Following the fall of Suharto in 1998, reassertions of ethnic identity and land claims caused tensions leading to violence with Muslim migrants. Violent clashes between Dayaks and migrants had started even earlier, in December 1996, when a Madurese migrant accused of raping a Dayak woman was killed, and province-wide rioting occurred. In the following months, violence escalated, troops were flown in, a crackdown took place, and the cycle of violence continued with schools, homes, and businesses burned by Dayaks and migrants in retaliation against one another. Hundreds died in these clashes, and thousands were displaced or reported missing. [Source: Library of Congress]

In the spring of 1997, an outbreak of head-hunting and cannibalism near Saltatiga in westerner Kalimantan reportedly left between 1,000 and 4,000 people dead. Most of the victims were Madurese, who came to Borneo as part of the transmigration program, murdered by local Dayaks, who scared off police and the military with invocations of warrior spirits.

Sinapan Samydorai of Human Rights Solidairty wrote: “The Dayaks have lived peace-fully with all the incoming ethnic groups except the migrants from Madura. There have been clashes since the 1950s, but violence in the late 1990s and early 2000s was the worst. Dayaks, who are mostly Catholics, have destroyed property belonging to Muslim Madurese in the villages. Both the Dayaks and Madurese are marginalized, poor and compete for the same jobs, but the Madurese are treated favourably by the local police and authorities.[Source:Sinapan Samydorai, Human Rights Solidairty, August 14, 2001^|^]

Long-simmering feuds between Dayaks and mostly Madurese Muslim migrants erupted again over issues of land and economic competition in mid-2001, causing massive displacements of population. Angry Dayaks, dressed in traditional clothing, sometimes flamboyantly displayed symbols of their headhunting tradition in gestures of defiance toward what they perceived as a flood of migrants and toward the central government as a whole.

Book: In the Time of Madness, Richard Lloyd Parry (Vintage, April 2005; Grove/Atlantic, January 2007)

Violence Against the Madurese in Borneo in 1996 and 199

7On violence in December 1996, Sinapan Samydorai of Human Rights Solidairty wrote: “Initially the ethnic conflict between the indigenous Dayaks and migrants from Madura Island occurred in the Sanggu-Ledo District, about 100 kilometers north of the provincial capital Pontianak, West Kalimantan. The Dayaks rioted over the failure of local police to prosecute a Maduran man accused of raping a Dayak woman. The Dayaks later killed the Maduran man, inciting violent retaliations and provincewide conflict. The Dayaks of West Kalimantan have more confidence in adat, their own traditional tribal laws, than in the national police and justice system. The Dayaks also complain that migrant workers receive preferential treatment by local officials and are rarely prosecuted for breaking the law. The attacks are being waged using traditional rules: a life for a life. An offense against an individual is an offense against the whole tribe. [Source:Sinapan Samydorai, Human Rights Solidairty, August 14, 2001^|^]

In late January 1997, a Catholic school in In Pontianak, Kalimantan attended by Dayak children was attacked and set on fire. In retaliation, Dayak youths attacked the Madurese, leading to massive violent clashes. In early February 1997, military reinforcements landed overnight in West Kalimantan. More then 3,000 troops were flown into the region following the outbreak of riots. The Indonesian military conducted a harsh crackdown leading to scores of deaths to restore order with force. The military arrested 86 people. Of those detained, 12 were being questioned by the military while the rest were in police detention.^|^

On February 6, 1997, the conflict escalated into violent, massive clashes. In Menjalin parish in Pontianak, the Catholic dormitory received 5,000 Dayak refugees from neighbouring villages. The refugees were mostly women and children scared of Madurese attacks. The Dayaks are only 2 percent of the population in Pontianak. The Dayak refugees sought protection from Madurese revenge. On February 18, clashes erupted in Sungai Kunyit about 60 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital of Pontianak. Dayak warriors looted more than 100 houses and stores belonging to the Madurese. The police estimated that 100 to 300 people may have died in the riots. ^|^

