Indonesia: the Dayak Iban indigenous peoples call for support

Jamaludin Antel

Jamaludin calls on the international community to help their people's struggles. Photo: Conor Ashleigh (http://conorashleigh.com/)

“the forest is their brain; the land their life and soul; and the water their blood” – Bapak Jamaludin

Jamaludin Antel is from Desa Semunyingjaya, District of Jagui Babang, Bengkayan, West Kalimantan. He is one of the community leaders of the Dayak Iban indigenous peoples. As a farmer, he tends to his paddy fields and their rubber estate.

Bapak Jamaludin shared the struggles of the Dayak Iban indigenous peoples who were persistently in the forefront to protect their forest and land. The Government had given out 19,000 hectares of forest to this particular community based on the population of the village. Customarily, one must ask permission from mother earth before using the forest and the community made a customary agreement to protect the forest in which they have been living in for a very long time.

Although the community was given the forest, the Government has given out timber concessions which have threatened the forests and the communities living in this area. The Iban people have had years of struggles against the government and the companies due to massive areas that have been logged and the timber taken away.

In 1987 indigenous people customary land were logged against their wishes by PT Yamaker Kalbar Jaya, a company which belongs to the Indonesian armed forces. The Iban people fought back and for this reason  PT Yamaker were punished by customary law From 1998-2000, the government ruled that the state owned logging company,  Perum Perhutani, to reforest the area where instead they continued to log and sell the timber across the Malaysian border.

In 2000, Sarawak company PT. Lundu Sawmill illegally logged timber in Semunying Jaya village. Again the indigenous people protested and fought back by seizing two bulldozers.

During 2002-2004 PT Agung Perkasa obtained permits to develop an oil palm plantation in the area but the company had not planted any oil palm after two years of operation but instead continued to illegally log customary forest and sell the timber to the Malaysia border. In 2004 the company’s permit was suspended since no planting had taken place and initial permits were handed to PT Ledo Lestari.

In March 2005 PT Ledo Lestari brought in heavy machinery to the area, no meetings nor consultations were held with community to discuss the company’s plans. Four months later,  community rubber plantations were destroyed by the company during road building activities. The community protested and fined the company under customary law to pay compensation but PT Ledo Lestary did not pay the fine and the community responded by seizing a company motorbike and protesting to local police.

August 2005 PT Ledo Lestary began to clear the area in Semunying Jaya including primary forest protected by the community. The community rubber plantations and other cash crops, secondary forest and sacred forest of community was destroyed and cleared by PT Ledo Lestary. Despite repeated community complaints in meetings with the company and district and sub-district authorities, the company continued to illegally clear up to 9,000 hectares of community forest. The company did not have a forest conversion license nor did they consult the Iban people.

December 2005 the community seized a komotsu excavator and six chainsaw in an attempt to stop the forest clearance and invited the company manager to come and discuss the situation. Instead the police allegedly threatened villagers that they could disappear in the middle of the night a in the anti-communist era.

Between 30 January and 7 February 2006, villager were being harassed and two villagers were detained by the police, as they were accused of the extortion. After 8 days in the Jail, they were released due to lack of evidence.

Additionally, a Malaysian company has entered the land and logged illegally. This was brought to the attention of the Indonesian police and the action of the community was supported by the police. Besides this, other companies have entered and plundered their forest without any formal licenses. The community has done everything humanly possible to stop these companies. They have used direct actions, written letters, petitions and memoranda, gone to jail for their direct actions and appealed to the Human Rights Commission and the United Nations.

February 2006 villagers issued a declaration which called upon the people to respect the sovereignty of their land, the protection of their water and forest resources and to refuse any oil palm plantation in their area. PT Ledo Lestari continued to clear the area which is belong to customary land. By May 2009, the villagers torch, tired of being violated and frustrated from being unheard, burned the camp of company.

In June 2009 resource conflict and economic gain began to tear their community apart where some villagers started giving up and worked for the company while most have encouraged their people not to give in and to continue to fight the invasion.

Despite ongoing protest, reconciliation, intervention, indigenous people forests are still being cleared by PT Ledo Lestary. Present day, the Iban indigenous peoples doesn’t know what further steps to take to protect its land.

These are only some examples of the Iban indigenous peoples’ ongoing struggles to defend their territories and their resources. Much of their land has been invaded, denuded and destroyed and yet the Iban people continue to defend their territories and are reuniting in order to save their existence. Their land, which they have lived in  since time immemorial, is part of their existence.

What can we do, what actions can we take in order to support indigenous peoples/ community struggles?  Bapak Jamaludin ended his sharing with a call to the international community to help them fight against this land grabbing and defend their existence, so that the community can go back to living in peace and harmony as they used to.

With passion Bapak Jamaludin ended his presentation stating that “the forest is their brain, the land their life and soul and the water their blood”.

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