HARMONY AND TRADITION IN TOBELO (04-11-2012) AdministratorShareTobelo, capital of North Halmahera regency was not spared from the communal riots that spread across the island of Maluku from 1999 to the early 2000s. Five hundred people died and thousands were injured as a result of the conflict . To restore peace and stability, local leaders in Tobelo turned to a set of traditions known as hibualamo, which teaches that everyone originates from the same roots, whatever the religion or faith. By using this traditional approach, Tobelo community leaders were able to resolve their differences in two years, a far shorter time than in the provincial capital of Ambon, where the conflict erupted. On April 19, the people of Tobelo celebrated 11 years of peace by hosting the Congress of Indigenous People of the Archipelago, inviting scores of tribal and traditional representatives from all over Indonesia. A report from North Halmahera by Tempo reporter, Eni Saeni.
If you ever find yourself in Tobelo, in North Halmahera regency in North Maluku, remember to stop by the Hibualamo Home in the city center.
The house, with a roof made of sago leaves, is the size of a badminton court, and is quite impressive when compared to the row of houses next to it with its bright yellow paint framed by the clear, blue sky. However, it is not how the house is shaped or its size that makes it special. "The house is a symbol for openness. Everyone is welcome here, regardless of their ethnicity, race, or religion," says the Head of the Hibualamo Traditions (Adat) Community, Yesaya Banari, 54, when Tempo met him in Tobelo in April.
Hibualamo is made up of two words in the Tobelo-Galela language: hibua (house) and lamo (large). The first house built on the Karkara Island 15 minutes from Tobelo on a speedboat became a meeting center for the communities in Halmahera, a place to resolve conflicts. Hibualamo has an east, west, south, and north entrance, which symbolizes the four cardinal points. "This means the Hibualamo House is open to visitors from all four points," Yesaya says.
The spirit of tolerance is exhibited in the interaction between the Tobelo residents. The majority religion in the town of 220,765 people is Christian but the Muslim community is almost as large. The ratio is 60:40. But they live in peace. "If a Muslim dies, Christian neighbors cook for the family in mourning, and vice versa," says Hein Namotemo, 59, the regent of Northern Halmahera, Northern Maluku.
This peace was hard-earned. Thirteen years ago, these families might have taken up arms against each other. For two years, religious conflicts brewed in the capital of North Halmahera, injuring thousands and killing 500. Tragedy began when refugees poured in from Ambon into Tobelo, bringing news of the conflict in the capital of Maluku. This news sparked the fire of vengeance. "A civil war broke out," Hein says.
There were victims from both the Christian and the Muslim communities, 70-80 percent of which were women, children and the elderly. "My father was 70 years old when he was killed," says Mukmin Sanam, a Tobelo resident who was involved in the riots. He remembers the sinister atmosphere in Tobelo. Smoke went up from houses, mosques, and churches set ablaze. The dead and wounded were sprawled on the roads, and in front of buildings set on fire. The ground was littered with black debris.
There was a huge exodus, including to Morotai, Ternate. Newcomers went back to their homelands. "I lost hundreds of students at the dance workshop. They fled with their families," says Yesaya, who owns the Gumi Guraci dance workshop. Seeing the number of victims piling up, a few community (adat) figures pleaded for the communities to go back to the Hibualamo traditions. "Hibualamo is believed to be able to bring all of us together. The Tobelo people share a common ancestry," says Yesaya.
Apart from the Tobelo term for "large house," Hibualamo is also the symbol for the Indigenous traditions of the Tobelo people. They believe that although their religions may differ, they still come from one ancestral line. And according to tradition, when a problem occurs, they solve it by holding a discussion at an agreed venue. However, at the time, both communities seemed to have forgotten about Hibualamo. Seeing endless fights, the Sultan of Tidore, who then served as the governor of Northern Halmahera, decided that someone needed to talk to them. In 2001, he delegated the task of negotiating to Hein Namotemo, 59, who was then the subdistrict head of West Kao. "I accepted the governor's instructions with a sincere heart, for the sake of humanity," says Namotemo.
Hein stumbled upon many obstacles. He was opposed by both religious communities. When he came to the Christian community, they refused to make peace. They said there were more victims on the Christian side. Hein then went to the Muslim community. "They thought I was an agitator," he says. He was threatened while negotiating with the Muslim community. At the time, Hein was trying to convince them that there was nothing to be gained from murder. "Children were being neglected; there were no teachers in schools," he told the community members. Instead of agreeing, one of them aimed a gun at Hein. But Hein remained calm and the gun was duly put away.
But in the midst of the negotiation, Hein saw hope. A few of the community members who were tired of the circumstances remembered that their elders always solved problems at Hibualamo. "This as a good sign, because this peace calling was made by those who were involved in the clash," says Hein.
