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Self‐Lowering as Power and Trap: Wawa, ‘White’, and Peripheral Embrace of State Formation in Indonesian Papua

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Stasch, Rupert 


ABSTRACT: Building on Ferguson's account of ‘declarations of dependence’ and prior Melanesianist work on ‘humiliation’, I examine how enthusiasm for state‐formation among Korowai of Papua has been shaped by their understandings of self‐lowering as a politically complex way of influencing kin and equalizing relations. I begin with media firestorms in Australia and urban Papua about the need to save two vulnerable boys. Korowai understandings of these episodes, unknown to faraway media publics, illustrate their idea that self‐lowering toward a hoped favorable benefactor is a desirable way of exercising a degree of relational control in a wider situation of being dominated. Building on the Australia‐linked Wawa affair, I look further at why sending boys to school in towns is a main strategy by which Korowai try to ameliorate their felt inferiority to city people. Transactions between schoolboys and senior relatives are politically complex, in ways that suggest the schooling strategy is an application of old egalitarian kinship techniques to new geopolitical inequalities. Finally, I look at Korowai responses to the new environment of large money flows into the countryside under government policies of redistricting and community‐driven development. Strong Korowai interest in benefactor relations with ‘Regency’ leaders, and the new embrace of divisions between ‘heads’ and ‘community’ within villages, also exemplify a strategy of seeking out a more livable relation of inequality to ease a less livable one.



ORIGINAL ARTICLE, ORIGINAL ARTICLES, Wawa controversy, dependence, state‐society relations, humiliation, whiteness, Indonesian decentralization, egalitarianism, kinship

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Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd