November 29, 2009
Budi Otmansyah The Jakarta Globe
A man walking across a destroyed forest in Pelalawan, Riau. The government’s upcoming participation in the UN conference for climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December this year has thrown the spotlight on the massive deforestation taking place in parts of Riau, including those areas designated as protected. (Antara Photo) CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PHOTO
Riau Tribal Elder Cries Betrayal as Bulldozers Move In
Rakit Kulim, Riau. The destruction of some 1,800 hectares of tribal forest belonging to the Talang Mamak tribe of Riau was a betrayal of his people and the environment, a tribe leader says.
“I am deeply disappointed. I resent this situation. [The government] knows we’re illiterate and they think they can fool us just like that,” Patih Laman, the chief of Talang Mamak tribe, said during an interview at his house in Sungai Elok, Indragiri Hulu, over the weekend.
He claimed that the forest, acknowledged as a protected forest in a certificate Laman received from former president Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2003, has been partially converted into oil palm plantations, while parts have been abandoned after the trees were felled.
Laman claimed that while presenting the Kalpataru Award for his extraordinary undertakings in environmental conservation in June 2003, Megawati acknowledged the tribal control of the forest and in 2007 a joint decree signed by the head of Indragiri Hulu district, Thamsir Rahman, and the head of Indragiri Hulu Legislative Council, H. Marpolli, confirmed the tribe’s possession of the forest.
The Kalpataru is a government award presented to people or communities that have worked to preserve their environment.
“Suddenly in 2008, bulldozers started to arrive and began clearing our tribal forest. My opposition was met with death threats, but I’m not afraid to die,” the 90-year old man said.
Laman said the Talang Mamaks have refused to be provoked into settling the issue through violence.
“I have raised the issue with the district head, but what did they do? They remained quiet about it. Maybe it will take a Talang Mamak to die as a martyr to resolve this issue,” he said.
The father of four said he had no other choice but to accept the situation and that the last step he would take was to return the Kalpataru Award. “I am going to return the award to the president. What’s the use of hanging on to it if the tribal forests are gone.”
Kabuk, the chief of the Talang Mamak tribal council, said the local government had deliberately sold their ancestral land to Javanese and Batak ethnic groups.
“It is the newcomers who will be asked to manage the oil palm plantations and the profits are split between the owner and officials,” Kabuk said.
The practice, according to Laman, has threatened the way of life of Talang Mamak people who earn a living by hunting and growing rubber trees.
Meanwhile, Gunduk, head of Durian Cacar hamlet in Indragiri, said at least 1,300 Talang Mamak people were living in the buffer zone of the Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park.
According to Gunduk, they had refused to leave their forest despite a government campaign to move them to urban areas.
“We will never leave the graves of our ancestors. The Talang Mamak will never give up the forest because we have an oath to guard it for the Sultan of Indragiri,” Gunduk said.
Afdhal Mahyuddin, editor of World Wild Fund for Nature Eyes on the Forest in Riau, said that it was estimated that 2,000 hectares of tribal forest belonging to the Mamak people had been cleared in 2009. The land is a protected area in the buffer zone of the Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park. “Sumatran tigers, elephants, bears and deer populations live in the area. Losses here may threaten the future of the Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park,” Mahyuddin said.