Soon after, the person who pointed a gun at Hein came to visit his home. "He apologized and started crying in front of me," he says. The person admitted that at the time, he was prepared to kill Hein because he was a Christian. Hein saw a glimmer of light. On April 19, 2001, he decided to gather the two communities on an empty plot of land on Bayangkara street, Tobelo, to negotiate peace. But an air of suspicion was still thick.
Tobelo people from both communities came with spears and machetes, and they glared at each other with piercing eyes. Hein said, "If war is what you want, I will bring you to an unpopulated island. But if you want peace, please forgive each other and put your weapons down on the ground." The people went quiet. Soon, one by one, they went forward with their spears and machetes. They put betel nuts on their weapons a gesture of hospitality.
"They traded weapons and ate the betel nuts. They apologized to each other with sincerity," says Hein. The machetes and spears were then gathered in the center of the field, and doused in coconut oil and cane sugar, both symbols of a pure heart. Afterward, they made an oath to stop the fighting. "If someone intended to instigate bloodshed, he would become a victim even before he succeeded," says Hein.
People started crying. "Pak Hein made us realize that there was nothing to be gained from killing each other," says Kaimana, 34, a Tobelo resident who was present at the time.
To smooth the reconciliation process, all Tobelo refugees were asked to return to their homes. The relocation process was assisted by the TNI (Indonesian Army) and the police. Hein asked both communities to help each other rebuild the ravaged town. The debris was put aside. Burned mosques, churches and houseswere rebuilt. "When the churches were being rebuilt, Muslims helped. When the mosques were built, the Christians helped erect the pillars," says Hein.
Today, no remnants of the past riots are visible anywhere. Churches and mosques stand erect in every village. Houses are newly painted. Tobelo's economy has improved. Commercial centers, such as the Tobelo market place, are bustling with life.
Tobelo is in the midst of rebuilding its economy. Copra has become its primadonna. "Copra helped Tobelo rise up from its rut," says Jois A.M. Duan, a member of Halmahera's Regional House of People's Representative.
In 2011, the Northern Halmahera Agricultural Services recorded 71,325 tons in copra production. The coconut plantation area along the coast of Northern Halmahera covered 50,093 hectares of land. "Copra lifted the economic growth of Northern Halmahera from 5.6 to 7.8 percent," says the Head of the Regional Services for Development and Planning Board, Freddy Tjandua.
Apart from copra, Northern Halmahera also has an abundance of fish. With a sea area of 24,983 square kilometers, the average yield per month reaches 10 thousand tons. Not to mention other yields such as pepper and cloves. However, infrastructure must improve. "Currently, some of our people still rely on sea transportation to sell their products in the city. But when there is a strong wind, it becomes difficult for them to sell," says Freddy.
Agricultural production not yet engaged in current technologies. In the future, Northern Halmahera will develop agriculture and fishery industries by appealing to investors. "We will invite investors from all four cardinal points, in keeping with the Hibualamo traditions," says Freddy.
The approach to conflict resolution in Tobelo is judged to be more effective than what was seen in Ambon. "Tobelo only needed around two years to resolve the religious conflict. Ambon needed five," says Abdon Nababan, the secretary-general of the National Traditional Communities (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, AMAN). According to Nababan, this is due to the part played by the tradition (adat) organizations. "Religions may differ, but we are of one tradition. This is how Hibualamo is fused in the traditional communities of Tobelo."
Conversely, the traditional scheme in Ambon has weakened. "Tradition no longer lives in the communities, so that when the pela gandong is sounded as the unifying element, [the result is insufficient]," he says. Pela gandong is a consanguineous tie manifested in familial greetings such as Nyong Pee, Nona Pee, Gandongee, Bongsoee or in community teamworks. Rukka Sombolinggi, the Campaign Coordinator of AMAN, came to a similar observation. "The Ambonese are still easily provoked Tolebo is more solid," she says.
According to Abdon, when a community strongly adheres to its traditions, it is more difficult to provoke.
"Their traditions will always bring them together," he says. Seeing the important role traditions play in peace-making processes, the Tobelo people refuse to let Hibualamo slip from their minds, and they pleaded for a reminder. In 2002, Rumah (Home) Hibualamo was built on the field where they swore peace. Consequently, the Hibualamo Traditions (Adat) Organization, which embraces 10 traditional communities in Tobelo, was established.
April 19 was designated as Peace Declaration Day. Every year, residents celebrate with a cultural procession. They walk barefoot from the Hibualamo Home to the Peace Monument. "At Hibualamo, the Tobelo people acquire peace," say Cornelis, a Tobelo resident.
No. 39/12, May 23, 2012