Traditional accounts of the eruption of communal conflict between Christians and Muslims on the Indonesian island of Ambon point to religiously framed struggles to access a patrimonial state and the emergence of specific threats and opportunities after the fall of Suharto in May 1998. Whilst this thesis will be upheld, it does not wholly account for why so many ‘ordinary folk’ with little chance of ever accessing the state bureaucracy became involved in this conflict, which lasted from 1999 until 2002. In order to better grasp the incentives of engaging in communal violence in Ambon, this article posits the explanation that people had exceptional opportunities to take over land when the first Christian-Muslim riots broke out in the town of Ambon. This was particularly the case in those instances where institutional arrangements to access land were already being contested before 1999. These private opportunities were not the reasons which instigated the initial riots in the town of Ambon but became a rationale during the conflict, hereby effecting the displacement of whole communities.