Update from Borneo: New challenges from the palm oil companies

guardians of the forestRuwi sent this update and photos for friends of the Dayak Benuaq in Muara Tae, Borneo. They are still resisting the illegal bulldozing of their rainforest by palm oil plantations. While the spiritual help and publicity from their big ceremony in 2014 has protected the forest thus far, our friends are facing some fresh challenges including more violence and intimidation. Here’s Ruwi’s update:

SINCE THE BIG VOW CEREMONY, the companies have not opened new areas for plantation, but they have campaigned in the area, trying to influence people to invite them in. Because of the publicity Muara Tae has received as well as issues with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, the company (PT BSMJ) needs the local people to be the ones actively inviting them in and selling them land. For this reason, they have been doing things back stage, in that they have local people doing the infiltration and intimidation in order to influence villagers to sell. 

blocking access road

Muara Tae community members block palm oil company from building access road on their land.

The company has also developed a plan to make a road that crosses Muara Tae in order to connect to the facility of PT Borneo Surya Mandiri Jaya. This road would directly cut through Asuy’s and other friends forests. The road is important for the company because their access road is now through the village of Lempunah, which is often submerged by flood, but this new road has no benefit or use for the community. So far, the road has not been built.

On February 4th 2017, the local government invited the people of Muara Tae to a meeting in order to press them on the construction of this road. Masrani, Asuy, Sedan, Singko and many of our friends in Muara Tae attended and spoke against the plan. When it was Masrani’s turn to speak, he very clearly argued that the road is not needed by the people and that it will only benefit the plantation company and will make it easier for the company to encroach on Muara Tae’s forest. A staff member of the local government got very angry and tried to attack Masrani. He was blocked by Mr. Sedan, who was then hit and injured. Our friends in Muara Tae then went to the local police station to report the incident and request due process of law.

Mr. Sedan

Mr Sedan took the blow, he cleansed the wound but the bleeding is hard to stop.

The political situation has grown more difficult, as there is now no one in power who is on the side of saving the forest. The new Chief of Village is a company man. He is pushing to release 1000 hectares of Muara Tae lands to BSMJ. He has marked land blocks between Utak Melinau all the way to the border of Lempunah Kampong that he wants to sell in bulk.

The new Chief of Village also recruited new staff, including one who is is trying to sell land near Camp Baru in Muara Tae, which our friends have moved in to protect.

There is also a new Head of Adat, elected and installed by the government who is not even a Muara Tae resident.  Our friends in Muara Tae believe that she was involved in the attempt to sell 177 hectares that was successfully blocked by the community of Muara Tae.  

swiftlet houseOn a happier note, our friends in Muara Tae (The Pesuli Lati Tna Takaaq group) are working to complete three bird nest swiflet houses that they have built using their UN Equatorial Prize funds and their own timber, materials, time and workers. The idea is to provide nesting space for the swiftlets so that they can harvest the bacteria that grows on their droppings, which is considered a delicacy in China and fetches high prices. They are hoping this can be a long-term, income-generating project that will sustain them in protecting their forests into the future. 

In order to complete the project, they need a sound system for each house that will invite the swiftlets to nest there. The cost of the sound system is estimated at about Rp 12 million (about $900). Please contact Jane to contribute to this fund.

assays new house

Asuy’s new family house

Mr. Asuy and family now live in a new house located between Muara Tae and Camp Baru. It’s approximately 100 meters from the main road and is still unfinished, which creates problems when it rains, as walls and windows are not fully done. In this new location, they are able to guard the area from those who want to take it away from them.

In addition to the ever-growing need for legal assistance, Asuy and Masrani think they need to refresh and restrengthen the spirituality and capacity to defend the forest for the members of the group. They want to emphasize meeting and getting trained by “teachers” and elders. 

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