Masculinities and Peacebuilding Agency in Ambon and Aceh

The dean of the Faculty of Cultural Science, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Dr Wening Udasmoro made a presentation about the role of male religious and cultural leaders in preventing communal conflict in Aceh and Ambon at CRCS-ICRS Wednesday Forum on November 22, 2017. Realizing gender inequalities in conflict resolution process, Wening was stimulated to depart from most previous studies associating men and masculinities with war, conflict, and violence. Following R.W. Connell placing masculinity as the patterns of practice engaged predominantly by men (despite women having a considerable role in making it), she was attracted to discuss why when we talk about peace-building process, the position of man is very crucial. Through fieldwork in two villages, Wayame in Ambon and Tanoeh Anoe in Aceh, she analyzed a configuration of agency emerging from men using their masculinities at the grassroots level to strategically foster peacebuilding and prevent violent conflict.

Dr Udasmoro demonstrated that in Wayame, the only village which was not affected by deadly communal conflict in Ambon in the end of Soeharto’s regime, there was the “team twenty” as a guardian of peace. The team contained twenty religious and cultural elder leaders coming equally from both Muslims and Christians. As a self intra-community management, the team managed “the politics of isolation” in Wayame for controlling their community members and disciplining trouble makers in their village. Various mechanisms to eradicate the factors of violent conflict were implemented, such as withstanding rumors, avoiding harsh languages related to other religions, and banning weapons and alcohol. Besides, there was a rule that residents participating in the conflict would not be permitted to return to Wayame, and if they were killed, their bodies were not allowed to be entered and buried in the village. The team also prohibited residents to bring the national newspapers circulating bombastic news and instead spread local newspapers coming from peace journalist alliance delivering peace-fostering narratives in Ambon.

In the case of Aceh, when there were many violences and damages in Idi Rayeuk district as a result of the clash between the Indonesian military sent by the Megawati administration and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka/GAM), Tanoeh Anoe was the only village which was free from violence and became a shelter for other villagers. Based on Udasmoro’s observation, there were two kinds of men’s agency practicing “surrendering strategy” in the Tanoeh Anoe case. The first was acted by Keuchik Riswandi and Tengku Abdul Hamid. Rather than commanding the community to attack the military post, Keuchik (the head of village) Riswandi, who was highly respected and listened by residents, through non-violent efforts, frequently liberated many suspected GAM members arrested by the military, even he sold his house to redeem them. Tengku Abdul Hamid protected many GAM members chased by military in his house which was not attacked because it had function as a mosque also. The second was the ordinary men agency orchestrated by Ormas Raya, an organization of ex-GAM frontier members that realized that what they struggled turned out to be in the interest of GAM elites who pursued governmental position. Feeling disappointed, Ormas Raya members took initiatives by economically empowering ex-GAM members in order to not go back as robbers or pirates, helping widows of killed GAM members, and funding their children to study in the school.    

Udasmoro found that there are different exercises of masculinities in those two best practices of grassroots peacebuilding. While in Wayame, Ambon, the collective realization of peace could only be kept by disciplining practices such as giving punishment, in Tanoeh Anoe, Aceh, masculine symbols of macho, strength, and the likes were abandoned. Udasmoro pointed out some kind of paradox in the case of Wayame: they prevented violence by reproducing another violence, such as punishing rule-breakers by beating them. In the case of Tanoeh Anoe, facing the greater military power, the surrendering strategy with the voluntary subordination of masculinity was an effective approach for preventing violent conflict. This strategy was not easy considering for a long time there had been intense desire and pride among Aceh men, especially from the lower socio-economic classes, to fight and bear arms against the Indonesian military.

During the Q&A session, a participant asked about whether masculinity in her explanation applies only to men. Udasmoro answered giving the example of Inong Balee, the women wing of GAM. Most of Inong Balee members wanted to be like Cut Nyak Dhien, the woman hero fighting in a guerrilla war against the Dutch in Aceh. The narrative transferred to them about Cut Nyak Dhien was about masculinities of strong men and women attacking by weapon the colonizers, which during the GAM era was projected to the Indonesian state.



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