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Patron-client relationship
in blast fishing groups

By Chozin Muhammad

Making a living through dangerous and illegal activities, blast fishermen do not solitary live in an isolated area; they live openly with other people in villages. The village society accepts them as part of the community as easily as those in other, legal, professions. Villagers seem to see them no differently than other fishermen. However, blast fishermen usually live in closely-knit neighborhoods. Within the group, they have their own hierarchy bounded in patron-client relationship. This hierarchy is carried over from their boats into their daily lives, involving all family members.

In general, blast fishermen hierarchy is divided into two levels: Juragang, for those in the higher position, and sawi for the lower position. Pelras (1996, p. 2963) mentions that juragang was used to refer the second in command on a sailing vessel (the first, or captain, was nakhoda). Nevertheless, recently juragang has come to refer to the top person in a group of fishing activities as it is a common name among fishing societies all over Indonesia.

Furthermore, Semedi (2003 p. 45) defined juragang as a person who earns money from his or her capital whether through boat ownership or of necessary fishing gear ownership. Since these people have more money than other people in the village, they have also power and influence other people so are placed higher in the hierarchy of the society.

Sawi, on the other hand, refers to the fishing crews who do not own their own boat and work for the juragang. They have less money and are dependent on the juragang. No matter what jobs the crew members have, they are all called sawi.

In a blast fishermen group, however, the patron-client relationship is stronger than in any other fishing communities. They deal with illegal issues involving capital, suppliers, market, and government officers so A tight cooperation between the sawi and the juragang is necessary.

The juragang provides the capital and protection necessary for blast fishing operations. Capital is used to purchase gear and provisions for fishing and materials for making bombs. Capital is also needed to bribe police officers both regularly during the fishing season and incidentally whenever a fishing boat is caught by a patrol.

The juragang also links the blast fishermen group to the network of bomb-materials suppliers. Since the network is secret, only one specific person can access it: the juragang.

The juragang also has a good connection with the global fish market on the mainland. This network is crucial in order to sell their captured fish. It is impossible for the crew to accomplish this by themselves since they are busy with their fishing activities offshore.

Juragang also maintains a special relationship with government officials to secure his activities. By providing money and facilities to those officials, the juragang gets a special "license" to operate illegal blast fishing. This special relationship that the juragang cultivates with government officials has enabled the crew to work without fear of being arrested. The juragang provides everything needed for blast fishing activities. The sawi work for the juragang to catch as many fish as they want. By serving as the juragang's followers, the sawis enjoy economic benefits, security, and insurance provided by the juragang.

According to Ahimsa (1999, p.3), the patron-client relationship needs to be supported by a social norm where there is possibility for the lower level (client) to bargain. If there is no benefit, they can withdraw from the relationship without consequences. Therefore, Semedi (2003, p. 16-17) argued that the working organization of legitimate fishermen is weak; the sawis frequently move from one boat (juragang) to another to get a better catch.

In contrast, in the blast fishermen group, the working organization is strong. The juragang maintains a patron-client relationship by giving protection not only to the sawi himself but also for his family and relatives. The juragang takes some responsibility for their welfare in daily economic needs, health care, marriage, and even education.

Whenever a sawi's family member has a financial problem, the juragang will take care of it. The juragang will lend money to the sawi to feed their families, or just share his food with the sawi's family because they all live in the same neighborhood. The juragang's house is open to everybody; they come and go anytime they want.

In some extent, the juragang also helps the sawi whenever they or their family members have health problems. If the sawi or his family member gets sick, the juragang will take the person to a doctor or healer; or at least lend money to go to a doctor. The sawi will pay off the loan by deducting it from their revenue from fishing. This system is like insurance provided by the juragang to the sawi.

A blast fishing group is like a big family where the juragang is the head of the family. If a sawi or his son wants to marry, he will ask juragang to be the wali (the go- between who meets a girl's family to pursue a marriage). This is because the juragang is influential due to his high social status. In addition, in social life, the juragang often represents his sawis in public relations. For example, when a sawi holds a wedding ceremony, the juragang often gives a speech on the behalf of the host (sawi).

The same thing happens whenever a sawi is involved in negotiations. The juragang often acts as his negotiator. Whenever a fishing boat is captured by a police patrol, the juragang will act as a negotiator representing the sawi. He will pay the fine for the sawi. If the sawi is sentenced to jail, the Juragang will do anything he can to get him out.

On the other hand, the sawi acknowledge the juragang's position by placing themselves as "followers" at his disposal. For sawis, dedicating their lives to the juragang is not a problem. Their lower social position is prescribed by God. They believe that life under the juragang is their predestination. There is no use in rebelling or fighting against the juragang. They believe that rich or poor, high or low rank is part of God's will, which should not be denounced by anybody.

Finally, dedication to the juragang is part of a sawi's pleasure. The more he can serve his juragang the happier he will be. Serving to the juragang means taking care of the family because if the juragang is satisfied, he will give more protection to the sawi's family.

Moreover, a sawi's trust that the juragang has power over common people comes not only because the juragang has more money, but also because he has more knowledge, information, and connection with outsiders. According to Pelras, this trust is one of the factors in maintaining the patron-client relationship: personal character and the patron's rank (symbolized by close relations with government officers or people from outside).

Another factor that maintains the patron-client relationship is inheritance. In building a patron-client relationship with a sawi, a juragang tends to choose clients from people within an extended family (Alimuddin 2004 p.17). This pattern is reasonable because typically people from inside a family tend to be more committed than people from outside. In order to maintain the family unity, family members prevent each other from doing bad things.

They tend to help each other rather than compete. Recruiting sawi from family members is also preferable because the juragang want to share prosperity with family. Additionally, there is a common cultural desire for the more fortunate to help less fortunate. If a juragang cannot find clients (crew) among family members, he prefers to choose neighbors rather than people from outside.

2011 Chozin Muhammad

Also in this section :

Social Relationships on Balobaloang

Illegal but common: life of blast fishermen

History of blast fishing
Colonial era
After Indonesian independence
Contemporary Practices

Patron-client relationship in blast fishing groups
Life of a young juragang
Life of a sawi

Religious and cultural values of blast fishermen

The role of women in blast fishing

The relationship between blast fishermen and other fishermen




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