Tag Archives: Muting

New film ‘The Mahuzes’, documents conflicts between indigenous Merauke people and agribusiness

from our partners at AwasMIFEE

First Published: February 20, 2016

‘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.”

Landowner clan shows PT Agriprima Cipta Persada in Muting the limit for land clearing

In Muting, near Merauke, oil palm company PT Agriprima Cipta Persada (ACP) is expanding its plantation area by clearing forest on which local indigenous people hold customary ownership rights.

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The Ndiken Malindan clan has planted traditional customary land marking poles to delineate the limits that agribusiness can work on their land.

Previously in 2013, PT ACP had already cut down the forest and cleared around 2000 hectares of land, allocated to the local transmigrant population but some distance from their village, to plant oil palm.

The forestry ministry still has not accepted PT ACP’s request to release land (currently classified as production forest that can be converted) from the state forest estate. Even without the permits, the company has continued to clear the forest around the Alfasera 4 transmigration area, and the area cleared continues to increase.

At the border of the forest belonging to Alfasera 3, the head of the Ndiken Malindan clan, Pius Ndiken, has planted poles which are a traditional symbol to forbid the company to undertake activities in the forest for which his clan holds the customary rights. The pole is wooden, and is tied with coconut leaves, with red paint around the tip, driven into the ground around the forest’s edge.

“We are making this customary blockade because the company is not keeping to its promises to resource the local population”, said Pius Ndiken. Pius had previously been recruited as one of ACP’s security guards, but was forced to leave his job because there was no indication that the company was going to fulfil the promises it had made, for example to build housing, help to pay for education and because the company was not paying a reasonable wage.

According to Paulus Ndiken, former village head in Muting, the reason the people are blocking the company is because they know that the land which has been ceded to the company [by other clans] is actually part of the territory of two transmigration settlements, and not ‘adat forest’ [where the indigenous people are the undisputed owners].

Pusaka