‘The Mahuzes’, a film about conflicts between indigenous people and agribusiness companies in Merauke, was released in Indonesian last year, and now it is available with English subtitles. It’s one of a series of documentaries produced as part of the ‘Ekspedisi Indonesia Biru’, a one-year road-trip on motorbikes by filmmakers Dandhy Laksono and Ucok Suparta, visiting diverse communities around the archipelago, often communities in struggle.
The Mahuzes follows one clan of Marind people in Muting village, where oil palm companies have started clearing land in the last few years on five massive plantations. The effects of these plantations are having a major impact – even the water from the Bian River has become undrinkable. The Mahuze clan is resisting – refusing to sell their land, erecting customary barriers to forbid the company from entering – but the company (PT Agriprima Persada Mulia) just pulls up their boundary markers. As well as these direct conflicts with the plantation companies, we see how they attempt to deal with the conflicts that inevitably arise when irresponsible companies show up with compensation money – there is an emotional peacemaking ceremony between the Marind and the neighbouring Mandodo people, but also anger in meetings that some elders in their own clan may have struck a secret deal with the company.
The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate was originally launched as a massive industrial agriculture project in 2010, but it failed to reach the stated ambition in its original plan, and the cluster of oil palm plantations around Muting were some of the only developments that have actually started work in the last years. However, in May 2015 President Joko Widodo travelled to Merauke to relaunch the plan to convert over a million hectares of forest and savannah to mechanised rice production. The filmmakers also visit the site of the new rice development, revealing that once again the central government is ordering a mega project without due consideration of the local social and environmental conditions. One issue is the water – Irawan, who works for the water provider, explains that most of the water in the flat Kurik sub-district comes from rainfall. How could these conditions possibly support huge areas of irrigated rice-fields?
The Marind people’s staple food is sago, and sago palms grow abundantly in groves in the forest. As Darius Nerob explains in the film “If we plant rice, it’s 6 months before we can eat. But with sago, any day we need, we can just go and fell a tree… This tree can feed a family for half a year…. Even though the transmigrant program has existed for 33 years, Marind people have stuck with sago, they haven’t shifted to rice.”
Merauke: A member of the Regional Legislative Assembly of Merauke has once against drawn attention to the activities now under way by a company called PT Dongeng Prabawa. The crucial issue he raised relates to the sago trees belonging to the people living in various kampungs in the District of Ngguti.
‘I want to say to the company that if the sago trees which have been protected and looked after by the Marind people for generations are felled to make way for an investment project, you will be killing the indigenous Papuan people. Sago is the basic foodstuff for the indigenous people and it is unacceptable for the you to destroy their trees.’.
Hendrikus Hengky Ndiken said areas where the sago trees grow must not be dealt with in this way by the company. It is unacceptable for these areas where local people live to be exploited. What are the people going to eat if their source of food is destroyed?
He also insisted that the company abide by the agreement to pay for their land.which amounts to Rp30 billion. They must pay up now and not pay in instalments. ‘They have billions of rupiahs so how can it be that they cannot comply with their obligations to the people? If you can’t pay up, then you had better get out, he said.
He went on to say that he had visited a kampung called kampung Senegi and asked the people what they had received from the company. They said that they had received nothing except for a church.
The local district chief Romanus Mbaraks said that not all the trees belonging to the people had been destroyed. In some sacred areas, the people had guarded their trees. ‘I ask the people to report to us if their sago trees have been destroyed by the company.’
On 29th August, Romanus Mbaraka, the Bupati or Regency Leader ofMerauke, travelled to Kampung Wambi in Okaba District, to try to convince local people that plantation development did not necessarily have to be a bad thing. Hundreds of people from surrounding villages came to hear him speak. A local journalist with tabloidjubi.com also travelled to the event, and took the opportunity to speak toadministrative and customary leaders from neighbouring villages about the fear caused by a shooting incident two months previously, and also about the ongoing opposition to all investment plans.
The People of Woboyu Traumatised by Gunshots
The people of Kampung Woboyu until now still feel traumatized by two gunshots which were fired into the air by someone believed to be a member of the security forces.
