Communalism shattered: Thirty years of conflict experiences in the province of Aceh, Indonesia


  • Irwan Abdullah


communalism, conflict, social cohesion, ethnic identity, cultural change


Since their war against the Dutch in 1873, the Acehnese have been known as a people of character in Indonesia: a distinctive and robust sense of communalism has shaped their
society and culture. Strong family bonds, community ties, and social frameworks have reinforced this communalism. However, this character has eroded under a thirty-year conflict in Aceh, which began in the 1970s under the New Order government. The conflict only ended in Aceh after a tsunami in 2004 struck it. This article analyses how the structural context of Aceh, with its various agents, has influenced Acehnese culture. Changes in the context have promoted a redefinition of community cultural identity and transformed social life. This research has found that structural changes have forced adaptations that have severed ties between generations and disturbed the passing of values. The severing of social bonds in society has been unavoidable, and restoring them has been difficult. This article recommends a need to redefine culture, taking an approach that is more open to the dynamics of power. The construction of values in society has involved diverse agents and, as such, Acehnese culture has not been free of the influences of various power interests.