Yance Mahuze, a well-known member of the Yei ethnic group from Toray village, Sota sub-district, Merauke Regency, was unable to conceal his sadness. His eyes were glazed with tears. What was going on? He looked over his ancestral forest, now an oil palm plantation. Some individuals from the Yeinan tribe (a sub-ethnic group of the Marind people), had agreed to sell their land to plantation companies.
The land is situated at the upper reaches of the Maro River, which flows through many villages on its way to Merauke city. Villages inhabited by the Yei people include Erambo, Toray, Poo, Kweel, Bupul and Tanas. To reach these villages, you have to follow the Trans-Papua road.
Oil palm is not only found in Sota sub-district, it has also arrived in Elikobel. Mahuze feels a sense of pity, since as far as the eye can see the forest that was formerly full of trees is now replaced with oil palm
Previously, he said, the forest was dense, and so if people wanted to visit relatives across the border in Papua New Guinea, they just had to walk for a few hours. Now, with the trees gone, it is too hot. “You need more than a day to reach PNG”, he said.
The local government in Merauke and Papua Provincial Government have allowed oil palm investment to enter the Yei people’s land, and they have been free to fell trees on a seemingly limitless area. Many sacred places, places where the ancestors used to stop or burial sites, and even sago groves, have been cleared.
“Places which used to be totally forbidden to clear are now being felled for oil palm”, he said.
He said that there are two companies operating in the Yeinan forest on the Indonesia- Papua New Guinea border: PT Internusa Jaya Sejahtera and PT Agriprima Persada Mulia.
When they first arrived, the companies promised to give work to Yei people. “But promises remained mere promises, Now, the forests, rivers, swamps and animals in the Yeinan area no longer belong to the Yei people”, he said.
The forest has always been their source of food, he said. They meet their everyday needs from the forests, whether frrom the different kinds of plants or the many species of fish. The area is also rich in animal live, including cassowaries, other birds, ground rats, pig-nose turtles, crocodiles and more.
When the Catholic church arrived in the Yeinan area, it introduced rubber, which the local people have diligently planted.
The upper reaches of the Maro River where deforestation has occurred have silted up. Riverine wildlife can’t bear living in the Maro River. He explains that many turtles have been coming onto the land to take shelter under tall trees. Normally, the people find the turtles on the banks of the Maro River. The same goes for crocodiles – there used to be many in the Maro River, but now they have moved to the Wanggo River.
“The Merauke local government must stop any more investors coming to Yeinan”, he said. Read More