chapter  5
22 Pages

Mobilizing culture and tradition for peace: Reconciliation in the Moluccas


Introduction Analyzing the challenges and problems coming along with the revival of tradition for peace in the post-conflict Moluccas, this chapter explores the more general question of whether culture can be an effective means to build inter-religious bridges and to foster reconciliation.1 The rising number of so-called ethnic and religious conflicts worldwide and the frequent failure of internationally established means of reconciliation triggered debates on alternative means for reconciliation and alternative dispute resolutions. The consideration of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms is one option. This immediately raises the question of what we actually refer to when we talk about ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’. The concept of ‘culture’ has been questioned even by anthropologists (see e.g. Ortner 1995). We are confronted with anthropologists inventing culture (Wagner 1981) at the same time as “we are faced with a real world in which ethnic identification ... seems to be more highly mobilized than at any point in our recent history” (Mahmood & Armstrong 1992: 3-4). Through an ethnographic analysis of a traditional village union claiming to be the key to peace (kunci perdamaian) in the Moluccas, this chapter argues for a flexible and agency-oriented notion of culture and shows that the incorporation of cultural aspects and local ritual approaches to conflict resolution enable the local anchoring of peace initiatives and thus successful reconciliation. Nevertheless, the reader is also warned against a rash identification of religion as a dividing and adat – tradition and customary law – as a unifying force. Adat rituals not only unified people after the conflict, but traditions also formed the basis for the development of divided memories that were invoked to legitimize the use of violence during the conflict. The revival of tradition has to be analyzed against the broader sociopolitical backdrop in which it takes place.