This essay is one of more than a dozen in this volume to honor the late Mary Margaret Steedly. The paper’s theme is “nationalism.” Steedly’s ethnography based on her fieldwork experience in the 1980s reveals Indonesians’ quiet forms of resistance and uncertainty in ways that resonate with the author’s own family’s relationship to the state. An atmosphere of coercion, violence, and abuse of power is palpably felt in Steedly’s work. The Karo Batak she wrote about did not so much openly resist as live at an oblique angle to the authoritarian regime. In the larger scheme of “typical” Indonesian studies, Steedly’s interest in North Sumatra was unique. Her work there complicated the predominant idea of Indonesian nationalism and its Java-centric orientation in three key ways. First, by how the Karo understood Indonesia and nationalism differently from the elite, male, Javanese nationalists who came to define Indonesian nationalism. Second, by how she treated the Karo themselves as an epistemic community, as historical actors who articulated what it means to be part of a supralocal entity called Indonesia. And third, by her complicated conceptualization of postcoloniality as an ongoing force. Following Steedly’s lead, Indonesia still offers the possibility to rethink nationalism, colonialism, and postcolonialism in new ways.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 71-76
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program
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