Jun 21, 2024 Last Updated 1:20 AM, Jun 20, 2024

Legacy of conflict

Greg Acciaioli

The recent surge of IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Indonesia peaked at over 1.3 million in 2001. This has sometimes been seen as a new phenomenon, a product of recent communal conflicts and economic marginalisation. However, if we look at patterns of movement in the past, we see that migration has often been a response to conflict. Large numbers of IDPs are thus not a novelty in Indonesia.

The Bugis of South Sulawesi are well-known for their frequency of migration. Their migration is usually seen as a search for economic opportunity, but in fact political disruption at home has played an important role. Both Bugis and Makassarese are known to migrate, but it is the Bugis who do so in higher numbers.

Fleeing the fall of Makassar

Before the conquest of Makassar by the Dutch with their Bone Bugis allies in 1666–1669, population movement in the region followed the monsoons. Groups of people sailed to the west with the east wind, and vice versa. After the fall of Makassar, waves of IDPs, both Makassarese and those Bugis who were allied with them, fled South Sulawesi.

Bugis people from the Wajo’ area, for instance, were targeted by the Bone Bugis, allies of the Dutch, as punishment for siding with the Makassarese. Many migrated, working as small-scale traders, itinerant dentists, or fishers and farmers. Today their descendants are found throughout the archipelago.

Many IDPs travelled in small bands led by prominent nobles. Those moving to the west attached themselves as mercenaries to the rulers of various domains, as in eastern Kalimantan (Kutei, Pasir), Java (Banten, Mataram), Madura, Sumatra (Aceh, Jambi, Palembang), the Malay Peninsula (Johor, Perak), and even as far west as Siam (Thailand). In some areas, including Aceh and Riau, they managed to usurp royal authority. Today, Bugis comprise 18 per cent of the population of East Kalimantan.

Those fleeing to what is now eastern Indonesia managed to conquer some domains directly, as in western Sumbawa. Elsewhere, by intermarrying with local inhabitants, they rose to dominance through entrepreneurial ability rather than military might, playing a large role in the slave trade.

Further to the east, Bugis and Makassarese intensified their role in the spice trade from Maluku. They built permanent settlements in communities such as Ambon, Ternate, Tidore, Dobo, as well as along the northern coast of Seram and islands to its east, such as Seram Laut and Gorong. South Sulawesi traders thus became the most important intermediaries in the spice trade. Some obtained legal passes to engage in this trade. Others engaged in ‘informal trade’, which the Dutch identified simply as smuggling. Bugis and Makassarese also traded in products other than spices. In response to demand from China, Bugis and Makassarese led convoys to various parts of eastern Indonesia to trade for trepang (sea cucumber). Some of these trading convoys reached as far as the coasts of Arnhem Land and northwestern Australia.

Traders and settlers

Eventually settlements and networks of traders were spread throughout Indonesia. In the nineteenth century, Bugis commercial activities in the western archipelago began to overshadow the trade in trepang and slaves from the eastern archipelago that had been pivotal in the previous century. But their dominance in trading was threatened after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Dutch punitive expeditions became more aggressive and increased restrictions were placed on trade. Trade began to be dominated by square-rigged vessels run by Europeans, Chinese and Arabs.

In response to the European presence, new waves of Bugis migrants established settlements oriented to production of raw materials — copra and other cash crops — demanded by the West. The pattern of roving bands of nobles with their followers gave way to chain migration of ordinary commoners — fishers and farmers.

These people tended to stay temporarily in rural areas near towns, which had been first settled by earlier Bugis traders or farming pioneers. Here they would sell their labour until they could raise their own crops on land they had cleared. After two or three seasons of rice they would plant the land with coconut trees or other cash crops, then move on to open up more land further afield. One observer called this pattern of land clearing and cultivation ‘almost as inexorable as the flight of a plague of locusts.’

