Have you heard? Land conflict has occurred in Indonesia, again: One side wants to destroy the environment for the sake of mass production, the other aims to stop it. It’s an old song that’s repeating itself over and over again. But as long as there’s still injustice, let’s crank the volume up. If you love Indonesia’s beauty and hope to see it last, you know on which side of the stage you should stand.
The conflict takes place in Pandumaan and Sipituhuta, two areas in Humbang Hasuhutan Regency, North Sumatra Province, where a Tano Batak indigenous community lives. The conflict broke out after PT Toba Pulp Lestari decided to replace the people’s Styrax benzoin forest called Tombak Haminjon, part of the people’s indigenous territory, with industrial eucalyptus trees for its paper production line.
Having been on this land for 13 generations, the people of Pandumaan and Sipituhuta have been benzoin harvesters for more than 300 years. The Styrax trees have been their primary source of income. Consequently, they treat the land and trees with respect. According to writer Limantina Sihaloho in her article on Haminjon Batak, one of the indigenous community’s elders told her the benzoin harvesters have to pure in speech and actions, otherwise the trees will not yield superior benzoin resin, or that their work in the forest will be met with difficulties. During a harvest season, the men would stay in the forest for several days, while the women would come bearing food for them from time to time. The forest has unifying values for the indigenous people around it. The haminjon forest, full of blessings and inspiration, has also been immortalized in folk songs, which are filled with the people’s praises to God for having given them the trees to support their life. To protect these trees from any man-made harm is also a spiritual responsibility to these people.
The indigenous community has opposed the existence of PT Toba Pulp Lestari, and fought against the corporation’s land grabbing activities within their territory, since 2009. A special committee with Humbang Hasundutan Regency’s House of Representatives has mapped out land boundaries and asked Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry to leave the people’s indigenous forest out of the state-owned forest zone and PT Toba Pulp Lestari’s concession. Yet up until now, there has been no legal document issued by the Ministry of Forestry to back it up, while the Styrax trees continue to be cut down and roads continue to be built within the forest.
The people have made complaints and launched physical attacks, with their latest display of anger resulting in the burning of the company’s excavation machinery on the last week of February this year. Up until now, 31 members of the Pandumaan and Sipituhuta indigenous community have been arrested. The clash led to the rally of about 2,000 indigenous peoples in Tano Batak before the Humbang Hasundutan Police Station, urging the chief to release the arrested members of their community.
Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN, or The Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago) says in its statement that it deeply regrets this incident and strongly condemns the arrests carried out by the security forces. It urges PT. Toba Pulp Lestari and the military to respect the rights of the indigenous people in Pandumaan and Sipituhuta, and states that the Government of Indonesia must take concrete actions to address this conflict. Futhermore, AMAN and anyone who has chosen to side with the people call for the release all members of the indigenous community of Pandumaan and Sipituhuta that have been detained. Moreover, we ask the security authorities to do their actual job to prevent violence, maintain peace, and serve the people in attaining their rights.
BEKABULUH would also like to encourage the boycott on products by PT Toba Pulp Lestari, including the Paper One brand. The company should know that Indonesian and international consumers are well-informed and will not tolerate its environmentally destructive and socially intrusive and abusive activities, and will only resume to using its products once it returns to responsible business ethics.
Extending Sihaloho’s call of action: Save the benzoin forest, save local wisdom. Save Pandumaan-Sipituhuta. Together we can.