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Mangkok Merah 1967, the Dayak-Chinese conflict in Kalimantan

Mangkok Merah 1967, the conflict between the Dayak and Chinese in West Kalimantan

Slogan proclaiming that Chinese and Indonesians stand together. Circa 1946. Credit: Berita Film Indonesia / Public domain

The New Order in Indonesia is the term coined by the second Indonesian President Suharto to describe his administrative era when he came to power in 1966.

In the beginning of this New Order, one incident left a bloody mark in Indonesian history and it is called Mangkuk Merah.

The background factors of the conflict between the Dayak and Chinese

Suharto’s predecessor Sukarno denounced the new nation Malaysia back then, calling it a form of neo-colonialism.

He then secretly trained rebel communist troops from Sarawak known as the Sarawak People’s Guerrilla Army (Pasukan Guerrilla Rakyat Sarawak or PGRS).

They set up camps along the Kalimantan-Sarawak border with many Sarawakian Chinese crossing over to be part of the communist movement.

When Suharto rose to power, he ended the Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation and focused on fighting against communism.

By January 1967, the Indonesian military began to resettle 5,000 Chinese away from the Sarawak border.

The Chinese were no longer allowed to live within five miles of the border.

At that time, the Chinese, especially from West Kalimantan, were believed to be communist sympathisers. The military also believed that a number of them living near the border were from Sarawak not Kalimantan.

In Sarawak, a similar resettlement scheme was carried out in 1965 called Operation Hammer. The Chinese were resettled away from the Sarawak border in order to cut off the Communist rebels’ food and supplies.

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The rumours that sparked the conflict between the Dayak and Chinese

In the book Malay and Chinese Indonesian, Dwi Surya Atmaja and Fazhurozi stated the anti-communism movement that began to take a bloody turn.

“A string of murders of Dayak people with unknown perpetrator happened in Ledo, Seluas and Pahauman, Bengkayang and almost all areas with sizable ethnic Chinese communities. This situation was used by the military to scapegoat PGRS as perpetrators of the murders,” they stated.

On top of that, the military allegedly spread rumours that the Chinese were anti-Dayak and all Chinese communists.

The military reportedly used the categories ‘Dayak’ and ‘Chinese’ to indicate loyal citizens and communists, respectively during this time.

Manipulated by the military and enraged by the murders, the Dayak asked for support from the former governor of West Kalimantan and a respected Dayak figure, Johanes Christomus Oevaang Oeray.

Then through a Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) Pontianak broadcast on Sept 21, 1967, Oeray allegedly threatened the Chinese people to leave their areas and move to nearest district town.

Later, on Oct 11, 1967, the Dayak villagers attended a meeting to prepare for what was called a ‘Gerakan Demonstrasi’.

Some historians do not believe that it was Oeray who made the broadcast, but somebody using his name.

However, some believed that Oeray purposely cooperated with the Indonesian military to regain his political footing after he lost his influence over the Dayak community when Suharto came into power.

Regardless, the Dayaks took the broadcast as the announcement of Mangkok Merah.

What is Mangkok Merah?

Dwi Surya Atmaja and Fazhurozi explained in their book what Mangkok Merah meant in the culture of the Dayak of Kalimantan.

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Basically, it is the traditional symbol of starting a war.

“Mangkok Merah was used to unite the Dayak tribes if they felt their sovereignty was in great danger. The tribal chiefs usually sent a red bowl (mangkok merah) filled with charcoal, chicken feather, pig blood, and juang leaves, to be passed around from one village to another quickly. A Dayak figure explained that Mangkok Merah was used to call for people, as a communication symbol used in emergencies. When someone brought it from one tribe to the other, it means: come and help us.”

The violence

Following the announcement, a string of massacres took place in West Kalimantan. The peak of violence happened in November 1967.

The attackers started to murder Chinese people using hunting weapons and burning their belongings.

Chinese shops were vandalised and the bodies were lined up on the streets.

Describing the violence in one of her papers, Nancy Lee Peluso stated, “Some Chinese turned their homes and possessions over the Dayak or other Indonesian neighbours for safe-keeping, not knowing they would not be allowed to return. Others ran into the forests and plantations, fearful but hoping to maintain a watch on their land, homes and possessions. From November to January, crowds of Dayak men and boys, wearing red headbands and carrying elongated bush knives (mandau), homemade hunting guns and military-issue firearms, violently evicted all remaining Chinese from the rural areas.”

Most historians estimated the deaths ranged from 300 to 500 with thousands more becoming refugees. The highest estimated number of refugees is 117,000.

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By early 1968, the violence finally subsided.

How the Dayak and Chinese conflict lead to Dayak and Madurese conflict

With thousands of Chinese removed from rural areas in 1967, you might think that there would be more lands for the Dayak occupied.

Writing in the book Golddiggers, Farmers and Traders in the Chinese Districts of West Kalimantan, Mary F Somers Heidues stated, “The New Order actively encouraged migration of settlers from crowded areas of Java, Madura and Bali to less-populated spaces in the Outer Islands.”

She added if the Dayaks who participated in the 1967 Raids hoped that the emptied lands and properties would fall into their hands after the Chinese fled, they were to be disappointed.

“Although Dayaks moved into the area, Dayak hegemony did not last long,” Heidues stated.

Many settlers relocated from Java-Madura, Bugis and Bali into the area in stages. Heidues, further stated, “In the end, the Madurese were to become a focus of resentment in 1997.”

As for the Chinese refugees, many of them resettled in towns such as Pontianak and Singkawang.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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