Island at war with home-made arms

THE neighbourhood where Theo Besulima lives, on the slopes of a jungly hill on the outskirts of Ambon, is the Spice Islands' equivalent of Acacia Gardens: a trim, middle-class area inhabited by civil servants, teachers and white-collar workers. Teenagers slouch on the verandas, and little children play in front of the wood-and-plaster houses. There is a small Protestant church and a neat graveyard, and goats munch the grass at the sides of the roads.

But these are remarkable times in Ambon, the latest corner of the vast Indonesian archipelago to erupt in violence; and in Theo's area, as in neighbourhoods all over the island, all is not as it seems. Behind their whitewashed walls many of the houses are miniature armouries of blades, spikes and firearms.

Theo (not his real name) displays his own collection, in a front room decorated with a portrait of Jesus and vases of flowers. The parang, or long machete, made by Dayak tribesmen on the island of Borneo, is nonchalantly propped in the umbrella rack. Then there is the home-made catapult with metal darts, and the two home-made spears, one for throwing, one for jabbing. But pride of place goes to the home-made shotgun, a fearful assemblage of wood, wires and metal.

"Everybody is preparing, all over the island," says Theo, a university student. "In every house you will find at least a parang, and probably a spear or bows and arrows, maybe home-made guns and bombs. They are all waiting for the next war."

This is a Christian area, but Ambon's Muslims are amassing similar armouries, and the hospitals as well as the mortuaries are busy processing the victims. At the Protestant Church of Maluku Hospital, nurses have treated patients wounded by parangs, pitchforks and arrows, as well as by bullets - yesterday morning alone, one man was killed and a dozen others injured when the occupants of two cars opened fire on a Christian crowd with automatic rifles.

But, outside the military, guns are hard to come by in Indonesia, and in the six weeks since Ambon's Christians and Muslims began killing one another without warning, the warring sides have had to rely on more traditional weapons. Theo's spears are simple enough: aluminium poles filed or welded to sharp points. The darts he made with metalworking equipment. The tips bear green traces of a poisonous paste. The darts are propelled by a catapult made from a piece of wood and a rubber inner tube. But the most elaborate preparations go into the manufacture of firearms.

The people of Maluku province, formerly the Moluccas or Spice Islands, are famous as bomb fishers; many of the coral reefs have been ruined by the explosions which stun the fish so they can be harvested from the surface. Theo's gun, borrowed from a neighbour, uses the same kind of home-made gunpowder: a mixture of broken glass, lumps of metal and the heads of many matches.

These are compacted into a metal tube, open at one end, and with a light- bulb filament buried at the other. The tube is inserted into another mounted on a stock carved from tropical ironwood with a wired-up AA battery in one side. The trigger is an electrical contact: with everything wired up, the current from the battery heats the filaments in the firing tube, igniting the contents which flare forth in a hail of glass, metal and heat.

Use a bigger tube - such as part of a metal telegraph pole - and you have a bazooka. By sealing both ends of the tube you create powerful bombs, which have started fires in houses, churches, and mosques all over Ambon.

"A friend of mine was killed when they were making a bomb," says Theo. "They were pressing down the sulphur from the matches too hard - he was holding it in front of his face and it exploded."

Everyone you talk to on both sides in this war says they are not looking for trouble. "If there is an attack I will use this," says Theo, twanging his catapult, "but Muslims and Christians still live side by side here and we have had no big trouble."

But in other parts of Ambon, the distinction between defence and pre- emptive attack is now blurred. Last week Muslim leaders in Jakarta called for a jihad, or holy war, to defend their brethren in Ambon.

A few weeks ago, in Theo's neighbourhood, the local priest held an unusual ceremony, blessing a large font of holy water. Thousands of local men passed through the church, carrying their arms. Theo brought his parang and his spear, and sprinkled the holy water over them, just in case.


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
i100(More than you think)
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up