From Rhizome to Banyan

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics | Indonesia Project

Event details

Indonesia Study Group

Date & time

Wednesday 24 October 2012


Seminar Room B, Coombs Building, Fellows Road, ANU


Eben Kirksey (UNSW, Sydney)


Indonesia Project
+61 2 6125 3794
The dominant political party of Suharto’s Indonesia, Golkar, used thebanyan’a dominant forest tree with a chaotic network of roots andbranches’as its symbol. As West Papua’s independence movementtransitioned from being underground, to emerging in broad daylight,elite leaders appropriated the banyan as a political form. The banyanserves as a model of subversion, replication, and domination. Thismode of subversive engagement is an alternative to another botanicalfigure, the rhizome, an underground stem. Rhizomes ceaselesslyestablish connections among organizations of power, social struggles,and other heterogeneous forms. This paper will explore the unexpectedcollaborations of two Papuan activists with different tactics ofstruggle. Theys Eluay, who had been a Golkar parliamentarian, atrusted member of the banyan party for years, suddenly emerged in theyear 1998 as the leader of West Papua’s movement for merdeka(freedom). As Theys Eluay made public statements challenging thestatus quo, he secretly strengthened his ties to Indonesia’s oldguard–including former President Suharto. Antonius Wamang, aguerrilla fighter who was convicted for killing two American teachers,and one Indonesian, was drawn into unexpected collaborations withIndonesian military agents. Wamang’s struggle embodied a principle ofthe rhizome, which “can be connected to anything other, and must be.”

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