Five thousand Dayak warriors rampaged through the town and attacked the villages of Merabu, Kampung Jawa and Jirak, plus four transmigration sites. These Dayak warriors from the forest hinterland killed Madurese around the area of Pontianak, one of the three regions where the killings occurred. Christian church leaders claim the number of Madurese missing or dead is in the thousands and that the Dayak casualties, shot by troops, are less than 200. More than 1,000 displaced people fled the district, and some are in refugee camps controlled by the military. The damage caused is estimated to be in the amount of US.4 million, including the destruction of nearly 1,000 homes. ^|^

Dayaks, armed with spears and machetes, attacked a road block in Anjungan guarded by the military, resulting in the killing of one soldier. The troops shot and killed about 20 Dayaks. Areas north of Anjungan, 55 kilometers northeast of Pontianak, and east of Mandor, 70 kilometers north of Pontianak, were still under Dayak control with minimal military presence. There were Dayak checkpoints on roads leading to Ngabang, 81 kilometers east of Mandor. About one million Dayaks in an act of solidarity may continue to attack the Madurese and even the military if they block their path. It is alleged and widely believed that the army itself has killed large numbers of Dayaks - killings it now wants to cover up. ^|^

On February 15, 1997, Dayak and Madurese community elders declared a peace pact in Pontianak to prevent further unrest, but it failed to stop the clashes in Sungai Kunyit. The ceremony for peace involved about 1,000 people, including the Dayak and Madurese communities, local government and military leaders. A declaration was read in which community leaders from the various ethnic groups, including the Dayak and Madurese, pledged to work for peace. The ceremony had no impact on the fighting parties at the village level.

Violence and Decapitated Madurese Heads in Borneo in 1999

In 1999, more than 3,000 people were killed and 40,000 of were displaced when Malays, Bugis and Chinese backed by Dayak tribesmen attacked Madurese immigrants in West Kalimantan. The trouble reportedly began after a dispute over a bus fare. In one incident in March 1999, more than 200 people were killed, mostly Madurese by Dayak tribesmen, in the Sambas district of Borneo. The violence began after the murder of a Dayak boy. One Madurese survivor told Asiaweek, "We were hunted like dogs." He said he and his family lived in the forest for a week, surviving off snakes and bark. He was eventually picked up by an army patrol and taken to a refugee camp.

During one week in March 1999, 73 people were killed in rural areas around the town of Singkawang in West Kalimantan. Many of the dead were horrible mutilated and their body parts were paraded around and displayed. Witnesses reported that Dayaks and Malays decapitated three Madurese, and parading their heads through the town of Tebas. The body of one man was cooked in the marketplace and small pieces of his liver were offered to bystanders. Many people accepted. Dayaks have traditionally believed that eating one's enemy allows one to absorb their courage.

During the wave of violence Dayak paraded through the streets carrying severed ears, arms and heads. CNN videotaped images of dismembered bodies with their hearts cut out and boys playing soccer with a decapitated head. The Independent reported a laughing man with a severed arm posing for photographs with it as if it were a trophy fish.

Richard Lloyd Parry of the Independent wrote, "I saw my sixth and seventh a Dayak village...They were visible from a few hundred yards away, standing on oil drums, with a crowd of about 200 people milling around...In the past six days I have seen seven of them, along with a severed ear, two arms, and numerous pieces of heart and liver, and a dismembered torso cooked over a fire by the side of the road."

"They look like all the other heads I had seen...They were a middle aged couple, a few years younger than my own parents. Their ears and lips had been shaved off with machetes, giving them a snarling sub-human look. The wife's nose had also been removed, and a cigarette had been pressed into the cavity. Her eyes were clenched tight shut, and above them an atrocious wound had been cut deep into her forehead."

Cannibalism of Madurese in Borneo

Parry met one man with a machete with a red painted handle carved in the shape of a horse. Tied to his belt was transparent bag with some liver in it. He said the liver came from a body they cooked on the side of the road. "We killed it and we ate it," he said, "because we hate the Madurese. Mostly we shoot them first, and we chop the body. It tastes just like chicken. Especially the liver—just the same as chicken."

