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Poso women promote peace through food, coffee

Sebastian Partogi
Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Wed, December 6, 2017 | 08:33 am
Poso women promote peace through food, coffee

Healing through handicrafts: Sri Ratna Mbaresi showcases handicrafts made by women from Poso who survived violent sectarian clashes. The handicrafts provide an opportunity to earn income and also to ease their trauma. (JP/Sebastian Partogi)

Years have passed since the sectarian conflict in Poso, Central Sulawesi, which took place between 1998 and 2001.

Many people in the region, however, are still haunted by the conflict.

“I witnessed a lot of homes being burned, saw people abducted [by militant religious groups] and heard bombs exploding,” Nengah Susilawasi, a 41-year-old Balinese Hindu, said at a recent discussion at the ke:kini co-working space in Cikini, Central Jakarta.

Nengah and her family migrated to Poso in 1988 as part of the New Order regime’s transmigration policy.

The memory of explosions still terrifies Nengah today.

“I am easily startled whenever I hear loud noises,” she said.

Meanwhile, 24-year old Reflin Mandala, said her Christian family survived three major clashes during the conflict between 1998 and 2000.

During another major clash in 1999, a house where her family stayed in Tentena was set alight, forcing her family to return to Pantende village.

According to Reflin, many Christians today still harbor resentment toward Muslims, particularly when reading news on religious conflict across Indonesia.

“When my mother saw the news on how a man violently disrupted a Sunday service in East Jakarta, she yelled at the television screen,” Reflin said.

The collective wounds among Christians and Muslims from the conflict had broken friendships and relationships. For some, it took many years to recover and rebuild trust.

Sri Ratna Mbaresi, 37, said it took her six years to recover friendships with her Muslim peers, who had been avoiding her.

As well as destroying social relations in Poso, the conflict had also destroyed livelihoods.

“Our agricultural fields were left untended and have turned into forests. We have been able to recover our land only in the last five years,” Nengah said.

During the conflict, the military also prohibited people from tending to their land after 3 p.m., reducing their output, social activist Lian Gogali from the Mosintuwu Institute said. “They said if we were shot because we ignored their warnings, they wouldn’t be responsible,” she explained.

“Even vegetables and fish had religious affiliations back then. Tomatoes are Christian, while fish are Muslim. The majority of farmers here are Christian and most of the fishermen are Muslim,” Lian added, drawing ironic laughter from the audience.

Lian’s organization has an effective method to heal the wounds of resentment, called Dodoha Mosintuwu.

Situated in a bamboo house, the restaurant not only serves local culinary delights and coffee, but has also become a space for people from different religious backgrounds to engage with one another.

“The best place to talk about peace is at the dinner table. Food is universal. All humans, regardless of religious or ethnic backgrounds, need food,” Lian said.

Aside from serving delicious Poso traditional food, such as mouth-watering chicken with sambal roa (fish chili paste), the restaurant also offers single origin coffee called Kopi Kojo, which is harvested by local women from Bancea Village in Poso.

The robusta coffee has a tasty, chocolaty flavor with a delicate texture, suitable to keep conversations alive for hours.

“The coffee, in addition to the food, has been successful in uniting communities from different religious backgrounds, while empowering the women economically,” she said.

Lian added that she had chosen women to be the key agents of peace since local tradition put women on a spiritual pedestal, a cultural practice that was displaced after Christianity was introduced.

“In the old days, women were high priestesses in Poso and were the only ones allowed to mediate between humans and their creator. Furthermore, as women were close to nature, they were the only ones allowed to determine harvest time. Christianity turned that upside down by prioritizing education for men and teaching women how to serve their husbands,” she lamented.