The shooting incident occurred in July. Nikodemus Kahol, the customary chief in Woboyu told tabloidjubi.com that the two shots were fired at around 11pm at night. At the time, the villagers were very scared and traumatized and feelings of fear still linger until the present day.
When asked why the shooting might have occurred, Kahol claimed that at the time there was a delegation from a company that was collecting data about the people, claiming that they would provide aid. However the people were not certain what the company meant when they talked about aid. The company was not collecting data about all of the people in the area, only some of them.
That caused a commotion amongst the people, Kahol continued, and so two shots were fired into the air. “To tell the truth we were shocked and started to panic when we heard the shots. People went to hide in their houses”, he said.
Questionned separately, Suprayogi, the chief of police for Okaba district, said that he would visit the village in the near future. “We will go there to find out whether there really were shots fired, as we have been told by local people,” he said.
The People of Okaba, Ngguti and Tubang oppose investment.
In general, people in villages around Okaba Ngguti and Tubang districts oppose plans for investment in the area. This opposition is in consideration of the fact that forest habitat will be lost.
That was the message of Kampung Wambi’s village head, Kristoforus Basik-Basik when taboidjubi.com spoke to him. In his opinion, in this wide carpet of forest is a diverse ecosystem, starting with tree kangaroos, wild pigs, deer and other animals.
Therefore if the forest is destroyed, the ecosystem it supports will also be lost.
“We have unanimous agreement to oppose any company, wherever they might come from, that comes and wants to invest. The reason is because the people are bound to suffer a great loss if the forest is cut down. I’ll repeat that once more, we do not want our forest habitat destroyed just like that”, he said.
The Customary Chief of Wambi, Wilhelmus Kaize added that the ancestors have reminded us that the land cannot be surrendered to anyone, and that includes investors. It is better to continue to safeguard it and take care of it, because a lot of wildlife can be found there.
Merauke’s Bupati (Regency Leader), Romanus Mbaraka said that if the people refuse to accept the presence of corporate investors, then the government should never force the issue. “We will grow in our own way. However, these corporate investors are part of national government policy. I hope that village leaders can help the people to understand correctly. So they do not misinterpret the situation”, he requested.
Around 100 people from the SSUMAWOMA Malind Woyu Maklew Intellectual Forum are currently occupying PT Mayora and PT Astra’s company offices on Jalan Ternate, Merauke City.
The occupation started at 11.00 local time, involving youth and community members from the Malind Muli Woyu Maklew sub-ethnic group, from villages such as Wamal, Dokib, Wambi, Dodalim and Kimam.
Their demand is that the two companies stop their operations and drop their investment plans for sugar-cane plantations in Okaba, Ngguti, Tubang and Ilwayab. At the time of writing, two hours after the action started, the companies had yet to respond to the people’s demands. The action was being guarded by dozens of local police.
Recently it was reported that the companies had used Brimob military police and the accusation of separatism to force people in affected villages to accept an agreement with the company.
After villagers in Yowid village reported that they had been intimidated into signing PT Mayora’s document, the SSUMAWOMA forum recorded video testimony of the elders who had been forced to sign (which can be watched here: https://awasmifee.potager.org/?p=472 ).
Then yesterday ( Sunday 11/8) the SSUMAWOMA forum organised a meeting and press conference in the Payum beach area of Merauke city. As tabloidjubi.com reported the discussion, there was heated argument between the people attending, but in the end all present were agreed on the need to oppose the two companies.
Aside from the intimidation experienced in Yowid, the discussion focussed on some of the other impacts that villagers are already experiencing as companies engage in the first phase of their plans, to survey the land and open negotiations with indigenous landowners. From Tabloid Jubi’s report:
A well-known Marind intellectual, Leonardus Moyuend, explained how villagers in the area were already feeling the pressure and can no longer sleep well. They also cannot go about their everyday activities as before, knowing about the companies’ plans to start operations around their villages. “To be honest, when the companies move in, it totally destroys the arrangement between one village and its neighbours,” he explained.
