By Timothy P. Barnard
The conference was attended by seventeen scholars from around the globe, mainly representing the fields of history, anthropology, and literature. Many of these scholars were relatively young, in that at least nine of the participants are currently writing their dissertations or have recently completed them. By bringing together fresh faces into an interdisciplinary mix, new ideas and approaches were discussed, debated, and (tentatively) agreed upon. There are plans to publish the papers given at the conference, and they seem to fall into four categories.
Barbara Watson Andaya (University of Hawaişi at Manoa), one of three keynote speakers, addressed the unity of such an eclectic region in her presentation, 'Recreating a Vision: daratan and kepulauan in context'. As seen on maps, Riau is a mix of two major regions, daratan (mainland) and kepulauan (archipelago). Andaya traced the creation of the modern-day province of Riau back to the fifteenth century when the kingdom of Melaka united these two areas under its rule. The unity of the two regions continued throughout the centuries despite numerous difficulties ranging from wars to varied economic and political development. Thus, despite their differences, or more likely due to strengths both regions have to offer to a united whole, the mainland and island areas of Riau do have a historical and cultural unity between them.
The second paper with a historical flavor was by Kato Tsuyoshi (Kyoto University), who in 'The Localization of the Kuantan Area: from Rantau Kurang Oso Dua Puluh to Kabupaten Indragiri Hulu' described a recent tendency of the population of a mainland Riau area that has historically been populated by Minangkabau migrants to identify itself as not Minangkabau, but as a local variation of Malayness. The final paper in a historical vein was 'Local Heroes and National Consciousness: The Politics of Historiography in Riau' by Timothy P. Barnard (University of Hawaişi at Manoa). This paper focused on how regional heroes from Riau are portrayed in nationalist biographies, in order to qualify them for consideration as national heroes. In the process many of these heroes lose their local significance as they are pictured in light of modern-day Indonesian developmental policies.
A second category of papers focused on development issues. Many of the problems in this area were summarized by Vivienne Wee (Centre for Environment, Gender and Development, Singapore) in her keynote address entitled 'Continuity and Discontinuity in the Multiple Realities of Riau'. In her presentation, Wee dramatically described how everyone involved in the ongoing economic development has a different view of what is occurring. For example, the Singapore government views Riau as a hinterland that can provide natural resources that are not available to the small nation-state. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government sees Riau as an area that can be developed quickly due to its proximity to Singapore and Malaysia, and the infusion of financial resources into the region. The problems that this entails for the region, particularly the Riau Archipelago, was also discussed by Mubyarto (Gajah Mada University) in his paper 'Progress and Poverty in Riau', which focused primarily on the difficulties that the residents in Riau face when they are not involved in the developmental process.
The effect of development programmes in mainland Riau was the focus of two papers. Cathy Hoshour (Harvard University), in 'Resettlement and Politicization of Ethnicity in Indonesia', described how funds and facilities designated for transmigration projects on the Riau-North Sumatra provincial border have been manipulated, resulting in embittered relations between Javanese transmigrants, local residents, and Batak migrants. Ken-ichi Abe (Kyoto University) provided another development-related paper, but also added insight to the proceedings through his perspective as a natural scientist. With his paper 'Cari Rezeki, Numpang Siap - Reclamation of Peatswamp in Riau', Abe described how Bugis migrants on coconut plantations have produced remarkable yields in the nutrient poor soil of Riau. These yields, however, hold a false promise since the nutrients are quickly exhausted, and thus the central government should be wary of using recent figures for future development planning in the region.
