Abubakar Riry and Mashudi Noorsalim
When riots broke out in Ambon in January 1999 and spread throughout Maluku, few people predicted the scale of destruction and loss of life. An estimated 5000 people lost their lives, and 700,000 were displaced. One unanticipated effect has been religious segregation, which continues today. Before the riots, Muslim and Christian communities mixed freely. But with segregation, almost all public spheres were divided into two — one for Muslims and one for Christians — in order to prevent further violence (see box).
Uniting the community
After two years of violence and tension, Muslim and Christian grassroots organisations formed the Maluku Bakubae Joint Committee in October 2000. ‘Bakubae’ is Ambonese Malay for ‘reconciliation’. In 2001, this group created three ‘peace zones’ where trade could be conducted between Muslims and Christians. In Indonesian towns, the market is perhaps the only place where almost everyone goes, and thus a good location to start reconciliation.
In June 2001 the committee opened a market within one of these peace zones. The Bakubae market, as it is known, operated in front of the Ambon Manise Hotel. It began with just three Muslim and three Christian traders. However, the committee’s promotion of the market within the surrounding community soon paid off. Christians began to buy from Muslims, and vice versa, without problems — there was even laughter and joking. The Bakubae market offered relatives of different religions a place to meet with each other. The market also created jobs, as small traders were joined by others who had lost their jobs during the riots.
In the beginning, the market was guarded by security forces, but after some days the officers were no longer needed. ‘Without security forces here, we conduct our business and socialise,’ said one trader.
Christians buy goods not only for their own consumption, but also to sell in the Christian areas. For instance Agus, a Christian trader, buys goods to sell at the Batu Meja Christian market. Through his transactions with his Muslim colleagues at Bakubae, Agus makes about Rp 80,000 (A$ 11) per day.
By early 2004, the situation was improving, and the two communities had several areas where they could meet without segregation. But riots broke out again on 25 April 2004. During this violence, the Bakubae market was burned down. There are indications that this was an attempt to forestall peace in Ambon. Although the riots didn’t last long, Ambon became fully segregated again.
Hasim, a Muslim vegetable supplier, remembered working at the Bakubae market. ‘We were there together, even though we had different religions. When we were trading at Bakubae, we forgot the riots.’ About a month after the riots, however, the Bakubae market re-opened, and now operates at the previous location of the Mardika market.
The Bakubae market has helped to unite people of different religions. During the time the Bakubae market was closed in 2004, Rizal, a Muslim trader, said he maintained communication with Christian traders, and that some had contacted him during the riots, to see how he was.
The Bakubae Joint Committee continues to work to establish peace zones like this, and hopes that they can be extended. As peace spreads, Muslims and Christians can live together again, and begin to put the conflict behind them.