This article is about the strategic use of adat arguments in the politics of large-scale land acquisition. While customary (adat) communities are commonly depicted as small local minorities living in the forests and being guardians of the environment, in many situations such communities occupy a majority position within the district. Majority adat communities are internally differentiated into categories of actors with varying and conflicting interests. This article focuses on Sumba in eastern Indonesia, where state and adat powers are not opposed but historically aligned. We analyse how five common ways of framing adat in Sumba are currently being deployed in land-acquisition politics, in situations supporting plantation land acquisition or protesting against farmers’ land dispossession. We draw attention to what we call ‘strategic adat framing’ as a political activity. The article calls for analysing the historical and social context of local deployments of adat for understanding the impact of current government pro-adat policies.
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