They say money does not grow on trees, but one religious leader assured his followers that it will happen, that the leaves on a tree he hacked will turn into money. He would, later on, serve his followers a special concoction "made with the highest of gods," in which after consuming it, the people would become gods. Instead of becoming gods, those followers ended up dead—all 68 of them.
The Sinasa Village Incident, which happened on September 9, 1985, was a mass murder/suicide orchestrated by religious leader and medicine man, Mangayanon Butaog. The incident was named after the location of the mass murder/suicide, Sinasa Village in Davao City, wherein it took the lives of 68 people.
Butaog hacked a tree and promised his followers that its leaves would turn into money. Later on, he returned to them after a meeting with "the highest of gods" on a mountaintop, then prepared the meal he would personally serve to them—gruel. Gruel is a type of cereal made of either ground oats, wheat, rye, or rice, boiled in water or milk. It is a thinner version of porridge. Historically, it was a meal that peasants often ate. Butaog made his killer version of gruel—laced with poison.
After serving the food, Butaog told his followers, "After eating, go to sleep so that when you wake up, you will not remember you were human beings… because you will be gods."
Except his followers never got to wake up again, but fortunately, five men survived by pretending to eat the deadly meal.
Generoso Bangunan, the local cultural minorities officer in Davao City, got to interview Pininsaan, one of the survivors. Pininsaan recalled that after being served the food, Butaog told them, "Go to sleep, when you awake, you will be gods." Pininsaan and four others knew what was in the food, but unfortunately for the others, they did not. When the five men were given their share of the meal, they pretended to eat it, then spat it out, lay down, and pretended to be asleep.
Upon reaching the mountainside death site in Sinasa Village, soldiers, led by an intelligence officer, witnessed the bodies of men, women, and children who were lying "like they were sleeping" inside a bunkhouse and huts. This gruesome discovery happened 11 days after they died. After Butaog poisoned his followers, he hacked his wife and two children, ages 4 and 2, to death when they refused to eat the food. He then proceeded to kill himself by plunging a knife in his belly.
Bangunan and his men hiked to the village's edge but stopped 300 yards from the bodies due to its powerful stench. He sent three of his men to count the bodies hurriedly. The bodies were lined up on the houses' floors as though they died in their sleep—one of which was the tribal leader.
Butaog was able to convince the tribal leader and the other people to eat the gruel then go to sleep, and when they wake up, they will be in paradise.
Butaog may not have been able actually to turn leaves into money, but at least his promise of paradise to his followers did come true.
The Sinasa Village Incident happened in 1985. Seven years ago, in 1978, a similar incident happened—only this time, its death toll consisted of more than 900 Americans. Until the September 11 attacks, the Jonestown tragedy on November 18, 1978, had the largest number of American civilian casualties in a single non-natural event.
Members of a San Francisco-based religious group called the "People's Temple" died after drinking poison, ordered by their leader Reverend Jim Jones.
Jones was a minister that preached unconventional socialist and progressive ideas to a predominantly African-American congregation called the "People's Temple." In the 1970s, the congregation grew in size and was sought after even by local politicians in San Francisco, such as Harvey Milk.
Jones founded the Temple in Indianapolis, whose church stood out for its multicultural membership at a time of racial segregation. After reading an article about how to survive a nuclear catastrophe, California was cited as one of the safest places to be. Jones persuaded the Temple to move to California due to his paranoia and concerns about a potential thermonuclear war; thus, their relocation to California.
Jones became paranoid over the growing media scrutiny of the Temple's suspicious activities; that's why he and his followers moved to Jonestown, an agricultural settlement in Guyana.
The People's Temple was branded as a cult that blindly devoted themselves to a man and a cause at the expense of their own lives and livelihoods, but their facade of a diverse mix of racial backgrounds and age groups drew people into their progressive and activist ideals. "We all felt that we were a family rather than a church."
Tim and Grace Toen were a married couple and followers of Jones during the Temple's early years. In 1972, Grace gave birth to a boy named John Victor Stoen, and Jones claimed to be the father. Grace defected from the church in 1976, and left her son with Jones, fearing for her and her son's life. She and Tim sought the help of U.S. courts to get John back, but by that time, John was already in Guyana, with Jones refusing to give him back. Jones feared that if he gave John back, the families of other Temple members might also fight for the return of their loved ones from Jonestown. In the end, John was among the 304 people aged 17 years or younger that was found dead in Jonestown.
U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown due to his concerns over the welfare of Jones' followers. Ryan wrote to Jones, requesting an invitation to the settlement. Jones and his followers opposed the idea but subsequently gave in. During Ryan's visit, some of the settlers expressed how they wanted to return to the States—an act that Jones saw as a betrayal. After checking out the settlement, Ryan was shot to death, along with four other people, by Temple gunmen at an airstrip.
Following those murders, Jones commanded his followers to drink punch laced with cyanide, with the children to drink it first. Over 900 people died in Jonestown while Jones was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head. There are conspiracies of whether he took his own life or his nurse, Anne Moore, fatally shot him first before killing herself in the same manner.
In popular culture, Kool-Aid was believed to be what the people drank laced with cyanide—but it wasn't Kool-Aid; rather, it was a similar brand called Flavor-Aid.
There were several survivors in Jonestown, such as an elderly African-American woman who slept inside her cabin throughout the whole ordeal. She woke up the next day to bodies covered in sheets; one of which was her sister's. "There were all of those dead being put in bags… people I'd known and loved… God knows I never wanted to be there in the first place. I never wanted to go to Guyana to die. I didn't think Jim would do a thing like that. He let us down."
Some seem to think that the Jonestown incident was a mass murder, not mass suicide. When Jones followed through with his suicide plan, there were armed guards with guns and crossbows to ensure that nobody would get out alive. Some victims were found to have marks on their body, suggesting that they were injected with the poison. "Jones was going to kill everybody no matter what."
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