Accepted paper:

"Sakit Hati": Emotion, the Senses, and Cannibalism in Discourses on Ethnic Violence in West Kalimantan, Indonesia


Anika König (Freie Universität Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

Current Dayak discourses on ethnic conflict between Dayaks and Madurese in the 1990s emphasise strong emotions, the development of exceptional sensory abilities and incidents of cannibalism. This paper explores these images and their role in discourses on local, national and international levels.

Paper long abstract:

In 1996/1997, West Kalimantan was the location of large scale ethnic conflicts between Kalimantan Dayaks and Madurese transmigrants. In Dayak communities, current discourse on the conflicts has a strong focus on cannibalism that is said to have taken place during the conflicts. "Sakit hati" - strong resentment - is usually given as the explanation for the cannibalistic incidents. Caused by this intense emotion, extraordinary sensory abilities, particularly regarding smell and taste, are said to have developed in many of the Dayaks who participated in the conflicts. According to these accounts, certain Dayaks could temporarily smell and trace hiding Madurese, and a peculiar sense of taste enabled many of them to eat Madurese flesh, particularly the hearts. Accordingly, the local discourses on the conflicts strongly focus on emotion, the senses, and the body and how they are related to Dayak ethnic identity. However, although this seems to be particularly important for local understandings of the conflicts and "Dayakness", these discourses for the Dayaks also serve as a means to position themselves as an (imagined) group in national and international arenas and discourses. This paper aims to take a closer look at the connection between extreme emotion, the development of extraordinary senses and the meaning of the body in the context of ethnic violence as it can be observed in the West Kalimantan case. Subsequently, it will explore the specific image of "the Dayak" in this exceptional situation and this image's establishment in the local as well as national and international discourses.

panel P13
Senses and citizenships: contestations over national and global identities, resources, and forms of belonging