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Moluccan history of religion and social conflict


The Molucca Islands are still suffering from the after-effects of the violence of 1999. That violence between Muslims and Christians started on Ambon in January 1999 and spread to the North Molucca Islands in December 1999. Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta analysed this Moluccan conflict within the broader framework of the changes that the Indonesian district Galela has recently undergone.

She focused on the role of rituals as powerful mechanisms for both creating solidarity and for increasing conflict. Ritual was found to unite and mobilise people in a confrontation with real or supposed outsiders, but it also helped them to reach an agreement after the confrontation.

During her research, the researcher lived among the population of Ngidiho in North Halmahera. Halmahera is the biggest of the Moluccan Islands and both Muslims and Christians live there. The anthropologist studied the everyday customs of the residents there and from this she reconstructed the social history of the village.

Although there was a considerable degree of religious tolerance before the conflict, the anxiety that one of the two groups was intending to seize power lead to an outburst of violence. Not only did the people justify their actions via their universal religious identity as Muslim or Christian, but also via the local ancestral rituals which strengthened their power structures. Rituals gave their actions a religious legitimacy. However later these also provided a window for reconciliation.

After the conflict residents reoriented themselves on their place of origin and increasingly less on their religious identity. By emphasising their common origins, people could create a joint framework for peaceful negotiations about the future. From her research, Adeney-Risakotta concludes that a model based on ritual exchange provides the best framework for cooperation and the extension of social networks and accordingly the greatest chance of a permanent reconciliation.

Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta’s research was funded by the Netherlands Foundation for the Advancement of Tropical Research (NWO-WOTRO).

Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta | alfa
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