With a feast of grubs, a tribe makes its case for forest stewardship
by Hans Nicholas Jong on 30 October 2018
- The indigenous Kombai tribe of Indonesia’s Papua region are seeking recognition of their right to manage their ancestral lands, in a bid to thwart the encroachment of oil palm plantations in the last great expanse of unspoiled wilderness in the country.
- They face legal hurdles to their bid, including a lack of clarity over the status of previously defunct logging concessions on their land, and onerous requirements to prove to the authorities their ties to the land.
- The administration of President Joko Widodo has pledged to issue customary forest titles to indigenous communities nationwide, but none of the tribes in Papua has received such recognition.
- Activists say empowering indigenous communities to manage their own forests is a key step to fighting climate change, because these communities tend to be better stewards of the forest than their own governments.
BOVEN DIGOEL, Indonesia — It’s a hot and humid morning, and birds and insects are chirping deep in a lush rainforest in the eastern Indonesian province of Papua.
All of a sudden, the sounds are drowned out by tribal chanting and the thunder of dozens of people marching, echoing through the forest like a mild earthquake. Brandishing bows and arrows, they sing and dance their way toward the village of Uni in Boven Digoel district.
These men are guests from nearby villages, heading to a feast hosted by the indigenous Kombai tribe here in the southern swamplands of Papua. The centerpiece of the feast is Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, a beetle better known as the sago palm weevil, whose larval grub is considered a delicacy here.
The party lasts all night, the grubs served up with sago starch and wrapped in sago palm leaves, and the revelers dance and sing, talk and exchange goods with one another.
“If there’s any animosity [between clans], we’ll throw the sago grub festival to bring back peace,” Yambumo Kwanimba, the head of the festival, tells Mongabay. “If we’re dancing, that means we’ve already made peace. No more killing and no more animosity.”
The sago grub feast is the most important festival for the Kombai, for whom sago is a dietary staple and the putative source of life. It’s a festival that redresses imbalances in life, such as natural disasters and conflicts, and brings peace and harmony back to the community.
This year’s sago grub festival, however, holds special meaning for the Kombai people. The forests where they cultivate their sago palms are under threat of being parceled out by the local government to agribusiness giants looking to plant a different type of palm: oil palm, whose rapid spread across Sumatra and Borneo has already devastated vast swaths of forest there.
“I throw this sago grub festival to protect our ancestral forests so that they don’t get taken away by companies,” Yambumo says. “If we lose our forests, then we also lose our tradition.”………………………...