Sat, 13 Mar 1999

Action needed to ease tension in W. Kalimantan

At least 12 Madurese were killed in a week of sporadic clashes that erupted on Feb. 21 between Madurese and Malays in villages in Sambas regency, West Kalimantan. Earlier, three Malays were killed in an attack by the Madurese. The resentment between the so-called "migrant" Madurese and the "indigenous" Malays, Dayaks and Chinese, is long standing. The Jakarta Post reporter Sugianto Tandra visited these areas early March.

SAMBAS, West Kalimantan (JP): Prengki, a 27-year-old Malay fisherman, is confident his father died as a martyr when a group of Madurese attacked their village of Parit Setia in Jawai subdistrict.

As a Muslim, he believes the reward for a martyr is heaven.

Wasli died on Jan. 19, which coincided with the first day of the Muslim holiday of Idul Fitri, celebrated after a month of fasting. Two other Malay villagers died with Wasli in the attack that lasted for less than 20 minutes.

Most of the around 200 attackers were from the predominantly Madurese Rambaian village in Tebas subdistrict, some 20 kilometers away.

Prengki said his family were having their Idul Fitri meals when they were told the machete-wielding Madurese had descended upon their village. Wasli and his friends were killed when they tried to stop the attackers from advancing.

Prengki, who has only an elementary school education, is now alone in earning a living for his 42-year-old mother and three younger brothers. But he said he held no grudge against those who killed his father.

"But this should be enough. No more blood should be shed," he avers.

Police explained the Rambaian villagers went on a rampage to Parit Setia after they found out that three of their own had been beaten up by Malays for attempted robbery.

After the death of Wasli and his fellow villagers, villagers in Rambaian offered to make peace, which the Parit Setia people accepted.

Tension, however, remained. Clashes broke out intermittently in the subdistricts of Tebas, Jawai and Pemangkas on Feb. 21 after a Madurese stabbed and seriously wounded a Malay public transportation driver.

Rumor has it that the Madurese refused to pay for the service. But when the Malay glowered at him, he unsheathed his dagger and stabbed the driver.

With injuries to his abdomen, the driver returned home. Fellow Malays then waged attacks on any Madurese they encountered in the surrounding area.

Police found the bodies of 12 Madurese over the week, some decapitated and with their hands chopped off, in the three subdistricts.

At least 65 houses, including some belonging to Malays, were torched. Over 100 Madurese -- mostly children and women -- fled to the Sambas police precinct for shelter.

Over 100 police mobile brigade personnel with troopers backing them secured Rambaian. Inhabited by over 3,000 Madurese, the village is the biggest Madurese enclave in Sambas.

Madurese, however, are a minority in Sambas which has a population of 800,000 people, with Dayaks and Malays being the dominant ethnic groups and Chinese-Indonesians the third largest with 19 percent of the total population.

West Kalimantan Police chief Col. Chaerul Rasjidi conceded the unsolved murders in Parit Setia added fuel to ethnic tensions. Local leaders have expressed concern that it would take the community a long time to bind their wounds.


Many local leaders were baffled why there was so much tension as both ethnic groups are Muslim.

"Why? We are of the same Aqidah (faith)," said Muslimin, a local Madurese councilor in the Sambas legislature.

In the early 1997, Madurese also clashed with the native Dayaks. At least 300 Madurese were killed and thousands forced to return to their original island of Madura off the coast of East Java.

Prejudice is certainly always present in ethnic tensions. The Chinese, the Dayaks, and the Malays all complained the Madurese were hot-blooded and quick to resort to violence to settle petty problems.

Sambas Dayak elder I. Libertus Ahie said in Singkawang there was a saying among non-Madurese people that "our livestock are ours when they are young, but theirs (Madurese) when mature."

Malay driver Hermansyah, 35, in Singkawang repeated the sentiment. A Chinese Li Cun Li, 43, of Bakau village in Jawai said the Madurese there would just abuse them without reason.

However, Madurese Kasim, 52, of Matang Terap village in Jawai, said: "... no, we are just ordinary people. We also want peace."

Kasim is considered to be an influential community leader. Madurese youths hang out at his house.

When asked about the stereotyping, Muslimin and Zaenal Abidin, who is also a United Development Party (PPP) member in the Sambas regency legislature, agreed there were Madurese groups who like to make trouble.

Zaenal described how there was also a saying "the Chinese may have the lemon trees, but it's the Madurese who own the sacks."

"But that shouldn't be generalized," said Zaenal, who is a Madurese born in West Kalimantan.

"There are two groups within the Madurese community here, one led by bad guys who gamble and like cock fighting, and those under the good guys led by kyai or Muslim clerics," said Muslimin, who was born in Madura.

Muslimin suggested the government establish Muslim boarding schools, called Pesantren, to educate youths of both groups so they may grow up in Islamic ways and be closer to one another.

Separately interviewed in Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, sociologist A.B. Tangdililing of the Tanjungpura University shared the opinion.

According to Tangdililing -- a Bugis from South Sulawesi -- tensions arose because many of the Madurese failed to adjust to the local culture and retained their carok custom, in which one defends one's honor with a duel to the death using the traditional clurit or crescent machete.

Besides, unlike the Madurese in East Java, there were not enough role models for the community in West Kalimantan, he said. Another important factor, of course, was the economic crisis which has caused people to be angered more easily, he said.