers at many points to merantau cultures, emphasizing important cultural undercurrents to the movement of people. Along with a national perspective, the book also includes views from theOuterIslands, focusing on sites such as Riau andKalimantan to provide stories from the perspectives of regions sending and receiving migrants.
The chapters on transmigration are particularly interesting. In reviewing transmigration schemes from the colonial era through to reformasi, I felt that the author could have stated the importance of the topic even more strongly. After all, for the Dutch, Japanese, Sukarno, and Suharto (including the army and technocrats) to all agree on a single policy is nothing short of remarkable. Chapter Two, on transmigration under the New Order, provides a wealth of details on policy changes over time as well as variation in policy outcomes. Riwanto shows how targets were often not met, leading planners to count spontaneous migrants as state transmigrants, and how some transmigration sites failed and were abandoned. Chapter Five, on migration and the environment, also stands out. Spontaneous migration to Indonesian forest lands are shown to have severe environmental consequences. The author notes longer patterns of lowland residents fleeing into jungles and hills to escape state control. In this, Riwanto anticipates James Scott’s recent work on hill communities in mainlandSoutheast Asia.
Given the book’s broad goal of understanding political demography in this massive country, the reader will find some areas the author did not choose to explore. I was surprised to see little about fertility or aging, core areas of demography. More centrally to the book’s focus, I was surprised not to see more on internally displaced persons, especially transmigrants fleeing conflict areas such as Ambon, Aceh, and East Timor. While state efforts to dominate its periphery are criticized, it seems that armed groups working to purify their homes should also be challenged for oppressive demographic policies. Finally, the reader may leave wondering where population movements will unfold in the years to come. Will democracy break transmigration schemes that have been shared by a range of distinct, though non-democratic rulers? Does spontaneous migration continue to unfold, and if so, where are people moving from and to? The book provides extensive details of the recent past, but stops short of speculating on the future. Then again, this critique is another way of saying that the reader is left demanding a follow-up book.
From Colonization to Nation-State provides new insights into the complexities of population shifts in one of the world’s most fascinating, diverse, and populous countries. By bringing together a range of authors and topics, it provides an authoritative background on population politics inIndonesia.

Shane J. Barter
Associate Director, PacificBasin Research Center, Assistant Professor Soka University of America (