Separating Sisters From Brothers: Ethnic Relations and Identity Politics in the Context of Indigenous Land Titling in Indonesia


  • Stefanie Steinebach University Göttingen
  • Yvonne Kunz University of Göttingen



Ethnic Identity, Indigenous Land Titling, Indonesia, Jambi, Land Use Conflicts


Environmental and social transformations in Jambi province, Indonesia, are inextricably interlinked. Large-scale agro-industrial development and nature conservation policies equally alienate local communities from their agricultural lands and turn land into a scarce resource. Consequently, access to agricultural land becomes increasingly contested, not only between communities and state institutions or companies but also among communities themselves. To secure or restore local ‘indigenous’ land rights against land grabbing and green grabbing by states and companies, indigenous land titling has become a powerful tool all over the world. Ongoing activities of indigenous land titling in Indonesia have been largely perceived as an act of justice by indigenous and land rights activists and affected communities. Yet, a challenging step towards titling is the identification of who is and who is not ‘indigenous’. This highly political process creates ethnicity-based identities tied to rights and possibilities around land as a contested resource. Based on a case study of a national park in central Jambi, this paper shows that what is perceived as an act of justice against the state can also produce injustice among local communities by heavily impacting and transforming local social structures and relations.

Author Biographies

Stefanie Steinebach, University Göttingen

Stefanie Steinebach holds a PhD in anthropology and a diploma in forestry and is a lecturer for
conflict management at the Faculty of Resource Management, University of Applied Sciences
Hildesheim Holzminden Goettingen, Germany. Over the last two decades, she has worked
intensively in Indonesia on ethnic identity, natural resource use, and resource use conflicts.

Yvonne Kunz, University of Göttingen

Yvonne Kunz holds a PhD in geography and is research associate at the Division of Human
Geography at the University of Göttingen, Germany. Her research focuses on the political
ecology of regulative structures governing landscape transformation in Indonesia.