Hornbill Unleashed

October 8, 2013

What we must learn from Kalimatan

Eka Tjipta Widjaja 1Apang

Vitalis Andi is a local Kalimantan leader, the Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of Jalai Kendawangan (AMA-JK) and a journalist with Kalimantan Review. He supports and reports on the various socio-economic, cultural, Adat, environmental and human rights programmes involving the Dayak communities throughout Kalimantan Barat, or West Kalimantan.

Japin is a Dayak community leader living in the Silat Hulu village in the Ketapang District of Kalimantan Barat. In April 2008, Japin and his community found their ancestral lands had been taken over by a subsidiary company of Sinar Mas, a conglomerate owned by Indonesia’s richest man, the 90-year-old billionaire Eka Tjipta Widjaja. (Right)

Bloomberg recently reported the Indonesian billionaire was worth a total of US$8.4 billion, and was ranked 139th on the index of the 200 richest people in the world, as of September 13. According to another report, Widjaja also controls the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, Singapore-based Golden-Agri Resources. Typical of all such billionaires, he also owns many more corporations that dominate his nation’s corporate world.

Kalimantan forest

The Dayak community of Silat Hulu banded together to defend their rights. The response in Kalimantan was identical to the typical crackdown in Sarawak. Several advocates for indigenous peoples, including Andi and Japin, were arrested and imprisoned.

While others were released, both these men were charged. They were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment under questionable circumstances. But they remain free after Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled that laws that criminalise indigenous communities’ defence of their rights are unconstitutional.

However, perhaps only local, national and international pressure keeps these two human rights defenders from going to prison, since the conviction still stands.  Earlier on during the trial,  Andi and Japin were kept from imprisonment by pressure from hundreds of communities, as well as activists, lawyers and media especially in the first court hearing and the last hearing.

While other similarities exist in the social, cultural, economic, environmental and political spheres, dispossession of Dayaks of their ancestral lands, and the related consequences of these losses, must be of paramount joint priority, among the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Sarawak and Kalimantan.

As activists in Kalimantan often say, Dayaks are defined by land, the forests and water – and not just by blood ties.

Miles apart

It is well known that Indonesians kicked out Suharto, their dictator for three decades, in a glorious few weeks of revolt in1998. However, this in no way hides the hideous crimes committed against a targeted section of Indonesian communities as the Suharto regime then tried to hang onto power. Since then, Indonesia has continued to democratise. Malaysia, on the other hand, has seen only cosmetic changes at best, while remaining firmly under the oppressive regime of UMNO-BN. The current attempt by the government to reintroduce detention without trial after the repeal of the draconian Internal Security Act used mostly to imprison opposition politicians (including elected parliamentarians) and activists is but an example of the continuing Malaysian oppression.

This stark contrast is reflected in the ability of Kalimantan Dayak activists to advance the people’s struggle in some key areas. These include the media, finance, the operations of civil society and, of course, the political sphere. But not all this progress came about after the fall of Suharto.

Ironically, Suharto himself had opened up the banking system to enable a community-based organisation, the Pancur Kasih movement, to, among others, own and operate a rural bank in Indonesia. This allowed the movement to meet the (mostly rural) Dayak communities’ real need to have savings and credit schemes.

But in one crucial aspect, the Kalimantan activists were able to recognise and thus act on the crucial roles played by organisational structures. They place sectorial activities under an umbrella organisation. This ensures their ability to harmonise their activities, and gear them towards organisation-wide, defined goals and objectives. The website of Institut Dayakologi shares some basic information.


A new dawn

The Pancur Kasih umbrella entity holds together various groupings that run parallel to one another, and allocates them specific roles and functions. This is one of the biggest differences between the civil society of Sarawak and Kalimantan.

Together with the more open society of Indonesia, we see the Pancur Kasih movement establishing its own Ruai TV, publishing the Kalimantan Review, running community radio stations over a wide swathe of Kalimantan, operating a rural bank to serve the mainly Dayak communities, and establishing a credit union movement to assist with savings and loans to members.

Pancur Kasih is a group of committed activists moving around far and wide, though under tremendous personal and organisational constraints, to uplift the Adat and all issues pertaining to Dayaks’ rights.

But above all, Pancur Kasih has a strong belief in self-determination, being followed through with programmes, projects and resources.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, opportunists and parasites are aplenty in Kalimantan, just as in Sarawak. But Kalimantan activists have identified them now, and have rightly and skillfully built barriers against them.

Capitalising on local and national contextual realities, the Kalimantan activist families are able to advance the struggle way ahead of Sarawak’s, in many aspects. Sarawak has a long way to catch up.

Untold personal and collective challenges persist on various fronts, in Sarawak and Kalimantan, and indeed the world over. Still, Sarawakians must pick up on some of our Kalimantan counterparts’ admirable achievements.

The Kalimantan activists have written and produced two publications themselves, which detail their efforts thus far. These describe a profoundly reflective journey, one that will certainly take them to greater heights. The two publications can be accessed freely here.

“I believe the people in Sarawak will have their true liberation in the future, as the fighting spirit has kept on burning since the first time I got to know the people’s struggle on this land,” said Pak John, a prominent and no-nonsense activist for Kalimantan indigenous peoples’ rights.

We share in celebrating the beginning of a new dawn for our fellow Kalimantan activists, in their rightful quest for the advancement of the rights of the indigenous peoples. Sarawak must share in these efforts.



1 Comment »

  1. Many wealthy Malaysians and Sarawakaians look down on Indonesians because they are poorer and work as migrant labour. The irony is that their politics has grown, while ours has remained chained to our colonial and race-obsessed past.

    Comment by Analist — October 11, 2013 @ 10:21 AM | Reply

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