By: Ayu Nurfaizah
“This story is about those who survived, some others have been defeated.”
One of the opening sentences of the film titled Made in Siberut. One of the series of Blue Indonesia Expedition films uploaded through the YouYube page by Watchdoc Image. The film shot in 2015 illustrates the lives of the people of Siberut Island, Mentawai Islands District, West Sumatra Province. The island with a population of around 28,000 inhabitants, mostly from Mentawai ethnicity and others from the Minangkabau ethnicity, as well as those who came and have long lived on Siberut Island. This film mostly illustrates the condition of Siberut Island which has changed a lot, starting from deforestation, land conversion, to the condition of the more modern social society.
The problem of food politicization is also shown practically in this film. The existence of a government program in food centralization has caused Mentawai people, whose staple food was originally sago and taro had to switch to rice. Many fields are turned into rice fields, but not all land in Siberut is suitable for rice farming. As a result, not a few crop failures occurred. Even so, people still try to plant it. “This is a government program that we support and we happen to like farming and we are interested,” said Benedictus Shaleo, one of the local residents when asked why he preferred planting rice rather than sago and taro.
Without the people realizing, this food centralization program makes people vulnerable to poverty. Because the community must depend on the supply of rice from Sumatra’s land if the rice planted by themselves is not sufficient. Not to mention, the dependence on rice for each family is also high, especially if there are more than five people in the family. In fact, the wages of each head of the family is also not very high. Then, when people do not have money to buy rice, consumption will return to sago and taro.
Isn’t it confusing? the community was encouraged to leave their staple food, but there was no solution for infertile land to be planted with rice. There is also no assistance and socialization to the community regarding this matter. The Mentawai community seems to be left to depend on other income when their needs are not met. However, when the community does not have money to buy rice, the government is silent, there is no response to this.
This condition is worsened by the destruction of forests and the environment on Siberut Island, home to most of the Mentawai indigenous people. The destruction of the forest is nothing but the exploitation of several companies that have obtained permits from the central government, but have not obtained permits from the community. On the other hand, many companies do not offer complete Environmental Impact Assessments (AMDAL) documents. As a result, damage and deforestation, as well as the negligence of ex-forest land that became ghostland on Siberut Island. Based on the coverage of Vice.com, now the remaining forest for indigenous peoples is only 8% of the total land on Siberut Island and will continue to decrease if the central government continues to give permission for companies to invest their capital here.
A concrete example that occured in North Siberut, was two to three times flood disaster a year with water level that can reach three meters high. This was exacerbated when PT Salaki Summa Sejahtera (SSS) cut down trees carelessly, even trees on the riverbank. Indeed, the area has a low topography, but before the company entered, the flood did not cause damage. Now, the damage caused by the flood is quite severe for the local community. In addition to displaced and damaged houses, many areas have become prone to landslides. As a result, people have to move to the next village and leave their homes and land that is still productive.
Floods that often occur at night cause people to always be alert and prepared to move to high places or to buildings that are considered safe. The flood intensity in the villages passed by the rivers in Siberut, namely the Satboyak River and the Monganpoula River, has also been increasing since the logging activity in the Satboyak River upstream in 2005 by forest manager of Koperasi Andalas Madani (KAM).
The names of the companies above are only a handful of a number of different problems that have not been mentioned. Now, people are not only trying to survive, defend their land, but also fight. The tyranny of industrialization has been considered tedious and has done a lot of damage without responsibility. Once again, community powerlessness is used and a gap is sought to make as much profit as possible by ruling party. Communities are often ‘not notified’ and suddenly foreign companies fix their posts without permission. Position of the community is becoming more difficult and narrow, the land owned is more limited, and the impact of nature destruction must also be carried by the community. In fact, the compensation that Mentawai people get is not big.