A third group of papers, which also took a more active stance toward development policies in Riau, can be categorized as minority groups under pressure. Three of these papers were about the Orang Laut (Sea People) of the Riau Archipelago. Lioba Lenhart (University of Cologne), in 'The Suku Laut People of the Riau Islands (Indonesia): Views on Sea Nomads Living in a Region Undergoing a Process of Modernization', described the stereotypes that are held in Indonesian society about the Orang Laut. These stereotypes, such as being vindictive and isolated, have influenced Indonesian governmental policy toward the Orang Laut. The problem with such stereotypes was echoed by Sudarman Sembiring (Gajah Mada University) in his paper 'Mobility and the Willingness of Orang Laut to Become Sedentary in the Framework of Developing Isolated Peoples'. Sembiring described how Orang Laut have historically been a flexible people moving between sea and land, despite the perception that they are entirely opposed to living on the land. The problem of stereotyping Orang Laut was further emphasized in a paper given by Cynthia Chou (IIAS), entitled 'Ownership and Social Relations: the Orang Suku Laut of Riau'. Chou described how the Orang Laut do have fixed territories and feel a responsibility for the state of development in these traditional areas. These three papers describe current policies that negatively stereotype the Orang Laut, but reflect little understanding of any possible role they might play within the future of the region. These three scholars called for a re- evaluation of policies toward the Orang Laut, and an increased two-way dialogue between the government and affected minority groups. A second set of essays concerning minority groups in Riau focused on the Petalangan people of the Kampar River valley. The first of these papers was by Ashley Turner (Monash University) with 'Cultural Survival, Identity, and the Performing Arts of Kamparşs Suku Petalangan'. Turner, an ethnomusicologist, described how the cultural identity of the Petalangan people is closely linked to specific areas of land and is expressed through their songs and epic poems. As various timber and palm oil industries have moved into their territory, however, the Petalangan have lost control over much of this land and face a very uncertain future. A possible solution for the Petalangan was discussed in a second paper entitled 'Petalangan Society and Change in Riau' by Pak Tenas Effendy (Yayasan Setanggi), a renowned local expert from Riau. Pak Tenas documented his attempts to protect the Petalangan ethnic group from the increasing encroachment of palm oil plantations into their territory. As part of these efforts, he has developed a regional cultural arts centre that has received funding from the Ford Foundation for its attempts to help the Petalangan preserve their unique place in Riau society. He is hopeful that other Orang Asli (Indigenous Peoples) in Riau will use the preserve as a model for the preservation of their culture during periods of increasing economic and cultural pressure.
The last category of papers touched on many of the topics brought up throughout the conference. In the third keynote address of the conference, entitled 'Tradition and Modernity in Malay Writing', Henk Maier (Leiden University) described the difficulty in finding a transition point between traditional and modern writing in the Malay world. In order to better understand this difficulty he referred to the Hikayat Hang Tuah, a traditional Malay epic, in which the hero Hang Tuah describes Malay areas and peoples as kacu (mixed, jumbled up). Maier then posited that it is best to understand Riau as an area that is kacu. If scholars try to place a false homogeneity on the region it fails to take into account the plethora of peoples and cultures that constitute both historic and modern Riau, and have influenced Malay consciousness in the region. The voice of Riau Malays was represented by two scholars from the region. Muchtar Ahmad (Universitas Riau) presented a paper entitled 'An Inquiry into Economic Sense in Riau' that described attempts by Malays to share in the massive economic development that has hit Riau. Although various economic cooperatives have been formed, Muchtar still perceives a feeling of helplessness among the Malays over a situation that is centrally controlled and allows little local input. Al Azhar (Universitas Islam Riau) presented a passionate plea for increased Malay self- identity in a time of increasing pressure with his essay, 'Malayness in Riau: the study and revitalization of identity'. Presented in Indonesian, Al Azharşs carefully chosen words poetically documented the feeling of peripheralization that many Malays experience in their own homeland of Riau.
Will Derks (IIAS) also discussed these feelings of peripheralization in his contribution, 'Malay Identity Work.' In this paper, Derks describes signs of 'Malayness' in the Riau capital of Pekanbaru. In this Indonesian city Malays are expressing their identity through a variety of methods, including poetry reading, songs at stoplights, and rumors spread throughout the city. These seemingly small events have the cumulative effect of Riau Malays attempting to preserve certain aspects of their cultural identity in an area facing increasing Indonesianization and globalization.
Finally, Jan van der Putten (Leiden University) with 'No Riau Without Your Books: the Significance of Print for Malay Authors', documented a period in the nineteenth century when the availability of the printing press provided new opportunities for Riau Malays to express their ideas in new ways through a variety of genres.
Much like Riau, the placing of these papers within these four divisions creates a false categorization. Most had a significance in all of the areas being discussed. The papers described a region in flux, with a variety of ethnic groups and cultures negotiating their place in a not only a complex world or the complex nation-state of Indonesia, but also within the complex region known as Riau.