Life Among the Dead: Why Businesses Fail in Sulawesi, Indonesia

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Home > Articles > Life Among the Dead: Why Businesses Fail in Sulawesi, Indonesia

 Life Among the Dead: Why Businesses Fail in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Antonio Rappa | Today's Manager
December 1, 2018

The Toraja are famous worldwide for their elaborate death rituals but there is another kind of death that lurks within the Indonesian islands.


Sulawesi is a largely untapped economic miracle that never made it. This is despite the fact that the Indonesian sub-region is rich in natural resources like timber, oil, and fish. Rich in ecological diversity, its flora and fauna help re-oxygenate Southeast Asia (SEA). If only Singapore had half that land, we would be able to make more money and generate a higher material quality of life. Yet sadly that is not the case. The colonial history of Sulawesi shows that the Dutch colonisers were corrupt and nepotistic. Forced conversions and willing conversions by early incarnations of Sarong Party Girls (SPGs) led to heightening religious tensions between the Dutch Protestant Christians and the local Muslims. Things do not seem to have changed much over three centuries later. Religious hatred and corruption still runs deep in Indonesia. Arbitrator, Dr Michael Buhler spoke of the rampant corruption in its cities as well. “For example, I personally witnessed members of Syahrul Yasin Limpo’s campaign team busily stuffing envelopes with money for local Muhammadiyah cadres as Syahrul himself gave a speech about ‘clean government’ at the Muhammadiyah headquarters in Barru district in September 2006.”

Churches were burnt and Christians were tortured and killed in central Sulawesi even during the time of former President Suharto. For centuries, there was significant and violent tension between the Dutch colonials and their local Sulawesi Christian converts. The local Muslim men especially despised their female relatives and friends who converted from Islam to Christianity. This is not unique to SEA but is also found in larger cases in India where Hindu women are beaten and burnt (sati) for changing religion, giving it up, or changing castes. Their Indian-Muslim female counterparts who transgress these sacred cows face a similar fate. In the case of Sulawesi, where I have not visited, I resorted to interviewing two Indonesian maids Ms Indra and Ms Jeya Chandran who claim to be from Central Sulawesi. Both said that they love their Islamic religion and would never give it up but have heard of those (they refer to them as infidels) who are caught converting to Christianity and are tortured and secretly murdered and have their bodies burnt. Ms Indra and Ms Jeya both do not condone such violence but understand that this is what will happen when you break the (social) laws. They wished that their country were peaceful like Singapore where Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus can share a meal without someone killing the other. Their friend, Ms Nong Sri added that the recent disaster off Pulau Selayar in Southern Sulawesi was due to the bad karma that was created or generated by the killing of innocent women. A foreign scholar married to a local Muslim woman said that the Christians who were murdered were buried as Muslims so that “they could see Allah”.

In fact as recently as 2005, Muslim fanatics in a Poso jungle in Sulawesi beheaded 13 Christian girls. The following years would see more violence erupt and the sub-region is now an economic disaster zone. The local newspapers reported that three Christians in retaliation for their acts of revenge murdered over 200 Muslims. The Indonesian police are known for turning a blind eye when it comes to Christian deaths in the years following the end of the post-Suharto era. Local police summarily executed the three Christians on 22 September 2006.

The lack of economic prosperity and development is also due to the spate of continuing attacks by terrorists. The distance from the capital in Jakarta has made Sulawesi a hotbed for terrorist activities. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-motivated attacks in Jakarta on 14 January 2016 and the 9 April 2016 Basilan attack on Philippine police and military forces in the south were claimed to be from elements of Daesh that received training in Syria as Malay-Muslims. All these attacks and others can be traced to the pronouncements by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He used to choose the Muslim fasting month or Eid to make his speeches about the growing ISIS caliphate and the importance for its struggle in Indonesia and the entire SEA region. His followers in and out of Daesh and Katibah Nusantara all pledge allegiance to their struggle known as bay’at (pledge of allegiance) to ISIS rather than Allah. It was only in the early fall of 2014 more specifically on 30 August 2014 that kumpulan Katibah Nusantara aka Majmu’ah al Arkhabiliy was formed as an ISIS cell in SEA by those Syrian trained Malay-Muslims.

In a lecture to local and foreign police and counterintelligence senior officers, I spoke of the plight of Poso and Sulawesi as well as how and why Katibah Nusantara remains a powerful and dangerous threat to SEA and with their compatriots in Jemaah Islamiyah. They potentially possess a powerful united front against innocent victims; the value of personal and private property remains at stake. It is therefore critical to understand the three-fold mission of Katibah Nusantara and how their activities revolve round Sulawesi Tengah. The likelihood of attack and the kinds of targets that Katibah Nusantara tends to focus on seems to have left Singapore off its nefarious radar. But because there are Singaporeans who volunteered for ISIS as well as the Katibah Nusantara, one cannot rule out the eventual attack on Singapore soil.


Dr Antonio L Rappa is Associate Professor and Head of Management and Security Studies at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) School of Business. He worked at NUS, NTU, and held visiting appointments at Johns Hopkins University, UC Berkeley, Chulalongkorn University, and Chang Mai University. Dr Rappa held an SAF Overseas Military Training Award (New Zealand) and an NUS overseas Graduate Award. He was offered the Cambridge University Overseas Development Award in 1993 to Fitzwilliam College at the University of Cambridge. His most recent book entitled The King and the Making of Modern Thailand (Routledge, 2017) was published in April/May 2017.


Copyright © 2018 Singapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 4, 2018

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