The problem, Leonardus continued, was that each village would make different claims about the boundaries of their land. “We never ad clear information from the government about this major program. If there is really a desire for companies to operate here, then all concerned parties such as the District Legislative Council, indigenous leaders from each village and other stakeholders should sit down with the government and investors and start discussions again from the beginning”, he said.
Instead what has been happening, he said, is that companies move in to the different villages on the quiet and then tell some of the people there that they are going to invest. “This is a really bad method the companies are using. It is the reason we have a strong commitment to resist the various areas of work they are focussing on”, he said.
He added that village elders had already given a mandate to local intellectuals to speak out and make interventions to oppose investment activities in their villages “We will never stay passive in the face of the companies’ efforts” he stated.
Meanwhile, an indigenous leader from kampung Wambi, Wilhelmus Bole Kaize said that he had already held meetings together with local indigenous people around ten times. The outcome was always that the people of that village opposed investment. The reason was because it would destroy the natural environment the people had taken care of through the years.
According to him, the area around Kampung Wambi should be used for tourism and culture. The outlook could be promising. In that way, there would be no more possibilities for corporate investors to move in. “We are completely agreed to resist the investors,” he said.
Three years after the MIFEE megaproject was launched, opening up Merauke Regency to plantation companies, initiatives by local people to organise to resist the companies appear to be on the increase. While the SSUMAWOMA forum is mostly concerned with the western part of the MIFEE area, a week ago on August 3rd another meeting brought together villagers from all over the central area of Merauke Regency. In that area companies such as Medco, Rajawali and Wilmar are operating and land is also being taken over for agriculture by transmigrants. That meeting also demanded that the government withdraw the permits for companies that are destroying the forest.
Johanes Mahuze, from Tanah Tinggi explained the predicament: “Real Marind people live with the land and the forest and wildlife are kept safe. We sit, we stand and we live from the land. We carry out our traditional rituals from the land and the forest, and the animals provide our food. If the land, forest and animals are all gone and we no longer own them, then the Marind Anim people are wiped out and become Plastic Marind, having to buy what we need for our traditions from the shops. We don’t want to become Plastic Marind”.
We will try to provide information on the outcome of the occupation action when we receive it.
Kampung Yowid, like other villages in Tubang and Ilwayab districts, has taken a determined and united stance against plantation companies, which have recently been moving in to the area. But now indigenous leaders in Kampung Yowid have been intimidated into signing a document from PT Mayora, one of Indonesia’s leading food brands, which is trying to take over their land for a sugar cane plantation. The people were accused of being OPM separatists by the police mobile brigade members the company employs as guards, who also accused them of storing weapons in their indigenous meeting house (adat house). Knowing that villagers were scared and thinking they might have to run to the forest, some community leaders felt they had no option but to sign the document. The contents of the document are unknown – villagers were never given a copy. Now, as before, the community states its clear opposition to Mayora’s plantation plan.
Merauke, like the rest of West Papua, is a militarized zone bearing the scars of fifty years of conflict. Now, as plantation companies continue to push their way in, it is not the first time that companies have been accused of using the ‘separatist’ stigma as a way to threaten indigenous people to give up their ancestral land. The people are quite reasonably afraid – they know that elsewhere security forces have unleashed violent repression countless times after labelling people as separatists.
This kind of link between military might and corporate ambition also has a clear parallel in Suharto’s New Order regime: plantation companies seized huge swathes of peasant farmers’ land in Sumatra in the 1970s and 1980s, threatening to kill people as communists if they resisted. Many communities are still trying to reclaim this land through land occupations and other forms of resistance.
The elders of Kampung Yowid who were forced to sign have now testified on video of how they were the victims of Mayora’s manipulation. Below, the Woyu Maklew sub-ethnic group Intellectual Forum and JPIC-MSC have also provided further background information on what happened.
Merauke, Friday (2 August 2013), the Woyu Maklew Sub-ethnic groupIntellectual Forum wishes to make clear that PT Mayora has violated the rights of the Marind Woyu Maklew indigenous people. The traditional (adat) chief and village head were forced to sign a document which PT Mayora presented to them, after the village was threatened with the stigma of being considered OPM members. A few villagers which supported the company were used to terrorise the others into accepting PT Mayora’s prescence in Yowid, Dokib, Wamal, Bibikem, Woboyu, Wanam and Dodalimvillages.
