The Hunter of Poso

ASWIR doesn’t know whether he had killed any Christians. All he knows is that when he was defending his home from Christian attackers, “there were people I shot or knifed who fell and bled.”

“But,” he recalls, “they were carried away by their comrades.” He doesn’t know if they lived.

Aswir, now 44 years old, was dragged into the conflict on May 23, 2000 when he heard that the Christians had attacked his village, Moengko Baru, about 500 metres from the centre of Poso town. Early that morning, three Muslims, including Abdul Sykur, the 40-year-old village head of Moengko Baru, were killed by a group of “ninjas.”

Aswir, also a Muslim, was then hunting anoa (a small wild ox found only in Sulawesi), wild boar, and deer in Morowali, some 300 kms from Poso town. Still carrying his M-16, which he had been using in his hunt, he returned as quickly as he could to his village to protect his family and his home.

The Christians controlled the mountains surrounding Poso town and the only way for the Muslims to escape from the coastal town was through the sea. Soon, Poso town was deserted except for a few hundred Muslim men who stayed to defend their villages.

Aswir was among them because, he explains, the Koran says, “Rumahku adalah syurgaku (My house is my heaven).” “That is why I couldn’t abandon my home,” he says. “That’s God’s order, it is haram (forbidden) for me to flee from the enemy.”

To prepare for war, Aswir fashioned panah Ambon (Ambon arrows, which are fired using bows or large slingshots) from metal bars and dum-dum (a homemade shotgun that fires small projectiles such as glass and nails) made from a hollow tube from a motorcycle part or pipe.

Three days later, at around 6:30 a.m., the red troops (as the Christians are called) carrying what Aswir says were Indonesian military-issued assault rifles entered his village “membabi buta (helter-skelter).”

“It was 10 of us against hundreds,” he recounts. “And three of them died while none of us did.”

He says their side escaped having fatalities because of “black magic.” Aswir insists that he had powers that protected him.

“I believe there are black magic powers,” says Abd Gani T Israel, the respected ustadz in Poso. “It is the knowledge of the indigenous people. In the fighting there are people who could turn into pigs, cats, or monkeys.”

But Aswir, whose second wife is a pastor’s daughter, stopped fighting the Christians in 2003 after he says he realised “we were made stupid by politicians who wanted political control in Poso.” Nowadays he is an activist connected with the Yayasan Tanah Merdeka, which promotes reconciliation between the Muslim and Christian communities in Poso district.

Promises Aswir: “I will fight – but not with weapons – those who want war in Poso.” – Philip S. Golingai

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