Cell Ringtone Sparks Indonesian Tribal War

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Tribes matter in Papua, the large Indonesian province on New Guinea. Though it might appear anachronistic to those of us in the West, old tribal allegiances, and even inter-tribal tensions, sometimes remain even in Papua's rapidly modernizing cities, including the capital of Jayapura (pictured). That's where hundreds of Wamena tribe members recently attacked a neighborhood mostly populated by the Yoka tribe, damaging or destroying dozens of homes and seriously injuring three people.

The Wamena and Yoka tribes may be ancient, but the cause of their conflict was about as modern about as it comes. The Jakarta Globe's Banjir Ambarita reports that the Wamena coordinated their attack in retaliation for a cell phone ringtone, recently adopted by many of the Yoka, that included lyrics mocking the Wamena.

The attack was triggered by an offensive ringtone circulating among the Yoka tribe that allegedly contained insulting lyrics directed at the Wamena tribe, playing to a reggae beat.

Residents of Wamena decided that they would not tolerate the insults, and therefore made plans to attack the Yoka tribe at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

“Hundreds of them could no longer accept it. They felt it was an insult to their dignity,” Jayapura Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Imam Setiawan said, adding that the man who created the ringtone and sang the lyrics to the reggae beat has already been detained in police custody for questioning.

Ambarita adds that such tribal conflicts still occasionally flare up in Papua. In July, 76 people were wounded in tribal battles that came after a man from one tribe beat his wife, who was from a different tribe. Political analysts agree that even the worst of Papua's tribal conflicts are still more civilized than an average day in the U.S. Congress.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.