According to Ambrosius Laku Kaize, Kampung Yowid’s adat chief, he was forced to sign after pressure from PT Mayora’s staff. “I was forced to sign, because the villagers of Kampung Yowid had been accused of being OPM members”, he said. Mr Kaize went on to explain how he, theadministrative village head and the head of the Geb-Zami clan had all been similarly intimidated after PT Mayora made clear that the people of Kampung Yowid would be considered OPM if they didn’t sign the company’s letter.
The Woyu Maklew Sub-ethnic group Intellectual Forum’s monitoring hasrevealed that Marind people in the affected villages ( Yowid, Dokib, Wamal, Dodalim, Woboyu, Bibikem, Wanam and Uliuli) have not receivedreliable and truthful information about any policy for investment on their ancestral lands in general, and about PT Mayora’s presence in particular. This is an indication that the investment process is already violating the Marind indigenous people’s right to receive informationwithout compulsion and before investment activities commence. Aside from that, Marind people from the Woyu Maklew sub-ethnic group have already made clear that they oppose all investment on their ancestral land,because they do not have the skills required to get work with companies.
PT Mayora has already brought insecurity into the lives of local people,by going around villages in the area escorted by fully-armed Brimob from Merauke Police Station, and now by inciting individuals from the villages, the company has also created an unsafe situation by sowing fear. Further Background Information
On 21st May 2013, PT Mayora and PT Astra’s management met with Marind customary landowners in the Swiss-Bel Hotel on Jalan Raya Mandala in Merauke city. In this meeting, the people, through the Woyu Maklew Sub-ethnic group Intellectual Forum, expressed their opposition to the two companies. The reasons for this can be read in the forum’s letter here: https://awasmifee.potager.org/?p=352
Villagers from Woboyu, Bibikem, Dadalim, Yowid, Wambi, Wanam, Wamal and Dokib villages have all made their opinion clear. In March and April this year each village has erected markers as a way to use customary law to prohibit the companies’ presence, also putting up signs with messages like “Oppose the companies, because we don’t have much land, and because we want to defend the Marind culture and our children and grandchildren’s future”.
While most of the people have maintained their strong stance against Mayora and Astra, two villagers from Yowid who had been won over by the company, together with one of PT Mayora’s Brimob guards and the company’s staff, got hold of a leaflet about human rights in Papua. The leaflet had been put together by the Merauke branch of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) and was a summary of news from the mass media about the human rights situation. The deputy adat chief admitted that it was him who had distributed the leaflet so that people could read about the human rights situation. After all, they have the right to know.
However he was shocked to see how PT Mayora reacted towards the community after seeing this leaflet. As the adat chief explains in the video, PT Mayora started claiming that villagers were OPM separatists. The company also reportedly claimed that the adat house was used for storing weapons or OPM equipment.
During their monitoring from the last part of July to 4th August, JPIC MSC Indonesia and the Woyu Maklew Sub-ethnic group Intellectual Forum found that the people of Yowid had been severely frightened as a result of Mayora’s accusations that they were OPM separatists. There was a plan for the women and children to seek refuge in the forest. On 27th July, a meeting was held in the adat house (the local name is Sawiya) to discuss the fear they were living under. In that meeting village leaders told of how they had been forced to sign the document. Others didn’t sign, but their signatures were forged by the pro-Mayora villagers.
They never received a copy of the document they signed, and this made the community even more nervous. They were concerned that word would spread amongst neighbouring villages that they had given away their land to the company. All villages in the area had agreed some time ago that no-one should sell their land, and anyone who betrayed that agreement would be sure to face harsh repercussions.
On 27th July 2013, villagers wrote a letter to the Merauke Regency leader, Papuan Provincial Investment Board and Indonesian National Land Agency explaining that Kampung Yowid continues to oppose PT Mayora.
-Mayora’s brands include Kopiko coffee and sweets, Energen cerealdrinks, Torabika coffee, Bengbeng chocolate wafers and Slai O’lai biscuits. They are mostly sold in Indonesia, but selected lines are exported to around 50 countries worldwide.