Indigenous Marind in rural Merauke have traditionally depended on the forest for their subsistence / Sophie Chao
In the West Papuan district of Merauke, vast swaths of forest and savannah have been razed to make way for monocrop oil palm plantations and other agroindustrial projects over the last decade. These land conversions have resulted in an array of environmental problems, including widespread biodiversity loss, deforestation, critical soil erosion, and the pollution of soil, water and air. Most directly affected by these changes are the Indigenous Marind communities upon whose customary territories monocrop expansion is taking place, among whom I have been doing ethnographic fieldwork since 2013.
Although national policy has encouraged the expansion of oil palm plantations throughout the country over the past 20 years as a valuable export crop, it is only in the last decade or so that oil palm monocrops have been established in West Papua. With arable land growing scarce in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan, the oil palm frontier is now rapidly moving east, driven by national palm oil production targets, the perceived availability of unused lands in the region, and the need for further socioeconomic ‘development’ in West Papua.
Many Marind in rural Merauke report that oil palm projects are being designed and implemented without their free, prior and informed consent or ongoing participation. This has often resulted in conflict between communities and corporations and conflict within communities over matters of land rights, employment opportunities and compensation payments. Most significantly, the conversion of forest landscapes to monocrop plantations and the substitution of forest-based food systems with processed commodities have provoked growing malnutrition and food insecurity among Marind communities, who have traditionally relied on the forest for their subsistence. Malnutrition, or the lack of nutritionally rich and balanced foods, and food insecurity, or peoples’ limited access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food, have together created a condition of perpetual hunger – one that, as Marind frequently told me, cannot easily be satiated by processed foods.
A new kind of hunger
Certainly, experiences of hunger were far from unknown to Marind prior to the oil palm incursion. Different periods of the year were associated with the availability of different foods depending on seasonality, animal migration patterns and climactic conditions such as drought or monsoon. These periods, however, were never permanent but rather episodic, and the decline in one foodstuff was compensated by the abundance of another. In line with customary law, a range of different rituals and ceremonies helped ensure that food supplies were replenished over time and that the fertility of the soils and waters of the forest was maintained.
In contrast, the obliteration of vast areas of forest in Merauke today has resulted in a generalised scarcity of forest foods – sago, cassowary, wild pigs and fruit, among others. Animals and plants have fled or been decimated because of land clearing, forest burning and the substitution of biodiverse forests with industrial monocrop plantations. Just as non-human organisms find little to subsist on within the homogeneous environment of oil palm plantations, so too Marind say they are afflicted by a growing and unprecedented sense of hunger. As Gerfacius, a Marind elder, put it, ‘In the plantation, there is no freedom, no kin and no real food. In the plantation, there is just hunger and loneliness.’
But for Marind, food is also about much more than just nutritional intake. The particular values attributed to forest foods arise from the fact that the plants and animals from which these foods are derived are considered by Marind to be sentient kin with whom they share common ancestral dema, or spirits. Plants and animals share stories, myths and encounters with humans in the distant and near past, that together compose a vast body of traditional law and custom, passed on from generation to generation. Each species also shares a connection to a particular Marind clan, whose names commemorate these relations by way of an animal or plant prefix. For instance, members of the Balagaize clan are the ‘children of the crocodile’ (balagai meaning crocodile and ze meaning child in Marind).
Similarly, members of the Mahuze clan are the children of the dog, or mahu in Marind. Relations around feeding and being fed between Marind and their non-human forest kin are anchored in reciprocal respect and care. Eating forest foods means acknowledging that one is also food for others. In these mutual chains of consumption, humans, animals and plants participate together in a collective chain of nurture.
In contrast, imported commodities that are replacing native foods are described by many Marind as tasteless and unsatiating because, as Rosalina, a Marind mother of three put it, ‘they do not taste of the forest’. These foods, that include rice, instant noodles and biscuits, come from unknown places and are grown and processed by unknown people. These foods are not derived from plants and animals with whom Marind share intergenerational kinships and pasts. They are not procured or prepared by relatives or friends. And they lack the moral, cultural and emotional dimensions that imbue forest foods with meaning, flavour and nourishment. More than this, processed foods are said by Marind to exacerbate the hunger of those who consume them. Children, for instance, clamour for more food within hours of eating instant noodles. Women described snacking on processed biscuits throughout the day but always craving more. Young men also talked of having become addicted to rice, which they would eat in copious amounts without feeling full.
