chapter  3
22 Pages

Historical and political framework for civil society formation in Indonesia

The understanding of state and society, of the political and civil sphere in Indonesia, has been strongly shaped by the country’s historical experiences with feudalism, colonial rule, and the various concepts brought forward by its leaders since Indonesia’s independence. This section will discuss the most important characteristics of the Indonesian state, its relationship with society, and the socio-political factors that favored the emergence of civil and uncivil society. Before the first contacts with the West, the Indonesian archipelago was

predominantly an agrarian society, marked by little village communities living on wet-field rice cultivation and shifting agriculture.1 Beginning in the first century CE, several larger kingdoms strongly influenced by India replaced these territorially limited village associations. In the following centuries, agrarian inland states as well as coastal kingdoms living on regional and supra-regional trade emerged. Javanese feudalism was marked by a political system with a strong center and several outer circles of power. The sovereigns were perceived as god-like rulers, incarnations of Vishnu, Shiva, or Buddha, and represented an amalgamation of the religious and the political sphere. A weak administrative penetration and the distance from the reach of the monarch’s cosmic and worldly power marked the periphery. The territorial borders of the patrimonial empires remained vaguely defined and showed signs of disintegration at the margins.2