Papua forest

Investors insert themselves into indigenous community to grab land in Papua: NGO


Jayapura, Jubi – Oil palm plantation investors in Boven Digoel Regency, Papua, reportedly attempt to become a “child” of an indigenous community to seize customary lands. The strategy is massively adopted in the customary region of Animha.


Boven Digoel youth leader Yohanes Nong, who partners with the Papuan People’s Network (JERAT), said land grabbing practice became easier with the company sending their people to become a part of the indigenous community.


“People from outside the indigenous community, especially non-Papuans, are adopted as indigenous children by traditional elders. They will then use their capacity as indigenous children to release the land as they have been considered a part of the community,” Nong said during a consolidation meeting held by the Papuan JERAT on Thursday, May 6, 2021.



According to Nong, the strategy was used by company members of the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) which had failed to carry out their plan in southern Papua.


The Papuan JERAT recently investigated land grabbing trends in 10 regencies in Papua and West Papua Provinces, namely Jayapura, Nabire, Mimika, Boven Digoel, Merauke, and Sarmi in Papua and Sorong, Wondama, South Sorong, and Kaimana in West Papua.


“Our study found the same pattern in those 10 regencies, that is, the companies do [land grabbing] systematically with the help of the government’s policies. The state has failed to protect its people especially the indigenous people entitled to customary rights,” Papuan JERAT executive secretary Septer Manufandu said.


He said investors often promised the community welfare and never explained the negative impact of releasing the forest to the company’s interest.


Manufundu said that the presence of oil palm plantations and timber companies in Papua and West Papua had caused a number of violations against the forest and environment, as well as socio-cultural destruction and annihilation against Indigenous Papuans.


“Because the forest is the community’s laboratory, a laboratory of custom values, destroying the forest means destroying the culture and life order of the indigenous people. The forest is also the community’s supermarket where indigenous people take everything there to be consumed,” said Manufundu.


“Those companies only exploit the woodland for timber and make a profit out of it while the indigenous people lose their hunting grounds and areas to plant sago,” he added.


Papuan JERAT’s advocacy staff Ronald Manufundu said the most vulnerable and affected groups were children and women (mamas). “These mamas will have difficulty getting clean water, medicinal plants, and vegetables,” he said.


Moreover, another impact of land grabbing, he said, would be the loss of traditional religions and beliefs. “Indigenous communities have ancestral beliefs, such as in the trees, deers, and others. When they lose their land, they lose their identity,” he said.

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