Eating the future
The disappearance of forest foods has had physically adverse effects on people. For instance, Selly, a young woman with whom I frequently walked the forest in search of medicinal herbs, spoke of her breasts becoming dry and her skin sallow from the absence of sago. Village men described how the scarcity of forest game had depleted their bodies of blood, fat and muscle. Many community members noted that their children’s skin had become thin and grey rather than glossy and taut. Experiencing hunger and witnessing the hunger of others is also a deeply emotional experience. People express feelings of sadness and anxiety as a result of food scarcity. They also describe a pervasive sense of loneliness caused by the severance of their connections to the forest and its past and present lifeforms. Many community members lamented the decline in collective hunting and foraging activities that had once sustained the mutual relationships of humans and non-humans in the forest.
Yet at the same time, many Marind are attracted to processed foods because they associate them with a modern way of life and see them as a welcome change from traditional diets. For instance, rural Marind villagers who have spent prolonged periods of time working or studying in Merauke City or Jayapura have adapted to urban diets and now prefer city foods over forest foods. Tensions also arise among Marind themselves over matters of food. This is particularly evident between young and old generations of Marind, who either embrace processed foods as a way of participating in modernity or reject them because they threaten to supersede traditional foods and the forest ecologies from which these foods are derived.
In many ways, then, tensions over what to eat or not to eat replicate on a small but daily scale a broader set of frictions provoked by oil palm expansion in Merauke. These include, for instance, whether to endorse or reject oil palm projects, whether to seek employment in the city or retain forest-based livelihoods, and whether to accept or resist cultural changes associated with the spread of capitalism. Different kinds of hunger, both literal and symbolic, are at play among Marind today. Some Marind hunger for a return to forest-based livelihoods that are anchored in custom and tradition. Others, meanwhile, hunger for new ways of living achieved through alternative forms of eating.
Voices for the hungry
What can Indigenous Marind’s experiences of hunger teach us about nutritional health, diet and food security in contemporary Merauke? First, Marind conceptualise the form and effects of food itself in deeply culturally embedded ways. In other words, local norms, values and relations imbue different foods with equally diverse meanings and values, that often go beyond solely quantitative or calorie measurements. From a Marind perspective, then, food is not just about what is eaten but also where food comes from, how it is produced, and by whom.
Second, Marind experiences point to the potentially adverse impacts on local food security of large-scale agribusiness projects that are themselves designed and implemented in the name of national food sovereignty. As many Marind pointed out to me, there is a need for inclusive, multi-stakeholder negotiated action between government, corporate and indigenous representatives to ensure that traditional food systems can survive oil palm.
Meeting these local needs will not be easy. After all, Marind themselves are divided over what counts as a meaningful and nourishing diet. But including indigenous voices in dialogue and policy making pertaining to food production and distribution remains critical to ensuring that their right to food, as both a nutritional and cultural resource, is adequately respected.
Sophie Chao (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney and an honorary postdoctoral fellow at Macquarie University. She previously worked for the human rights organisation Forest Peoples Programme and has published several books on indigenous peoples and the palm oil sector in Southeast Asia. See her website for more information.
In a show of his care for Papua, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited the easternmost territory Monday for his first outing since assuming office for his second term on Oct. 20. He danced with native Papuans, opened a bridge and promised more infrastructure development to improve the wellbeing of the people there.
He also went to Wouma Market in Wamena, the capital of the Papua highland regency of Jayawijaya, where The Jakarta Post found in an investigation that many non-native Papuans were killed in fires and native Papuans were shot to death in communal violence on Sept. 23. Regrettably, Jokowi did not say a single word about the tragedy, let alone the deadly shots that allegedly involved the Indonesian Military and the National Police, which had been sent to stop the riot.
Many native Papuans wounded in the violence did not go to the regional hospital for fear of unfair arrest, the Post discovered. Without narratives about truth and justice, Jokowi looks to play down the violence in Wamena last month as no more than buildings on fire and bickering between people. What happened in the town was a representation of multiple layers of inequality, injustice, lies and denial that had accumulated for decades.
There are native Papuans who have started to question whether the infrastructure was built for them or to facilitate the businesses of non-native Papuans. In fact, development in Papua has not only resulted in disparity between the natives and migrants, but has also dramatically changed the demographic landscape. The latest census in 2010 found that non-natives accounted for 22.8 percent of the Papua population, with more urban areas showing the trend of migrants outnumbering indigenous people.
