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|— Town —|
|Time zone||WIB (UTC+7)|
|— Town —|
|Time zone||WIB (UTC+7)|
Tobelo is a town and also a district on the eastern Indonesian island of Halmahera. It is the capital of the regency (kabupaten) of North Halmahera, part of the province of North Maluku. The city was formalised as the capital of North Halmahera in the district elections held in 2004. It is considered as the best town in the regency in view of its coconut palm studded surroundings "fronted by jigsaw of islands". It has a population of approximately 15,000.  A palm tree lined coastal road connects Tobelo to Galela. The town is predominantly Christian and a Protestant Church has existed in Tobelo since at least 1924.
Muslims and Christians had lived amicably in this town of North Halmahera from the 16th century. However, North Maluku district was majority Muslim. The coastal road from Galela to Tobelo passes through neighboring Muslim and Christian villages. Living peacefully, these two communities followed the local cultural tradition of the Hibua Lamo (a pact between Muslims and Christians to live together without aggressive designs on each other and cooperating on all matters of mutual interest).
However, violence in December 1999, which emanated from Tobelo as a result of initial killing of Christians in North Maluku by the Makian community (Pastor’s murder and destruction of churches was the triggering factor) vitiated peace in the town and surrounding areas. Christians of Galela and Tobelo asserted their rights by attacking the Muslims in Tobelo as a counter to the alleged atrocities committed on them in Ambon City. Unfortunately, there is little or no evidence that Muslim leaders had planned to attack Christians in Tobelo. According to Duncan (2001), the roots of the conflict "focused on plans by the regional government to create a new sub-district (kecamatan) of Makian Daratan from the southern half of the Kao sub-district."  Initial reconciliation efforts at the sub district level worked for some time in preventing any clashes and assuage hurt feelings. The religious violence, which simmered in January 1999 in Ambon culminated in rioting in Tobelo by end of December 1999. This rioting was further triggered by the fleeing of several thousand Christians from Central Halmahera, and Tobelo had turned into a refugee camp. Though the rioting has been quelled, the mistrust between the two communities prevails. Galela subdistrict with its own language is another place where remnants of strife (burnt out churches and mosques) between the religious groups are still seen with military checkposts established to prevent any further disturbances in the region. In the ultimate analysis, it is reported that the sectarian violence in 1999–2000 had resulted in 2000 Muslim deaths in Maluku and a population displacement of 200,000 Muslim people in the region. Tobelo was the worst affected as over 100,000 Muslim people were from Tobelo and villages to its south, who fled to the island of Ternate and Morotai during early 2000. Nearly 70% of them returned subsequently as the situation was controlled. However, as a result of violence in 1999–2000, the area is clearly demarcated into Muslim and Christian villages. Tobelo is now almost entirely Christian; while Muslims have fled to nearby villages. Remnants of devastation are still evident. There is a discerned process of peace building emerging between the two communities now.
Suanggi is a spirit related incident, which happened in Tobelo, as an epilogue to the sectarian conflict that took place in Tobelo in 1999–2000. The incident pertains to a supernatural event of the strange appearance of a female form of Dracula, correlated to a similar spirit form well known in Eastern Indonesia as Suanggi, a vengeful male ghost. However, in Tobelo, the spirit appeared in an unconventional female form and was called as o tokata, which is associated with a "malevolent spirit of the dead whose danger is associated with its incomplete transformation into an ancestor spirit".
In the conventional form of Suanggi, as known in Eastern Indonesia, the spirit tempts men and possesses them. Once possessed, the possessed man leads a normal life during the day, but during the night, after he goes to sleep, his head gets detached from his body, takes a spirit form and roams around the village or town in search of his victims against whom the ghost has enmity. The victim is attacked and his liver is eaten by the spirit. Following this, the spirit also possesses the person attacked. Usually, the local healers then act and try to drive away the spirit and the victim survives. If he is not attended immediately then the victim dies.
In the case of the spirit that appeared in Tobelo, in February 2004, and haunted people of the village for two months, it was an unconventional female form of Suanggi known locally as tokata, “a malevolent spirit of the dead.” The spirit appeared in the form of a beautiful woman and enticed young men, particularly teachers, and when they agreed to have sex with her then “she would attack him and consume his genitals.” It was interpreted as a “revenge of a ghost motivated by trauma.” This resulted in a fear psychosis among people not only in Tobelo but fear also spread throughout North Maluku. The town people, particularly children were forbidden to move out in the night. One interpretation mooted was that the spirit was that of the daughter of the Tobelo village leader. She was a Muslim girl, who had been raped and brutally murdered by a group of young men during the 1999–2000 riots in the town. For six months her whereabouts were untraced. Six months later a 'diviner' had seen in his dream the location of her body in a ravine. This was verified and her mortal remains were traced at that location and a formal burial was done. It was believed that the spirit of this girl had assumed a vengeful form of a ghost, appeared as a blood sucking vampire in Tobelo seeking retribution against her attackers. Strangely, the dracula form had appeared first near the Protestant Church in the town. However, 2004 was the election time in Indonesia and it was the first national election in Eastern Indonesia. A local Christian farmer had heard loud wailing cries of a woman near his plantation and interpreted it as probably that of the dracula spirit "as if she was crying into a megaphone" (as if from loud speakers used widely in Tobelo during the election propaganda). This was the location where large massacres (more than 800 people killed) had taken place in 1999–2000 riots between the Christians and the Muslims. Thus, this provided the needed link between the dracula spirit and the political climate of the time.
