Moi Resistance

Standing up to Indonesia

by Anna Laine

LAND IN INDONESIA "is the single greatest source of dispute, poverty and disenchantment for the agrarian population ... namely between 70 and 80 percent of the people," according to SKEPHI, one of the country's major environmental organizations. The Indonesian government's power to subvert traditional land rights is enshrined in the country's law, and the government has granted massive logging concessions to both Indonesian and foreign logging companies. An estimated 1.2 million hectares of Indonesia's natural forest were felled in 1990.

 Over the past several years, loggers, encouraged by the Indonesian government, have set their sights on Irian Jaya, or West Papua, an area that is still over 80 percent forested. West Papua, as its indigenous inhabitants prefer to call it, forms the western half of the island of New Guinea. Since annexing West Papua in 1963, Indonesia has repressed the territory's Melanesian inhabitants and sought to exploit its rich resources, including rainforests, copper deposits and oil reserves. During the same three decades, the island's Free Papua Movement has been fighting for the right to self-determination.

 West Papua is home to 31 million hectares of natural rainforest - the world's largest remaining virgin rainforest outside the Amazon. Such forests make the province notoriously inaccessible to outsiders. For Indonesian officials in Jakarta, this lack of access represents a double-sided obstacle. It hampers both "national security" efforts - the army has been waging a guerilla war against the Free Papua Movement since 1963 - and the "East Indonesia Development" drive which seeks to fund repayment of Indonesia's enormous foreign debt by opening up West Papua and other eastern territories to external exploitation. President Suharto recently proclaimed road-building in Irian Jaya a national priority in order to improve access to the forests for the army, miners, loggers and anyone else with an interest in the "development" of West Papua.

 The developers are meeting with considerable resistance, however. The West Papuan Moi people are waging a bold struggle in one of the most militarized provinces in the country against the appropriation of their ancestral lands by both the logging companies and the highly repressive Suharto government.

Moi protests

 About 4,000 Moi live on the "beak" of the Bird's Head Peninsula of West Papua, in the town of Sorong and its surrounding areas. Since February 1991, they have been resisting the encroachments of PT Intimpura, an Indonesian logging company that has been granted an enormous 339,000 hectare logging concession in the heart of the Moi ancestral lands. None of the local Moi people were consulted by the government or the company before PT Intimpura moved in.

A woman from the Moi village of Aimas expresses her anger in "Last Stand of the Moi," a report produced by the Canada-based Endangered Peoples' Project (EPP) which documents local resistance to logging in West Papua. "The [Indonesian] government has come in and allowed the company to work in the territory of Aimas village. And we the village people didn't know anything about it ... The company is just working away, without giving compensation to Aimas village," she says.

 In these words lie the key aspects of the government's approach to "development." Not only are local people excluded from decisions to develop their lands, but they are rarely paid compensation. Hasjrul Harahap, the Minister of Forestry, spelled out the government stance on indigenous land rights in a May 1989 edition of the Japan Times: "In Indonesia, the forest belongs to the State and not to the people ... [T]hey have no right to compensation."

 In granting logging concessions on peoples' ancestral lands, the Jakarta-based government effectively assumes ownership of the land. Indonesia's Basic Agrarian Law only recognizes adat (traditional) land control, "as far as it is not adversary to the interests of the nation and the State." As a joint United Nations Development Program/World Bank study notes, the Law "does not adequately recognize adat rights in land ... thus frustrating environmentally sound, sustainable land management practices."

 "They treat us, the owners of the land, as if we were nobodies, as if we were worthless people, people with no rights. But in fact, we are the people who have the right [to this land]," says the Aimas woman.

 Early Moi protests to PT Intimpura were met with assurances that the company's operations would have no impact on the Moi people's way of life, and promises of compensation of 50 million rupiah (US$25,000) per clan. The company also promised village improvements, such as a new road and an electrical service. So far, however, the company has made only one payment of a half-million rupiah (US$250), to be shared among all nine clans.

Intimpura's path of destruction

 PT Intimpura, like all timber concession holders in Indonesia, is formally regulated by strict guidelines on the allowable cut, the species and dimensions of trees that may be felled and the methods of extraction and replantation, but the company shows little respect for the guidelines, or for the Moi people and land.

The Moi people are forest dwellers. While they do some gardening, the bulk of their diet comes from hunting and gathering. Their staple food is sago, supplemented with kangaroo meat, wild pig, fish, fresh water shrimp, birds, forest greens and wild fruit. Resin from the damar tree is burned as a source of light.

PT Intimpura's operations are devastating the Moi way of life. According to the woman in Aimas village, PT Intimpura "destroys the sago orchards, the stands of damar trees, the wood and the water; there are no fish, there are no birds, there is nothing at all." A Kelasaman villager explains that the company's method of dragging out the cut timber with heavy machinery "means that everything in [the machinery operators'] path, all the growing things - whether sago, langsat, cempedak fruit ... are destroyed."

