Attacks against Christians in this part of Indonesia have historical, geographical and economic roots. Arab merchants settled on the coast; the Dutch Protestant missionaries evangelized the plateau; different ethnic groups have often clashed with each other. At the turn of the year 2000, the arrival of jihadists from the Philippines stocked tensions in the region. Islamist terrorism resists, but the people seem to desire to live in peace.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The terrorist activities of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT), which have re-emerged in recent days with the killing of four Christians in the village of Lemban Tongoa, in the district of Sigi (Central Sulawesi), have roots in the region’s history and geography.
Central Sulawesi is a mountainous province of the large island of Sulawesi, which also includes many nearby islets. The Poso Regency is one of eight regencies established in the province after 2002. The capital is Poso, located in the Poso Lake Bay, a six-hour drive southeast of Palu, the provincial capital.
At present, the regency of Poso has a Muslim majority in the towns and villages of the coast; on the other hand, in the mountains, where indigenous tribes live, there is a Protestant Christian majority.
Historically, the Muslim population, in addition to locals, comprises migrants from the Bugis ethnic group from southern Sulawesi, and from the Gorontalo region in the north.
The regency is also home to the Muslim descendants of the ancient Arab merchants who settled in the region many centuries ago. They play an important role in Islamic religious institutions and local schools.
The regency has also been the subject of a government-led emigration program aimed at moving citizens from densely populated areas - such as Java and Lombok, with a Muslim majority, or Bali, with a Hindu majority - to sparsely populated areas.
To this day, the Muslim community of the regency consists of indigenous groups, official migrants, economic migrants from different ethnic groups who have settled in recent decades.
In this way, already towards the end of the 1990s, the Muslim population became the majority in the regency with over 60%.
On the other hand, ethnic groups such as the Pamona, Mori, To Napu, Behoa and Bada live on the highlands. Many of these groups were made up of dynasties and have histories of wars between them.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a strong evangelization of Dutch missionaries in the area which increased the number of Christians. The city of Tentena thus became the economic and spiritual centre for the Protestant population of Poso, and the seat of the Synod of the Central Sulawesi Christian Church.
The small town is located north of Lake Poso, in the North Pamona Sub-Regency, whose population is mostly Pamona.
The conflict that broke out between 1999 and 2001 was initially between Muslim Bugis migrants and Pamona Protestant Christians, but later many other groups became involved for ethnic, cultural and economic reasons.
A river of refugees
With the escalation of violence, there has been a migration of populations, fleeing to places where their religion was in the majority. So from Palu, the Muslims went to Poso and the coastal city of Paris; Christians from Paris fled to Tentena and Napu, to the mountains or to Manado, in the province of North Sulawesi.
In January 2002, after Malino's first Peace Declaration, the official for humanitarian figures estimated 86,000 internal refugees from Central Sulawesi. According to the Protestant Churches, there were at least 42,000 Christian refugees in the predominantly Christian areas.
As mentioned elsewhere, the "Poso riots" (1999-2001) became even more violent after Indonesian jihadist groups, fighting in the Philippines, joined Muslim groups in Sulawesi. These formed the group that chose the name of MIT. In this way, Poso also became the cradle of many radical groups.
Although, little by little, there is a general return of refugees to their places of origin, some groups of Muslims have settled in Palu; and many Christians are now integrated in Tentena.
The communities manage to coexist together, even if the presence of radical Islamic groups has often made its presence felt, especially with attacks on the police. (M.H.)