Without truth and justice, especially for native Papuans, development of infrastructure such as roads, seaports, airports and bridges would only worsen inequality. The special autonomy for Papua mandates affirmative actions for indigenous people, but they are simply unprepared to compete with migrants.
When the government refuses to talk about the lives lost in numerous incidents in Papua, in Wamena, Nduga and elsewhere, they are sending a message of disrespect for human lives and dignity.
After the escalating antiracism movement in Papua recently, Jokowi should have changed his approach in dealing with Papua. His signature infrastructure development for Papuans does not amount to a token of respect they deserve after all those unsolved alleged human rights violations. As if to add insult to injury, the central government is considering yet again formation of new provinces in Papua as a quick fix to calm aspirations for a referendum.
Building a bridge to truth and justice is all that will win the Papuan people’s hearts and minds. Jokowi can start with, for example, setting up a commission for truth and reconciliation as mandated by the 2008 Law on special autonomy for Papua.
In his first official visit to Papua after his reelection, Jokowi glaringly missed a golden chance to mend ties between Jakarta and Papua. But it’s not too late for Jokowi to regain the trust of the Papuans. What matters the most is his will.
2) Indonesia ready to form new 'South Papua' province: Home Minister
News Desk The Jakarta Post
Jakarta / Wed, October 30, 2019 / 05:52 pm
Indonesia is ready to establish a new province called South Papua in the country’s easternmost territory, which is currently divided into the two provincial administrations of Papua and West Papua, a minister has said.
Following his visit to the region with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo over the weekend, Home Minister Tito Karnavian said he had received proposals from local figures about the establishment of two new provinces, namely South Papua and Pegunungan Tengah Papua.
“The central government might only accommodate the establishment of two provinces. We are currently mulling over this matter,” Tito said as quoted by kompas.com. “However, it’s already OK for South Papua [to become a new province].”
Although the government is still imposing a moratorium on the establishment of new provinces and districts, Tito said the government would thoroughly consider the proposals of the Papuans.
Tito also admitted that he had already met with Merauke Regent Frederikus Gebze to discuss matters related to the establishment of a new province.
If the plan is to be realized, Merauke was among the regencies in the southern part of Papua that would be designated as part of a new South Papua province. The remaining were Mappi, Boven Digoel and Asmat regencies.
“[Papua] Governor Lukas Enembe said he has no problem with [the establishment] of a South Papua province,” Tito said.
As for Merauke itself, Tito said the regency would be divided into two areas, such as Merauke city and Merauke regency.
Meanwhile, areas in Papua’s highlands to be designated under the proposed Pegunungan Tengah Papua Province were Mepago in Paniai and Lapago in Wamena, Jayawijaya regency, he said.
However, so far there was no certainty about the matter as local administration leaders in the highlands had yet to reach a conclusion about the plan. (dpk)
3) Papua's new iconic tourist attraction Youtefa Bridge opens to public
9 hours ago
President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), during his 13th visit to Papua on Oct 28, 2019, inaugurated Youtefa Bridge connecting the provincial capital Jayapura with Muara Tami District and Skouw sharing border with neighboring Papua New Guinea.
The bridge is far from ordinary since it spans stunning Youtefa Bay that has scenic beauty and serene environment as well as is surrounded by the Pie and Saweri Capes.
From the bridge, visitors can also spot Tobati Strait measuring only some 300 meters wide and providing access to Yos Sudarso Bay and also to the seas.
The Youtefa Bay area is indeed a destination for those looking to unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The scenic beauty also presents a plethora of options for photography.
Tourists will also come across a sago forest and a majestic green mangrove forest there, two striking rivers called Entrop and Acai, and beautiful isles located in the middle of the bay.
Another unique natural attraction found in the Youtefa Bay area is a natural field called Arising and Sinking field since the spot is only visible during low tide and vanishes from sight during high tide.
As most land areas in Youtefa are still forested, several species of flora and fauna are also found, such as various types of insects, reptiles, mammals, Lorius Lori exotic bird, and long-tailed monkeys.
Members of Papua tribes live in traditional villages called Tobati and Enggros surrounding the bay.
The work to construct Youtefa Bridge, also prevalently known as Holtekamp Bridge, began in 2015 and cost some Rp943.6 billion, with the objective of boosting the province's economic development.
It will cut short the time required to reach Skouw border from Jayapura, from 2.5 hours to 60 minutes.