The man then explained he didn't kill babies and children had to be around 13 or 15 before he would kill them. After the man left, Lloyd' driver told him, "You know I've been all over this country—to Sumatra, to Java...and these people—they're the nicest, the friendliest, the best."

Parry wrote: "We drove back through the town market where a charred femur lay on the raid among the embers of a fire. A Dayak man approached, holding a lump of what he said was human meat. He popped it into his mouth. I asked him the first thing that came into my head, and he said: 'Delicious.'"

Violence and Decapitated Madurese Heads in Borneo in 2001

Ten days of violence in Central Kalimantan in February 2001, left at least 500 people dead, most of them Madurese migrants. Much of the violence was centered around the towns of Sampit and Palangkaraya and reportedly began after two Dayaks, who lost their jobs, paid a mob to attack Madurese family house and the Madurese retaliated, killing 15 Dayaks. Again the scenes were horrific. Victims had their hearts ripped out of their bodies and their heads chopped off. In one incident a woman was beheaded and her baby was killed and the woman’s head was kicked down the street like a soccer ball.

Tens of thousands of Madurese were loaded onto ships and evacuated. Most fled so quickly they left their possessions behind. The Madurese claimed that the Indonesian government did not do enough to protect them. They claimed Indonesian police stood by and did nothing as Dayaks looted and sets fire to Madurese homes and attacked Madurese with machetes and spears. An elite military unit sent by the Indonesian government to help evacuate the Madurese and restore order fled the area after Dayak tribesmen threatened to behead them.

Gangs of Dayak tribesmen armed with spears, machetes and blowguns tracked down Madurese and set up roadblock to keep them from escaping. Their aim was to drive the Madurese away. A spokesman for the Dayaks said, The violence was aimed at “cleansing the Madurese...If all our Madurese brothers are evacuated then the calm will come on its own...If they ever come back they will face the same treatment.”

The effort was largely successful from the Dayaks point of view. Around 50,000 Madurese were driven from their homes. About 21,000 were evacuated to East Java and Madura. Another 30,000 were forced into refugee camps in Central Kalimantan. As of late 2001, 40,000 Madurese displaced by the violence were living in camps in West Kalimantan

Massacre of Madurese at Parenggean

In February 2001, despite promises of protection by local police, 118 Madurese refugees were massacred in less than an hour in Parenggean, an isolated town of 25,000 about 110 kilometers west of Palangkaraya. Six of the victims were beheaded. The other 112 were mostly hacked to death by Dayak tribesmen with machetes, spears and knives in a soccer field the victims had been trucks into after being lured out of the jungle with false promises of safe passage. Some victims had their limbs chopped off. Others had their stomachs slashed open.

One survivor told AP, “As they got down from the truck, they were killed right away. Chop, chop! They was no way they could run. They fell suddenly as they were chopped.” A government official told AP, “The first thing that struck me when I reached the football field was the murder of the babies, the old people and the women. They were all piled up together.”

The victims had hidden in the jungle for four days after fleeing an earlier bout of violence. Most had no food or water or shelter yet they stayed in the forest out of fear of being hunted down by Dayaks. Those that the Dayaks caught were beheaded. Survivors only emerged after government officials announced through loud speakers mounted on cars that there were police and government officials on hand to guarantee their safety. After the Madurese emerged the policemen there to protect them were driven off by Dayaks armed with machetes and homemade weapons.

Background of the Madurese-Dayak Violence

Sinapan Samydorai of Human Rights Solidairty wrote: “In the 1930s, the Madurese began arriving in West Kalimantan. Under the government’s transmigration program in the 1970s, the Madurese population sharply increased; they were marginalized and poor. Most of the transmigrants are Muslims from Java or Madura with no links to the Catholic Dayaks. New transmigrants work in the plantations - rubber, palm oil, coconut, timber - and primary industry. [Source: Sinapan Samydorai, Human Rights Solidairty, August 14, 2001^|^]

