Building Papua from within

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Emanuel Dapa Loka, CONTRIBUTOR, JAKARTA | Sun, 04/25/2010 3:14 PM |

Despite the lingering image of the people of Papua being “backward”, the land of the bird of paradise has always attracted various circles. Is it just the “backwardness” that has been a magnet for outsiders? If your answer is yes, then the next question is why? Papua is not the only poor region in Indonesia. What makes Papua unique?

It is the abundant natural wealth of Papua. Ironically, these natural endowments have apparently been increasingly taken from the Papuan people, who can no longer benefit from them themselves. Take Freeport Indonesia for example. Everybody knows the giant mining company takes various mineral products from Papuan soil, for profit. But the Papuans do not profit from this.

Starvation, which occasionally leads to tragic deaths, has often been reported in the mass media in Papua, for example the Yahukimo tragedy several years ago.

Like chickens dying in a granary, this ironic fact has led to various “uprisings” often linked to a separatist movement. This is always regarded by the Indonesian government as an act that should be repressed. And it seems these repressive measures have been the weapon of the government in dealing with such “rebellions” in Papua.

The territorial approach thus far applied by the government in developing Papua should be abandoned. Papua is only maintained territorially while the welfare of its population is consciously neglected. The implementation of special autonomy for Papua based on Law No.21/2001 and Government Regulation No.5/2007 has not satisfied the indigenous people’s expectations. The development fund for Papua, claimed by the government to be substantial, has failed to promote their wellbeing.

Therefore, even if it’s rather late, the only way for the government is to change the paradigm or approach in the development or empowerment of Papuan people. Papua has to be developed from within, beginning with local potential and human resources.

Those visiting the region such as NGOs, religious groups and even public officials should think about developing the local potential along with local people as well. This means no visitors should think like Santa Claus or experts who “impose” new ideas to be followed or adopted by local communities.

Any mistaken strategy will make all their well-intended aid go to waste and be problematic. It should also be realized that Papuans will in future be masters of their land and the resources they own.

In other words, they need to be assisted in identifying their inherent potential and exploit it for their own benefit. Later, various improvisations should be introduced in a gradual manner, to make the existing potential even more productive. If something alien to them is offered, it will remain superficial and soon be lost without a trace.

Papua has diverse unique handicrafts, which is part of the local strength to build Papua. For instance, noken (bags or baskets) used by Papuan men and women are made of strong wooden strips of rattan or other trees. These woven products come in various attractive colours and range in price from Rp 15,000 to Rp 100,000 apiece. Through serious development of local craftsmanship to produce noken and other accessories, the people’s income will increase. Sadly, proper government handling of this area remains lacking.

In this way, visitors wishing to “empower” Papuans need not boast or “force” their knapsacks or other exotic bags for locals to imitate. What the craftspeople need is a way to churn out noken more productively and with a better quality, thus enhancing the economic value of the handicrafts.

This book presents a clear description of the lives and livelihoods of the Moni people, as one of the tribes living in Sugapa district in the Paniaii, Papua. It is a product of research carried out by PKPM (social research and study centre) -Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. It pinpoints the potential, opportunities and challenges that go along with the daily existence of the Moni community. All the findings offer hope for a far better Papua in the years ahead.

The Monis highly appreciate their land, as is noticeable in their system of land ownership. To them, land is their mother, as they say, “Mai go I ama,” meaning my land is my mother. Land is like a mother, making people live and providing resources for them to survive and thrive. They also maintain close personal and emotional bonds with the land they occupy. Land is valued far beyond economic calculation so that it cannot be transacted.

This conviction implicitly indicates their very favourable environment orientation. However, this very positive understanding may on the other hand create a “problem”. With their determination to defend their land valued as their own mother, they don’t hesitate to stake their lives. This is precisely the question. The very traditional land ownership with no laws governing it in fact requires government intervention, but it should be done with great care by heeding the prevailing custom. The Monis should not be alienated from the local wisdom they have hitherto observed.

In general, land in Papua is owned communally. In Sugapa district, for instance, there is no office of the National Land Affairs Agency for communal land registration. Mutual land claims between families in Bilogai and Jogatapa villages, taking place since the time of their ancestors, have become a source of horizontal conflict.

The land once occupied by a nomadic family, for instance, is claimed to be the family’s land all the time. Whenever a family member returns to the place where they lived, they maintain their ownership of the land. Any encroachment on the relevant land means tribal war, with victims falling wherever battles occur.

As in other areas, the book with numerous photos and graphs points out that issue to the Moni tribesmen. The land they own signifies their presence. The chairman of the Sugapa district Village Community Development Institute, Mansfred Sondegau, said: “We, Moni people, have land and the land is our possession. From our forebears to our descendants later, this land remains and we are here. Nobody can claim to be a Moni member unless he owns land in the area where we live ..” (page 127).

The research that went into producing this book was part of a pre-feasibility study of PT Mineserve International, involving an eight-member core team aided by a team of five census enumerators and eight local assistants. The team applied qualitative and quantitative methods with cultural and participative approaches. This approach necessitated researchers to stay with local people, from whom they gained first hand knowledge of local culture.

Earlier, PKPM-Atma Jaya with the same team compiled another book on the Mee tribe. This is a reflection that this team is quite experienced in identifying the various aspects of life in Papua. So, the weakness of this book is the absence of any recommendation from the team concerning the handling of different issues in Papua. In fact, the team’s research methods enabled the recording of details of community life there, so that important and critical notes should have been made about present and future case handling in Papua.

It is therefore suggested that this team and possibly also other research groups in Papua should try to make recommendations, because intellectually and academically researchers have no political aims and thus are capable of presenting honest and objective proposals.

One more thing is that this book should be translated into English or other languages to make a lot more readers aware of the real conditions in Papua – along with its people’s happy moments, expectations, fears and challenges.

Budaya dan Tanah Adat Orang Moni di Distrik Sugapa, Papua (The Culture and Communal Land of Moni People in Sugapa District, Papua) George Martin Sirait, et al. PKPM-Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta (2010)

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