I will begin by discussing the arguments Kepri people typically advance to explain why Malay populations are seemingly "marginalized" and divested of land to which they have long-standing, ancestral, and indigenous claims.
This argument is advanced through reference to a dispute surrounding the illegal settling of a disused orchard in Kepri by migrants from North Sumatra.
Informants frequently told me that land presented a particular conceptual difficulty for Kepri Malays.
These arguments were very persuasive for my informants--not least because of the political and emotional resonance that they carried in the wake of Kepri's secession, which, in placing the "protection" of indigenous Malays at the forefront of the Kepri government's mission, rendered it easy and appealing to think of Malays as "internal others" and to cast struggles over resources in an ethno-nationalist framework.
In this light, then, the widespread understanding in Kepri that the province is "Malay land" (tanah Melayu) can be seen as a capacity of social and political relationships between ethnic groups, as inspired by Indonesian discourses of "regional culture" (Guinness 1994) and more recently, the currents of ethno-nationalism.
Although many of the Bataks had come to Kepri with the dream of making their fortune, none had so far succeeded.
Firstly, while the proliferation of modern, bureaucratic technologies of land registration is envisaged to underwrite a "capitalist" attitude towards land that is contrasted with "customary restraints"--cast as conservative--the Kepri Malays' impetus to commodify land was itself part of the logic of "custom".
When we had met her in her office before the hearing, she had spoken in a very standard Kepri Indonesian with a standard pronunciation and vocabulary.