Inhabitants of Tobelo are non-Austronesian–speaking people. Tobelo's predominant Christian character is expressed colourfully at Christmas with bamboo poles arching over the side of the roads hung with lights and multi-coloured flags. At Easter, local church congregations hold a competition to see who can create the best Easter garden. The Christians of Tobelo are traditionally said to live a peaceful co-existence with Muslims in surrounding villages, although violence broke out between the two religious groups in December 1999. One festival of note is the annual North Halmahera Cultural Festival, when the Tobelorese wear full traditional ceremonial dress.
Traditional Tobelorese weddings are also said to be among the most colourful and the Christians follow traditions during their wedding ceremonies, with traditional music and dance. A wedding is typically accompanied by traditional Tobelorese music, played with gongs and drums and a Cakalele dance is usually performed in front of the bride as she approaches the groom. Around the time of New Year, Tobelo attracts a number of Yangere groups from all over North Halmahera and perform music and dances.
Each year, in April, after the harvest season there is a practice of offering of plates of rice and certain items of basketry by the married women to the Church, duly observing conventional social norms. The offerings are then sold or auctioned during the Sunday services in the premises of the church. The returns from such sales go to the Church funds (kas gereja), which are used by the church for providing public services. It is more of ritual than an economic transaction.
The other ritual observed in Tobelo is on the first Sunday of January when prayers are offered in the Church for the dead. On this occasion, each family decorates the graves of its deceased with flowers. This is also an occasion when women dressed in military uniform hold a parade through the village and enter houses demanding food and sweets.
The rituals observed conform to both pre-Christian Tobelo customs and the post-Christian era culture conforming to the Gregorian calendar. However, marriages are conducted under the Tobelo customs, rituals and practices. The family units are patrilineal.
Tobelo boasts large swathes of locally owned coconut plantations, supplying hundreds of tonnes of copra (dried coconut flesh) every month to the ports of Bitung (North Sulawesi) and Surabaya (East Java). The city, as the main centre for the North Halmahera has thus become the export hub for copra and other commodities.
Pulau Tulang is the nearest islet to the town, within swimming distance of the harbour. The Kupa-Kupa beach is located about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the town, near the oil terminal for the Pertamina company. The beach is very clean and attracts tourists for snorkelling. Off the coast of Tobelo town is a group of small, coconut palm covered islands with golden sandy beaches. Longboats frequently travel from them to Tobelo town. Tobelo contains a hospital and a post office and is an important base and port on the island.
In the three provinces of North Maluku, Maluku, and Central Sulawesi, following the sectarian conflict in 1999 which centred on Tobelo, devastated the well-being and economy of the people. This needed urgent attention of the authorities concerned in the government through a development process. It was a challenging task to both national and regional governments. The UN Common County Assessment (UNCCA) and Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for 2002–2005 and UNDP’s Country Cooperation Framework decided to pitch in with assistance. They established a programme of linking relief and longer-term development as part of the UN’s support to Indonesia. The UNDP Crisis Prevention and Recovery Unit (CPRU), then launched three support programmes in North Maluku, Maluku and Central Sulawesi, which covered the Galea -Tobelo –South Tobelo Area. Three programmes were launched for the period 2002–2005 envisaging an investment of US $19 million with the objective of:
providing effective law enforcement, the rule of law and security; improve good governance in regional governments, local legislative bodies (DPRD), and the justice sector; improve policy formulation through increased participation of the public and ensure its implementation; resolve IDPs situations within a framework of building community resilience and social cohesion; and Develop the local economy and reduce unemployment through cross-community economic enterprises, skills training, start-up capital, and business opportunities.
UNDP launched development project under the Galea – Tobelo – South Tobelo Area Recovery projects in 2002–2003, involved several projects for rural electrification, health facilities (capacity building), transportation, labour intensive projects of roads and drainage, social activities of cross community collaboration projects of culture and sports empowerment, construction of bridges, markets, improvement of drainage systems and bus terminals. Economy is picking up and there are clear signs of recovery. However, education facilities are still at the basic level. Tobelo and its neighbourhood are still considered a danger zone for foreigners.
Tabelo town has many attractions on the islands in its vicinity. One such island is the Tagalaya where sea is calm and the water is clear. The beaches are clean and have extensive spread of white sand. The major attraction here is the broad spread of coral reefs, which are rich in marine life at a depth of 2–10 metres (6.6–33 ft). The locale is also good for swimming and diving.
Other attractions in Tabelo neighbourhood are the many beaches, lakes, off-shore islands, forested hills and a volcano. Some of the well-known places are:
Luari beach, the ethnic Galelarese village of Luari to the north of Tobelo, is on the Pacific Ocean. It has clear and calm waters and is safe for swimming and canoeing. Snorkelling is also done on the cape to the north, from where sunset views, over Mount Tarakani and the coast of Galela, are impressive.
Kupakupa beach, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the town, has huge banyan trees on its shores, which makes the waters in the sheltered location inside the bay ideal for watersports, such as swimming, canoeing and snorkelling. The coral reef at its northern end is stated to be one of the finest. Pertamina harbour for oil-vessels is also located here.
Kumo beach on the Kumo island is the nearest to Tabelo town – a few minutes of motorised canoeing – is the busiest beach in North Halmahera. Its natural surroundings are scenic. Swimming is safe here.
Telaga Paca is a small crater lake close to Tobelo town to the south – a few km off the main road. The lake is set in a backdrop of thickly forested hills. There is also a small village by the same name Talaga Paca near the lake, which has a lookout area erected over stilts in the water to view the lake. A canoe could be hired to paddle in the lake. It is the source of drinking water to the village. Villagers do fishing in the lake.