The community’s resentment upsurged during a demonstration for land use permits last September. The community refused the permit of industrial plantation Forest (HTI) covering an area of 20.110 ha to PT Biomass Andalan Energi. Again, this permit was given by the central government without regard to the surrounding community. Floods and landslides have often hit the Siberut area, surrounding communities also assume that companies generated more losses for the exploitation of nature. However, this anxiety is often not heard. The local government that only receives it as it is, seems to not want to become a consolidator between the community and the owner of the company. On the other hand, for several times the local government complained about being reluctant to experience losses, considering the contract had been signed and had to pay compensation if the agreement was canceled.
Now, before other programs are forced to enter and cause new problems, let us examine what the local government will do with Siberut Island. As reported in April 2018 by sumbar.antaranews.com with the title “This is the Focus of Development of Mentawai District Government on Siberut Island”, it was stated that the government was committed to distributing clean water on Siberut Island. Coordination with various fields and services in the province is carried out. This is certainly good, but why is it only this year that the government’s focus on clean water distribution is carried out? In fact, water is crucial for human life.
What is quite surprising at the end of the news is that the district government is trying to work with the central government in providing clean water. Practically, working with various parties will make the program target more focused and produce better quality output. However, to simply provide clean water, why should the central government intervene as this is fully local authority? The question that then arises is whether there is a certain motive behind the efforts of central government involvement in clean water services in Mentawai District? Given the complexity of the bureaucracy, if this happens too, it is estimated that the community will not receive the benefit in a fast period.
Further investigating the motives of government infrastructure development in Siberut, covesia.archipelagom reported the message of West Sumatra Governor regarding the development of the Mentawai Islands on Thursday (04/10/2018). Irwan Prayitno as the governor said that the development in the Mentawai Islands could be realized through increasing regional facilities, good spatial planning, improving the quality of government bureaucracy services, and community empowerment. Irwan also stressed that good governance involves the business world and the search for alternative investments from within and outside the country, which aims to meet the real needs of the community and match the geographical, demographic, and cultural customs of West Sumatra.
From here, the direction of conversation is increasingly converging on the utilization of the potential to increase economic value until the discussion refers to the planned development of Labuanbajau Port infrastructure in North Siberut District, Mabukkuk Port in Southwest Siberut District, Sao Port in South Sipora District, and the construction of Rokot Airport. This infrastructure development is directed at preparing Siberut region to become a tourist destination area and the goal of industrialization.
In fact, as explained in the previous discussion, the Mentawai people are still stumbling on balancing lives and the new patterns that the government brought in. Now, when the community has not been fully able to stand up and learn, they will be showered by infrastructure development, which again brings certain impure motives to help the people. The physical development that will be carried out has not yet considered the social aspects that might occur. In fact, this will affect the community as a whole.
Perhaps there are a lot of development programs in Siberut which partisanships toward Mentawai indigenous community are questioned because so far, the programs carried out have been considered to be less empowering and less considerate to indigenous peoples. Communities are not given space to express, argue, and articulate their interests. What exists is that society is forced to follow values and systems from outside, not values and systems from outside that follow the norms inside. Government intervention is considered to be too far from the life of Mentawai indigenous people. This can be seen from economic interference and efforts to eradicate culture and social procedures through the inclusion of a dose-free modernization and industrialization.
Exclusion happens, or in Karl Marx’s term it is alienation. The difference is, if Marx speaks at the economic level, then the alienation that occurs in Mentawai community is more complex in their context. Cultural and social alienation also has an effect on indigenous economic alienation. There is no preservation of indigenous life, only a handful of people who are unable to follow the outside system remain in their previous conditions.
Even the people who have moved toward modernization will not necessarily be safe in the system. There is no guarantee of life for indigenous peoples either in terms of social, economic and cultural aspects. The expansive program and the land opening as wide as possible without regard to sociocultural aspects will lead to the extinction of socioculture itself, which will become an advanced stage after alienation. The impact is not only felt by the Mentawai people, but also by the Indonesian people as a whole. Then, the question that follows, should the community expose their identity in order to survive in the midst of modernity and industrialization attack happening in their own area?
Answering it is never easy.
“This story is about those who survived, some others have been defeated.”
This essay was written by Ayu Nurfaizah for essay writing competition organized by Program Peduli. The views of the writer do not reflect the views of Program Peduli.