“In recent decades, logging and intense mining has destroyed the forest and the livelihood of the Dayaks. The government’s development program encourages investment in plantations, timber factories, mining and other private enterprises which provide employment, but land disputes have increased. The National Human Rights Commission established in 1993 has received numerous pleas from villagers and indigenous peoples struggling for their land rights. The Indonesian political system does not allow space for any alternative groups or local parties to develop in the rural areas. Often the displaced people find themselves facing the bureaucracy of the ruling Golkar Party. When the development projects are not successful, the ruling party is not willing to take the responsibility to resolve the issues with the local people and the investors. The Golkar Party wins the votes of the rural people, however, by campaigning on the basis that the various development projects or enterprises will contribute to the indigenous communities’ economic growth. ^|^

“In the district of Kelam, only three years ago, bulldozers of the logging contractors cleared a path leading into the village. When the bulldozers arrived, three-quarters of the people were scared. They could not understand how they would survive without the trees. The Indonesian government offered basic wooden cottages nearby on the edge of a rubber plantation. The government’s current target is to permanently resettle 20,000 families per year. Many Dayaks relocate and become squatters on the edges of towns filling the dirty, dangerous and low-paying jobs in the plywood factories.” ^|^

Causes of Dayak-Madurese Conflict

Sinapan Samydorai of Human Rights Solidairty wrote: “The Dayaks are now facing the destruction of their customary land and forest. Many are facing relocation from their traditional places. The Indonesian govermnent in practice does not accept the rights of indigenous people to their customary land and natural resources. Large areas of tribal terrritory are being converted into timber, rubber and palm oil estates, or are being allocated to foreign mining companies. The tribal lands are being developed as plantations and mines with transmigrant labour. In addition, logging concession lands are still reserved for logging. These development programmes seriously threaten the indigenous people since the programmes are linked with transmigration. The transmigrants and their families cultivate new lands with modern planting skills to plant rice, candlenut (kemiri) or rubber trees. This grabbing of customary lands further reduces the reserve land for the indigenous people. [Source: Sinapan Samydorai, Human Rights Solidairty, August 14, 2001 ^|^]

“The Christian Dayaks are being displaced from their land and are unable to continue their subsistence farming and pig-raising. They have no alternative skills and have difficulties finding new jobs. The Dayaks are living in poverty. The Madurese compete with the Dayaks for jobs as both the communities are at the bottom of the economic ladder. The Islamic Madurese are able to gain jobs on the plantations and grow crops, but the Madurese have settled on the Dayaks’ land and have better access to political power. The police also treat the Madurese favourably in disputes and are seldom punished for past attacks on the Dayaks. Both the Dayaks and the Madurese live in the same neighbourhoods in large areas of the territory. ^|^

“Political and economic discontent ignited the recent conflicts, not merely cultural differences, as the Dayaks are unable to maintain their livelihood or compete with the migrant Madurese. The Dayaks are demanding the recognition of their land rights and representation in the government. The burning of three plantations in recent years shows the Dayaks’ growing resentment of the government’s appropriation of traditional land and the forced selling of Dayak land at below market price.” ^|^

Solutions to the Dayak-Madurese Problem

Sinapan Samydorai of Human Rights Solidairty wrote: “Without the government’s recognition of the economic and political disparity behind the ethnic conflict, the peace proposals were futile. The government should recognize the demands of the Dayaks for customary land rights and representation in the government. The Indonesian government needs to address the underlying long-term causes of the tension between the indigenous people and settlers. [Source: Sinapan Samydorai, Human Rights Solidairty, August 14, 2001^|^]

“The Minister of Forestry, Djamaludin Suryohadikusumo, disclosed that the disturbances which occurred in West Kalimantan had an impact on the life of the community causing a decrease in foodstuffs and price increases for various essential needs. The industrial tree forests (HTI) and forest exploitation rights (HPH) activities ran as usual but with some disturbances. The forestry minister said that greater efforts to mobilize the traditional communities in the forest region must be made so that they may have better access to natural resources or access to forest regions, facilities for obtaining credit and plants. Most of the rural Dayaks barely make ends meet. They have no education and have few skills. To sell their forest produce, the rural Dayaks travel far, and sometimes the income from their sales is only sufficient to cover their transportation costs. ^|^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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