Tension was high in Indonesias West Kalimantan last weekend, and although police were able to contain the situation, the problem remain.
LAST Saturday, the video clips – real and fake – emerging from Pontianak in West Kalimantan, Indonesia were disturbing.
Saturday was the start of the one-week Gawai Dayak Harvest Festival – an annual festival with many Dayak men and women clad in their traditional costumes, carrying their spears and machetes.
The Dayaks were doing their annual parade on Gajah Mada Street – the main street in the provincial capital on the Indonesian side of Borneo.
Nearby, Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Persatuan Orang Melayu (POM, which is a satellite group of FPI in West Kalimantan) organised a rally in a mosque.
They demanded that the police charge West Kalimantan governor Cornelis for insulting the ulama.
Their slogan was #BelaUlama (Defend Ulamas), a reference to some Dayak groups rejecting top FPI leaders from Jakarta visiting Pontianak.
According to Indonesian Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch, some of those in the opposing groups almost clashed on Gajah Mada Street.
“A video showed many young Malay men with their sticks running toward the Dayak group from the Flamboyant market.
“But the police quickly set up a line to separate them,” he said to me via WhatsApp.
“Police also used anti-riot trucks, water cannons and thousands of personnel. On the other side of the street, near the KFC restaurant, a video also showed many young Dayak men rushing to the meeting point.”
On Saturday, Harsono shared these videos via WhatsApp. It was chilling. The first thing that I thought was mangkuk merah terbang (a bowl of wine with a drop of blood in it to invoke the spirit of a warrior).
In Kalimantan in 2001, my colleague P. K. Katharason covered the ethnic violence in which indigenous Dayaks forced Madurese transmigrants from Borneo back to Java.
He told me that the Dayak warriors took a sip of wine with a drop of blood before their bloody clash with the Madurese, some of whom were beheaded.
Some of the viral video clips that emerged from Pontianak on that day were fake (the events had happened, but not on that day). The situation was tense but there were no clashes.
“Why is there religious tension in Pontianak?” I asked Harsono.
“The tension is here to stay. POM basically argued that police should charge Cornelis with blasphemy. They argued insulting ulama equals insulting Islam,” he said.
“It’s obviously a shallow argument, but Cornelis also reported POM to the police for showing hatred. Many Dayak militias back Cornelis. The Dayak also aired many anti-FPI statements.”
It is, said Harsono, still potentially a problem – a big problem, if the underlying issue is not resolved.
The FPI was one of the main players in getting Jakarta governor Ahok, the Hakka nickname of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, jailed for blasphemy. The next target is Cornelis.
“What are the similarities and differences between Ahok and Cornelis?” I asked Harsono.
Both Ahok and Cornelis are Christians. Both of them are governors in two of Indonesia’s 34 provinces. Both provinces are pluralistic areas with many ethnic and religious groups. Ahok is an ethnic Chinese. Cornelis is ethnic Dayak.
“Cornelis is a long time PDI-P (founded by former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri) member. He also chairs the Dayak Customary Council. It’s a powerful ethnic group with many militias,” he said.
“Ahok is a maverick, a politician who often moved – from PIB, a small party, to Suharto’s Golkar to Prabowo’s Gerinda to Megawati’s PDIP in less than two decades. It means that he did not build deeper political support. Ahok also does not have an ethnic backup.”
Harsono said Cornelis himself has a thuggish background.
“He’s a traditional power player in Indonesia’s murky political scene.
“Ahok is just a plain business professional who wanted to do good, joining a small political party in his home regency Belitung Timur, later becoming its regent,” he said.
Kalimantan has a history of violence.
“There were three huge outbreaks of violence targeting ethnic minority Madurese in post-Suharto Kalimantan.
“First, in 1997, there was the killing of around 600 ethnic Madurese in Sanggau Ledo area. The perpetrators were mostly Dayak militias.
“Then there was 1999, with the killing of around 3,000 Madurese in Malay-dominated Sambas area.
“After that, in 2001, Dayak militias beheaded between 1,000 and 3,000 Madurese settlers in Sampit,” said Harsono.
“None of the masterminds of these mass killings were brought to justice. The Government also has not investigated this communal violence which took place in chaotic post-Suharto Indonesia. But those killings, involving Dayak and Malay militias, emboldened those two ethnic groups, galvanising ethnic politics in Kalimantan,” Harsono said.
Many Madurese victims, he said, are also still looking for the graves of their loved ones.
“At least 4,500 Madurese people were killed. I estimated, when doing my research on these mass killings, at least 120,000 Madurese left Kalimantan due to the killings,” he said.
It means, said the Human Rights Watch researcher, that the roots of this violence are still deeply entrenched in Kalimantan.
“Many of those involved in the killings, from spreading hate speeches to actual beheading, from those involved in propaganda to those involved in the production of weapons, are still living with impunity in Kalimantan,” he said.
Sabahans and Sarawakians were closely watching what was happening in Kalimantan last Saturday.
They see it as somewhat similar to what’s happening in Sabah and Sarawak, in a much milder form and minus the bloody violence.
For example, the Kadazandusun community was alarmed to see photographs of a “Kaamatan Islamik” event organised by Muslim movement Hidayah Centre Foundation.
Viral photographs promoting the event showed several women dressed in long, loose robe-like variations of the traditional Kadazandusun black-and-gold costume, but with their arms and heads covered.
Huguan Siou (the paramount Kadazandusun leader) Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan issued a statement, saying that religion should be kept out of Kaamatan (the Harvest Festival) as it is a cultural festival and not a religious one.