More troubles at home

Although this pattern continued into the twentieth century, there have been periods of more intense migration as well. Migration swelled to a flood with the civil war that devastated large parts of South Sulawesi from 1950 to 1965. During these years, which local people still call the era of ‘gangs of bandits’ (gerombolan), rural peasants were squeezed between the daytime terrors of the Indonesian national army and the nocturnal raids of the Islamic separatist forces under Kahar Muzakkar (also spelled Qahhar Mudzakkar). By 1956 over 10,000 members of the South Sulawesi-born population of Jambi and Riau were classified as refugees.

Other factors besides war in the homeland have led to surges in the rhythm of migration as well. The drought of 1971-72 propelled fishers and farmers dependent upon water for their livelihood into less affected parts of the archipelago, as did the later El Niño-induced drought of 1982-1983.

Besides these ‘push’ factors inducing people to leave their homeland of South Sulawesi, there have also been ‘pull’ factors. The lure of economic opportunities has been one, where there has been abundant land for opening up wet-rice fields, coconut stands, pepper plantations, and so on.

When Suharto’s New Order pushed into East Timor and Irian Jaya, as they were then known, great economic opportunities were perceived in eastern Indonesia. This resulted in intensified migration to the east, especially from the 1970s onward. This more recent wave included greater migration to urban areas, as opposed to the previous chain migration into coastal fishing and farming communities. Many cities in eastern Indonesia came to have a neighbourhood almost exclusively made up of South Sulawesi migrants, known as kampung Bugis or kampung Makassar.

Resentment and violence

These pull factors became stronger with the impact of the financial crisis which rocked much of Southeast Asia in 1997. Many Bugis who still had some cash took the opportunity to buy land cheaply. They opened up cacao stands in areas such as the rural region surrounding Poso in Central Sulawesi, where many of the heavily hit local farmers were desperate for ready cash. Unlike earlier waves of Bugis migrants into the area, many of these more recent migrants made little attempt to integrate themselves into local villages. Not surprisingly, when communal violence erupted in such places as Poso, these migrants were often the targets of mob attacks by Christian locals.

Despite their long settlement — from the seventeenth century onwards — in eastern Indonesia, communities of Bugis and Makassarese have often been the initial targets of communal violence. This has happened in Kupang, Ambon, Timika (Papua), and, when still part of Indonesia, Dili (East Timor), even though many of these communities had been settled in these settings for generations.

In fact, there is evidence that some instances of so-called ‘religious’ violence actually began as resentment toward migrants, particularly those from Sulawesi. Certainly the first areas attacked and put to the torch by local Christian mobs in cities such as Ambon and Timika were the neighborhoods dominated by Bugis, Makassarese and Butonese migrants. Resentment often stemmed from envy over economic dominance by these groups in small-scale retail trading and local transport. Despite their relatively small numbers, the increased settlement of South Sulawesi migrants in cities during the New Order has been perceived by local Christians as tipping the balance in favour of Muslims.

In some urban areas the economic success of Bugis people has been complemented by their rising political power. This local political power is perceived as even more threatening now, with regional autonomy giving more power to local government. Bugis ethnic associations have been inclined to flex their political muscle in recent years, adding to the perceived ‘Islamicisation’ of the local political hierarchy and civil service in Ambon and other areas.

Once violence has been initiated, it has inevitably spread to rural areas. Here, long settled villages dominated by Bugis fishers and farmers have tended to align themselves with urban Bugis, or with Muslims in general. The ensuing violence has resulted in the mass exodus of IDPs back to South Sulawesi. Between 1999, when the conflict in Ambon began, and 2002, tens of thousands of people returned to South Sulawesi. This surge once more exemplifies the role of conflict in increasing the movement of ethnic Bugis and Makassarese across the archipelago. However, in this case, rather than fleeing to other islands to escape the conditions of Dutch colonisation, migrants are returning to the homeland of their ancestors.

Greg Acciaioli (ariagl@nus.edu.sg) is based at the University of Western Australia and the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.


Inside Indonesia 82: Apr-Jun 2005{jcomments on}

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