I stood in the middle of this road last year. It is the center of baranguy Kanipaan in Palimbang. The sound of pounding waves came from the shore on the left. Welding and hammering sounds came from the technical center behind me. As I walked that street and passed the houses, I saw families quietly living. Women caring for their children. Children playing by the door. An elder man was making a chair, his wood chavings scattered all over the floor. In such a peaceful scene, it was all the more the shock when Pasali’s Maribeth and her sister Tata told me the story of what happened in 2000.
In 2000, a wealthy Illongo elder passed away and left his possessions to his adopted Moro heir, who sold a portion of his land to his Muslim relatives. This family demanded the harvest of the land from the rest of the elder’s Illongo family who tended the land. Unable to settle, they requested the help of the village council. Meanwhile Illongo youth from other parts connected to the Illongo family came over to Palimbang. They were from a minor army unit and in that function, they brought their guns and set-up check-points in two areas. “Maybe they got impatient with the council, who still hadn’t given a verdict. Or maybe they were just really angry. For whatever reason, at the end of one day, they halted a motordriver who had a pregnant woman and her child as passenger,” says Beth. They killed the woman and her child, but they let the motordriver get away. The muslim youth retaliated to this unforgivably act by taking a young man of the other family. With both sides enraged, they clashed here in Kanipaan. Right where I stood. A family despute over land exploded into mini-civil war.
“Muslims set up check-points in their areas. No Christian family could pass. As a Muslim family we could leave. But the Christians who were stuck left and right between Muslim settlements could not get out,” Tata recalls. “Finally, the major sent a boat to come get them,” says Maribeth. But that was already too late. Both sides had suffered casualties. Houses were burnt down or severely damaged by bullets. “Several months after, I came back to Palimbang to my father and mother,” says Maribeth. “My parents are traders so they had to come back to secure their possessions. The place was a ghost town.”
Outsiders could easily conclude it was a Muslim-Christian clash. An ethno-religous conflict, as that this officially called. But there was no religion here. If anything, it is readily the opposite. The islam the Muslims practice here is the peaceful, moderate, tolerant-to-all kind. And if there’s anything Christians are supposed to be doing is, Commandment 6 – Do not kill. Strip off pretensions of religion, all thats left is a handful of people who allowed their violent nature to reign. And horrific scenes followed.
When Pasali entered in 2005, the place was still a ghost town. The center could be built in its current site because of the availability of open space. And in the past five years of Pasali’s existence in Palimbang, families started returning and rebuilding their homes. Perhaps because they thought the dust had settled long enough. But had Pasali not come, who knows how long they would have allowed that dust to settle.