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.

SEE THE SUNDAY REVIEW

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
News
David Ryall in Harry Potter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015