‘Aceh thanks the world’: The possibilities of the gift in a post-disaster society (Respond to this article at http://www.therai.org.uk/at/debate)


  • Annemarie Samuels

    1. Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She has carried out 13 months of fieldwork in Aceh, Indonesia, focusing on the remaking of everyday life after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Her email is a.samuels@uva.nl.
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While it has often been argued that post-disaster aid is humiliating for its beneficiaries, based on my ethnographic research in post-tsunami Aceh, Indonesia, I argue that such aid may also come to mean the opposite. Rather than feeling humiliated by foreign aid, people in Aceh actively glossed post-tsunami foreign assistance as ‘gifts’ for which they often expressed their gratitude. Building on Marcel Mauss's classic argument, as well as on more recent works on the nature of the gift, I argue that they did so because they felt that the gift of post-disaster aid brought with it both a long wished-for recognition of Aceh and the possibility of establishing long-term relationships between Aceh and ‘the world’. Therefore, rather than something humiliating, the post-disaster aid became a medium for imagining what James Ferguson has called a ‘place-in-the-world’ for Aceh.