The bridge was constructed by a consortium of state construction companies: PT PP, PT Hutama Karya, and PT Nindya Karya.
"I am upbeat about this Youtefa Bridge being cared about and kept clean," President Jokowi remarked while inaugurating this 732-meter-long and 21-meter-wide bridge.
In the meantime, Deputy Minister of Public Works and Public Housing (PUPR) Wempi Wetipo had earlier stated that the construction of Youtefa Bridge is part of President Jokowi's commitment to speeding up infrastructure development in Papua Province.
Hence, Wetipo urged the people, at large, especially those residing in Jayapura, the capital city of Papua, to maintain this long bridge.
"Please take care of this bridge. Do not vandalize it again. This is proof of a president's commitment to us," he noted, adding that President Jokowi truly cares for the rapid development of infrastructure facilities in Papua.
Wetipo drew attention to President Jokowi's focus on Papua also being apparent from the appointment of native Papuans, including himself, as his cabinet members.
Moreover, President Jokowi, during a meeting with several Papuan figures in Jakarta, discussed the possibility of erecting a Presidential Palace and Dormitory of Archipelago in Jayapura, the capital city of Papua Province.
Abisai Rollo, revered figure of the Port Numbay customary community, stated that construction of a presidential palace in Papua was one of the 10 requests conveyed by the Papuan figures during the meeting with the president.
Rollo affirmed he had provided 10 hectares of land to the state to build the Indonesian Presidential Palace, the work for which will commence in 2020.
The fact that Jokowi has visited Papua 13 times since December 2014 mirrors his administration’s special attention to the development programs in the country's easternmost province.
Jokowi undertook his first visit in December 2014, just over a month after being sworn in as Indonesia's seventh president in October 2014. During that time, the president promised the Papuans that he will pay frequent visits to the province.
His latest visit to Papua and West Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost provinces, took place on Oct 27-28, 2019, or just a week after his second-term presidential inauguration on Oct 20.
The Jokowi administration has developed various types of infrastructure, such as airports and roads on Papua Island, including a Trans-Papua road, spanning 4.6 thousand kilometers, which is expected to boost connectivity on Papua Island.
The Trans-Papua road cuts short the time needed for the transportation of goods, logistics, and people's movement in Papua, which has difficult terrain, as a large part of its land area is still covered by thick forest and swamps.
The government has allocated sufficient funds, reaching Rp85.7 trillion, for development programs in Papua.
Development activities in Papua face various security challenges, but the government is determined that the development programs should nonetheless continue.
Despite security challenges and the soaring cost, the government remains committed to building infrastructure in Papua, including the power lines, to realize social welfare, Jokowi had earlier remarked.
4) 385 Wamena riot survivors keen to return to city: military
14 hours ago
Jayapura, Papua (ANTARA) - Some 385 survivors of the recent Wamena rioting are eager to return to Jayawijaya District’s capital city following President Joko Widodo’s working visit to the city, XVII/Cenderawasih Regional Military Command spokesman Col Eko Daryanto stated.
The survivors also believe that Wamena's security situation has been restored, he revealed in a press statement that ANTARA received in Jayapura, the capital city of Papua Province, on Tuesday.
To this end, Social Affairs Minister Juliari P. Batubara has appealed to Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto to facilitate the Wamena riot survivors looking to get back to the city, he stated.
"In response to this request, TNI Commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto has ordered us at the XVII/Cenderawasih Regional Military Command and Silas Papare Air Base in Jayapura to provide the Indonesian Air Force Hercules C-130 cargo aircraft for three days," he noted.
Owing to the secure and conducive condition, the Wamena riot survivors are keen to return to the city. This will aid in restoring the city's economy, Eko Daryanto remarked, adding that the TNI will help transport them to Wamena.
President Widodo's visit to Wamena was aimed at ensuring a secure situation in the city, and he had also ordered the related authorities to conclude the reconstruction of Wouma Market within two weeks.
On Oct 10, TNI Commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto had made a solemn promise to facilitate the survivors of the recent Wamena rioting seeking refuge in Jayapura and several other cities of Papua keen on returning to Wamena.
The TNI commander had readied the Hercules C-130 cargo aircraft for transporting people looking to return to Wamena hit by a deadly riot on Sept 23.
The Wamena rioting has caused misery to scores of Indonesians. The incident not only resulted in the killing of 33 innocent civilians but it also left several thousand survivors with no option but to take refuge by abandoning their burned and destroyed properties.
