Friday, July 31, 2015

Contesting Place in Tolikara

Riot in Tolikara (Photo: MTVN)

Tolikara riot has triggered many views and analysis from people. However, it is difficult to find viewpoint from human geography. Here we will go into it, people as human and Tolikara as their geography.

Symbolic landscape can become the focal point of conflict. There is interconnection between place, community, and identity, and how conflict over the development or representation of particular place is contested because of meanings conveyed about community identity.

Space and place are co-produced through many dimensions: race and class, urban and suburban, gender and sexuality, public and private, bodies and buildings. In Tolikara, the Christians are mostly native Papuans and the Muslims are mostly non-Papuan migrants. Native people feel they have more power on their land and there must be no landscape except theirs in the land. 

Landscape is the physical manifestation of place. Places as social constructs may exist as abstract ideas, on maps or in written documents, but when we actually go to a specific place, or we see a place represented in photograps, art or film, what we are experiencing is the landscape of that place. As such, landscapes are frequently seen as symbolic of the meanings that people attribute to particular places. By landscape we are here referring to all the various components that make up the visual appearance of a place, including the buildings such the Muslims mosque which disrupted the Christians.

Moreover, landscapes are not just assemblages of natural and manufactured objects. Cosgrove and Daniels (1988) describe a landscape as ‘a cultural image, a pictorial way of representing, structuring or symbolising  surroundings’, and if we follow this definition we can see that landscapes are full of social cultural and political meaning. 

We refer to moslem’s buildings in Tolikara as landscapes that work in this way as landscapes of power. A landscapes of power operates as a political device because it reminds people of who is in charge, or it helps to engender a sense of place identity.

Identity is intimately tied to memory: both our personal memories and the collective or social memories interconnected with the histories of our families, neighbors, fellow workers, and ethnic communities. Urban landscape are storehouses for those memories, because natural features from hills to buildings, frame the lives of many people and often outlast many lifetimes (Hayden, 1995). The Christians did’nt like the Muslims existance so they subverted it. 

A second way of approaching the contesting of place is to think about place as a community. Community is vague and malleable term that need not necessarily have to do with place, but when we do think of ‘communities of place, we are thinking about groups of people who develop solidarity and a shared identity based on an association with a particular territory. Often place association is employed to define certain characteristics of a community, so all kinds of images and stereotypes are produced and reproduced about the Papuan and the Melanesian, about people from different city neighbourhoods.

As those characteristics become adopted by individuals as part of their personal identity, so individuals are moved to fiercely defend that particular representation of place. This process can be a uniting force for a community, but it can be also be used to exclude certain nonconforming groups and individuals – often defined in terms of race, class, religion – from fully participating in the community such in Tolikara. When excluded groups choose to contest the dominant discourse, the questions of what a place means and how it is represented become a divisive issue and a source of conflict.

The contestation of place is often a central element in political conflict. This arises because the meaning of place is not value-neutral. Different actors – people – socially construct different places coexisting over the same teritorry, and tensions are generated when elements of the different ‘imagined places’ prove to be incompatible. As actors then move to promote or protect their particular ‘discourse of place’, political tensions can become political conflict (Jones, 2004). It can take a range of different forms and can be focused on a whole range of different expression of place. In some cases it is the interpretation of certain features in the landscape that is at issue; in others how a place is represented through Idul Fitri ceremony, or how it is symbolised by flags and other insignia; in yet other cases the conflict may revolve around the impact of development on the character and identity of the local community.

Usually those kinds of conflict are not just about place. They are also about class or race or gender or other social divisions. But at the same time they are not entirely reducible to class or race or gender because of the significance of place in framing the dispute. It is by recognising and exploring the role of place in political conflicts of this kind that native people had a determination to defend their faith and frustating due to powerless against non-Papuans who dominate their lives.

Also available in Selasar

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