Intimpura's road-building through Moi lands is also endangering the Moi people's health and sustenance. Because the company built the roads without constructing drainage culverts, a roadside string of standing pools, which produce unusually high concentrations of mosquitoes and present the threat of malaria and other diseases, has developed. "All the streams have dried up and become muddy. The fish which we used to catch in them have simply disappeared. ... The water is not clear anymore," says an Aimas man. "The birds of paradise have also disappeared; they have flown away to other places. ... Mosquitoes have come into the village and infest our homes," he adds.

 EPP activists are concerned that "this disruption of the natural water system jeopardizes the long-term recovery of the forest. Perhaps the greatest danger ... lies in the very existence of these roads; they will permit the entry of more loggers, both legal and illegal, poachers and settlers."

Restricting Moi rights

 For the local villagers, however, there are more immediate problems than the long- term impact of logging roads. They have been told they need permits to hunt or gather in the forest, requirements which typically accompany logging developments. The Indonesian Basic Forestry Law states, "For reasons of public safety, in an area where logging operations are being conducted within the scope of the forest utilization, the implementation of community rights to extract forest products shall be suspended."

 These kinds of restrictions have incited the wrath of the local Moi. "We tore down a guard post, because they wouldn't allow us to gather firewood on our land for our Christmas celebrations," says a Moi man. "They said we needed a permit to gather wood. Why should the people need a permit when there is no agreement between PT Intimpura and the people?"

 The Moi people have written plea letters and met at least six times with representatives of the company, the local government, the Sorong Forestry Service and the army to protest the logging operations on their land. Both Intimpura and the government refuse to recognize the Moi people's land rights.

 The people's anger over their treatment has driven them to forms of protest which highlight their desperation. Political demonstrations are rare in Indonesia, where public protestors are liable to be branded "subversives" or members of illegal organizations, such as the Communist Party or the Free Papua Movement, detained without charge, tortured and imprisoned. But despite the presence of the army, protestors from seven Moi kecematan (subdistricts) have risked arrest to demonstrate outside their representatives' meetings with the company, the military and the local Forestry Office in Sorong.

The Moi have also turned to other forms of protest, which express their frustration at having their lands appropriated by Intimpura. Where the company has posted signs forbidding the Moi access to their land in the concession, the Moi have in turn posted signs forbidding Intimpura to cut down damar trees, threatening the company with fines of five million rupiah (US$2,500) per infraction. The people of Kelayili village, as well as tearing down the buildings of the survey camp, have posted signs forbidding the company from entering their territory. Intimpura has already surveyed up to the edge of the village itself.

A foreboding future

 The Moi people's situation is an indication of what is to come for the rest of the province: logging concessions planned for West Papua cover close to 70 percent of its land area. The Intimpura project is only one of several timber concessions on the Bird's Head Peninsula. The Kayu Lapis Group, one of Indonesia's largest corporations, owns a number of subsidiaries working in the area to develop the group's paper and pulp line.

The government has appropriated indigenous land for its own purposes as well. Since 1981, Sorong has been a target for Indonesia's vast transmigration program. This controversial project aims to move millions of poor farming families from the densely populated islands of Java, Bali and Madura to less densely populated outer islands like West Papua [see Uprooting People, Destroying Culture: Indonesia's Transmigration Program," Multinational Monitor, October 1990 ]. Ironically, while one aim of the program is to provide the landless poor from Java with a plot of land of their own, transmigration has resulted in the extensive destruction and expropriation of forests properly the domain of local people.

 Human rights activists charge that the transmigration program has broader and more sinister goals than simply population and land redistribution. Jakarta's national security objectives are also a factor, according to critics who say that the government is using transmigration to quash local resistance to the military presence and government development plans. According to World Bank statistics, West Papuans will become a minority in their own country by 1995.

For the Moi, the effects of transmigration and government land appropriation represent a lesson not to be forgotten in their dealings with PT Intimpura. "We've already given more than half of our land to the government. This is all we have left," says a woman from Kelasaman village. "We cannot accept Intimpura coming on to our land. We must resist them."

Maintaining Moi land

For the Moi, maintaining control of their land in the face of Intimpura's encroachment is paramount. No amount of money can serve as adequate compensation for loss of the land. "Our love of nature is firm. It doesn't matter what kind of compensation they offer, we will firmly refuse it. The only thing that endures is the land," says a Kelasaman villager. A Kelasaman mother says, "We are defending our land for our children's future - in the future we will need our forest. In the forest there is so much that we need, so many things necessary for our culture."

The Moi's ancestral domain now being logged is to them a Tamasani (mother or center of life). The land not only has economic value, but is also home to Moi landlord spirits. As another villager describes the destruction, "Tearing down our forests is like tearing out our heart."

 The government, unfortunately, has little concern for the cultural or emotional identity of the Papuans, whom Indonesian officials describe as "simple-minded" and "backward." Instead, the government aims, as the Indonesian Minister of Transmigration said in 1985, "to integrate all the ethnic groups into one nation, the Indonesian nation ... The different ethnic groups will in the long run disappear because of integration ... and there will be one kind of man."

Next to this sort of philosophy, any adat attitudes which preserve marginal ethnic identities are bound for extinction. The logging of Moi lands can be seen as yet another example of what SKEPHI calls "the deprivation and marginalization of indigenous people" in West Papua. Others have called it cultural genocide.