With 2012 just around the corner, Bima stepped into the limelight both nationally and internationally. The region has been the center of increased attention, as conflict between protesters and police officers over the revocation of the mining permit of PT Sumber Mineral Nasional (SMN) at the Sape Port on Dec. 24, 2011 resulted in the death of two young men, identified as Arif Rahman and Syaiful.
Upon the death of the two young men, some feel blame is attributable to Bima Regent Ferry Zulkarnaen for his ignorance of the people’s voices. On Dec. 27, thousands of student protesters and NGO activists marched in front of the regent’s office, causing the closure of the road to Sape district.
I have the impression from the speeches the protesters delivered that they were neither blaming the SMN nor the police officers over the violent clash.
Rather, they turned to blame the regent, who is regarded as “Jene Teke” (Putra Mahkota), a prince of Putra Kahir (a son of Sultan Muhammad Salahuddin, the last Bima sultan).
Borrowing Weber’s term of “charisma” — a certain quality of an individual personality, treated as a supernatural man — the local people start to believe that this “sultan” failed to wield his charisma over the people in Sape.
Sape is a historic place for Bima people, and it is a culturally significant place for many ethnic groups, such as those from Makassar. In Sape there is a settlement called Kampung Bugis inhabiting the areas near the port of Sape.
La Kai, the 27th king of Bima kingdom, converted to Islam in 1621 with the assistance of Muslim preachers who came from Makassar through Sape Port. La Kai changed his name to Abdul Kahir and instated Islam as the religion of the Bima sultanate in 1640. Bima then became a key site of Islamization under the influence of the Makassar sultanate of Gowa.
Besides, there is a sumur tua (old well) known by the people as Temba Romba Sape. The well is thought to have been an answer to the prayers of Muslim preachers when severe drought hit Sape in 1618.
The people of Sape, together with the citizens of Lambu district, are now struggling to save their water from the potential damage that might be caused by mining activities in the area. They hope the prayers of Makassar’s legendary preachers will remind the regent of the historical connection to his ancestors in Sape.
It is worth mentioning that Regent Ferry, under Golkar Party support, has become the second Bima regent from the Bima sultanate circle after his father, Putra Kahir.
Golkar may have failed in a number of regional elections across the country, but this was not the case in the Bima regency. Ferry won the 2005 Bima regent election and was reelected for a second term in 2010. Interestingly, Lambu district was one of his strongholds in the last two elections.
In the 2009 election for members of the regional legislature (DPRD), Golkar dominated, taking eight seats in total.
Golkar’s dominance in the regency cannot be separated from the role of Ina Kau Mari. Ibu Hajjah Siti Maryam, as she’s more popularly known is the sister of Putra Kahir, and thus the aunt of Regent Ferry. She played a key role in the 2009 election, contributing to Golkar’s dominance in the DPRD membership.
Ina Kau Mari is also very well known for her role in the “re-installment” of former Bima sultanate apparatuses, such as the Majelis Hadat Dana Mbojo (the Hadat Assembly of Bima People) in Bima society since 2003. This majelis has been struggling to nominate Sultan Muhammad Salahuddin to become one of Indonesia’s national heroes, supported in its efforts by the decree of Regent Ferry in 2008.
Ina Kau Mari has also called for the establishment of a new province of Sumbawa that would separate Bima from West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province.
According to some politicians in Bima, Regent Ferry won his reelection without obstacles mostly because he is the son of Putra Kahir. When Ferry pays a visit to his people in the countryside, they scramble to kiss his hand as it is widely believed that they will get a blessing from the “sultan”.
The recent bloody clash in Bima will undoubtedly put the charisma of Regent Ferry in danger if he fails to review his policy on the mining company’s operational permit, deliver a public apology and express his sorrow to the people of Bima and the family of the victims in Sape. A failure to do so will lead the people to distrust on him and all descendants of the Bima sultan.
The writer, a PhD candidate from the Department of Anthropology, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, SCHL (formerly RSPAS), is doing his field research in Bima.