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Monuments and martyrdom: Memorializing the dead in post-conflict North Maluku

Keywords: Tobelorese , Galelarese , communities , violence , Maluku conflict , victims , Christian , cemeteries , monuments , Maluku Utara , Indonesia

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Abstract:

This paper explores how certain Tobelo and Galela communities in the eastern Indonesian province of North Maluku have dealt with the dead in the aftermath of the ethnic and religious violence that swept the region in 1999-2001. It focuses on the issue of martyrdom and the construction of memorials to those who died during the conflict. I argue that these memorials have a dual purpose. First and foremost they are about mourning and martyrdom. They serve local needs to respect and remember those who were lost in the conflict and to recognize the sacrifices made in the name of religion. This notion of martyrdom directly relates to another aspect of these monuments, attempts by local communities in North Maluku, particularly the Christian communities I focus on in this paper, to solidify their version of events in the public narrative. As the local government encourages people to put the conflict behind them and to forget about the violence, the construction of these memorials maintains the focus on the religious framing of past events. In building these monuments and martyr cemeteries, people are publicly staking a claim on their interpretation of history and literally putting their version in stone. They seek to do so before official accounts (or denials) of what happened become hegemonic and pave over the nature of the violence and suffering that occurred. I also explore how the construction and placement of Christian memorials in churchyards contradicts previous church burial practices.

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