The idea of “mutual assistance” (gotong royong) in Indonesia has been the basis for political discourse concerning the nature of authority, the characteristics of village society, and the legitimacy of demands for labor by the state. This article traces the way in which both changing political ideologies and state-village relations have been mediated by the term gotong royong, and suggests that its multiple meanings have been central to its semantic, political, and economic roles. Local interpretations of national doctrine and reactions to state policy are examined in two cases: East Java and Gayo (Aceh). The wide variety of local strategies is perceived as depending on preexisting political traditions and power relations vis-à-vis the state.

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