Several survivors, initially from provinces, including West Sumatra, South Sulawesi, East Java, and Banten, have also returned to their hometowns.
The rioting was fueled by the spread of hoaxes through social media platforms that infuriated its residents, Papua Police Chief Inspector General Rudolf A. Rodja stated.
President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo meets with provincial government officials, tribal leaders and other dignitaries in Wamena, Papua, on Monday. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Staff Office)
Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said on Monday that he would consider a proposal for the establishment of a new province in the mountainous central part of Papua, albeit in a disapproving tone.
The request for a third province on the island came from community leaders and religious figures during a meeting with the president in Wamena, Papua.
The president responded by saying that the government had placed a moratorium on the establishment of new provinces and districts, as he had been receiving many such proposals.
"To speak frankly from the start; we did place a moratorium on the establishment [of new districts and provinces] across Indonesia," Jokowi was quoted by the Presidential Staff Office as saying during the gathering.
"Why? Because there are already 183 proposals for new provinces, districts or municipalities on my desk. Once I approve one of them, others will line up in front of my door every day," the president said.
However, he indicated that he would give special consideration to Papua's Central Mountain area upon his return to Jakarta.
"But especially for the Central Mountain area – please hold your applause – I will follow up," he said to applause from the audience.
The Central Mountain area is home to the indigenous Mee Pago and La Pago people, and it comprises 10 of the 29 districts in Papua Province.
The proposal was put forward by Bevadigi Balom, a local leader representing an association of Central Mountain communities.
Sixty-one tribal and community leaders from Papua visited the State Palace in Jakarta last month to ask for the creation of five new provinces to accommodate the political aspirations of various indigenous peoples in Indonesia's easternmost region.
They argued that the two existing provincial governments were unable to manage hundreds of Papuan tribes, each with its own culture and customs.
The president said at the time that the best he could do was to approve the creation of two or three new provinces on the island. But he pointed out that it was both very difficult and costly to set up a new province, and that the process required comprehensive and careful assessment.
West Papua was established in 1999 after it was split off from Papua. The two provinces enjoy special autonomy to accelerate development and boost prosperity.
The island is shared with neighboring Papua New Guinea.
2) Jokowi's Infrastructure Approach in Papua Criticized
Translator: Dewi Elvia Muthiariny Editor: Petir Garda Bhwana
29 October 2019 07:35 WIB
TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A researcher of Papuan studies at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Aisah Putri Budiarti, assessed an approach based on infrastructure often implemented by the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to end the conflict in Papua was not effective as the method was too partial as the sole solution.
“Infrastructure development has not been proven to solve issues [in Papua] during the last five years. Even a conflict escalated at the end of the President’s first term due to stigma and discrimination,” Aisah told Tempo via a phone call, Monday, October 28.
Aisah reiterated that the conflict from August to September revealed that economic development alone could not resolve racial issues and discrimination against Papuans. If the method was repeated in the President’s second term, she doubted there would be a resolution.
"The government cannot work partially, focusing on just economic development while setting aside socio-political issues or halting them to be resolved," Aisah added.
Unfortunately, the researcher observed that the government was still applying such a method. During the inaugural speech in October, the President said he would continue his work orientation towards economic development.
"The government needs to create a breakthrough to solve problems in Papua holistically," Aisah remarked.
She outlined at least four root problems in the country’s easternmost province as conveyed by LIPI, namely political status and history of integration of Papua's entry into Indonesia, development failure, alleged human rights violations, and stigma-discrimination.
Moreover, Aisah opined that the government's most strategic effort to do was to commit to establishing a dialogue as Jokowi’s government did at the beginning of the first term.
3) Australian envoy, Indonesian minister discuss various issues
6 hours ago
Jakarta (ANTARA) - Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Gary Quinlan AO met with Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD at the latter's office in Jakarta on Tuesday to discuss a host of issues.
The visit was aimed at introducing himself to Mahfud MD who was appointed to the post of Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs only last week, Quinlan said while speaking to the press following the meeting.
Asked whether they discussed the Papua issue at the meeting, he said they did not discuss anything specific. However, the meeting discussed a wide range of issues including legal cooperation, counter-terrorism, cybercrime, narcotics, child exploitation, and other legal issues.
"We did not talk about specific issues. We talked about issues, mainly regarding operations, legal security cooperation, counter-terrorism, law enforcement," he said.
The two also discussed cooperation and collaboration between the two countries in various sectors.