Bokum and Nuhu, and the companies encircling the Togutil people


News From North Maluku, translated from Maluku Online: The police have arrested two Togutil men, Bokum and Nuhu, accusing them of murder. After the arrests, police swept through the forest, searching for other Togutil people. The arrests were dramatised in the media, leaving few ways for the Togutil people to defend themselves. It even seemed that there was a wish to drive them away from their homeland. This is highly suspicious, since there are also several mining and oil palm companies moving onto their ancestral lands. The Togutil find themselves under threat. The following are a few notes about the case from the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). The original title can be translated as “Could this be an operation to evict forest people from their home?”

On Sunday 1st March 2015, Bokum and Nuhu were arrested in a joint operation by members of East Halmahera and Central Halmahera police forces, in North Maluku. The arrest occurred at 2am in the house of Melkyanus Lalatang, in Woejerana village, Central Weda sub-district, Central Halmahera.

The arrestees were brought to the Weda police station the same night. After being questioned, at around 22.00 local time, they were brought to the Provincial Police Headquarters and were detained in the prison there. Boku and Nuhu cannot speak Indonesian, only the local Tobelo language. This hampered the police’s attempts to question them at the provincial headquarters.

As forest people, Togutil or O’Hongana Manyawa, who live in the forest from when they are born to when they die, they would have felt severe pressure when they were asked to provide an explanation. Especially as they were being guarded by fully-armed police officers. Bokum and Nuhu were given legal support by a lawyer appointed by the police, which meant the lawyer chosen by AMAN was not permitted to support them.

Bokum and Nuhu were arrested by 10 members of the police who associated them with the murder of four residents of Waci village, East Halmahera. On 18th September 2013, Arbain Ahmad (53) and Adanan Rubay (50) were killed, and there was a second case on 8th July 2014 when Mas’ud (40) and his child Marlan Watoa (9) were killed. The two incidents occurred in the forest, and then opinion started to develop that the Togutil people in the forest were the perpetrators. From that point, the police and military operation and other residents turned their attention to the Togutil people who live in the forest.


However, after some time, the investigation had not turned up any Togutil people, and meanwhile the public kept questioning the police’s efforts. The Togutil people living in Central Halmahera live in seven settlements. Each of these has its own ancestral domain and they cannot tresspass on others. So if Togutil A crosses into Togutil B’s ancestral land, Togutil B would be allowed to kill Togutil A.

From that point, the case starts to look a little strange. The killings took place in the forest, in the Woesopen Togutil’s area, not in the Akejira area where Bokum and Nuhu live. the Woesopen Togutil rarely interact with the coastal people, and even haven’t built up good relationships with the Akejira Togutil people. Bokum himself was the Gimono (traditional chief) in his area. This makes it highly unlikely that Bokum and Nuhu would have walked for about 180km and entered the Togutil Woesopen area to kill Waci people. Would they really want to kill Waci people when by merely crossing the traditional border they were putting their own lives on the line? That is the anthropology of their lives as the forest guardians of Halmahera.

However as the police operation kept focussing on the Togutil, no other possible motives were considered. But if someone dies in the forest does it necessarily mean that it must have been the Togutil that killed them? Are there not also coastal people nearby and also mining and oil palm companies operating in the forest?

When the media reports they put the phrase “Suku Terasing” (exotic or primitive tribe) in their title referring to the perpetrator, as do the police. That was what AMAN found when it started to follow the news and police commentary about this case.

The case starts to appear more mysterious. Since the 1980s, several Togutil living groups have been rehoused by the government. They are taken out of the forest and slum houses are built for them which are out of keeping with their character. This process of rehousing is still going on. The Togutil in Walaino and Miaf (East Halmahera) – where it turns out there is a mining permit – have been taken out of the forest and rehoused.

The Togutil in Akejira and Woesopen still stick to their nomadic traditions. However they are only nomadic within their own ancestral lands, they do not cross the traditional boundaries. They live with the forest which in their cosmology is their house. In their tradition, if a baby girl is born three trees are planted and if a baby boy is born, ten trees are planted. They never make a house by felling trees. Instead, dry twigs are used to build houses.

The following companies all have permits on the Akejira or Woesopen Togutil’s land: PT Usaha Kita Kinerjatama, PT Bumi Sentosa Jaya, PT Karya Cipta Sukses Lestari, PT Bangun Perkasa, PT Weda Bay Nikel, PT Halmahera Sukses Mineral, PT Sinar Bahtera Sejahtera, PT Darma Rosadi Internasional, PT Global Utama, PT Tekindo Energy, PT Dwi Mitra Awwalun, PT Nikel Gebe, PT First Pacific Mining, PT Harun Sukses Mining, PT Bhakti Pertiwi Nusantara, PT Pela Sakti, PT Karya Wijaya, PT Algifari Wildan Sejahtera, PT Cetara Bank Perkasa, PT Bumi Halteng Mining, PT Putra Prima Sejahtera and also two location permits for oil palm plantations owned by PT Agro Palma Nusantara.

All these permits were issued by the East Halmahera and Central Halmahera District (Regency) Governments and the North Maluku Provincial Government. We assume there is a wider context which is relevant to understanding these killings. Before these murders happened, there was already strong opposition to the oil palm companies and the two mining companies with permits behind Bicoli-Waci village from the Bicoli-Waci people themselves. They opposed the companies because they didn’t want their area destroyed by mining and oil palm.

Another assumption is that there is an intense effort taking place to rehouse the Togutil people are so that mining activities for which permits have already been issued can go ahead smoothly without violating the human rights of the Togutil people who are protected by law. However, if this assumption proves to be untrue, AMAN as an institution fully supports police efforts to find the perpetrator regardless of their ethnic group or religion – the law must be upheld after all.

Let’s return to Bokum and Nuhu. Once again we want to repeat that it is not possible that Bokum and Nuhu went to the murder location, which was in the ancestral land of a different Togutil settlement unit (which doesn’t mean that the Woesopen Togutil were the perpetrators, it means a more thorough presentation of the facts is needed). Based on what we were told by residents of Kobe, Lelilef and Woejerana, Bokum and Nuhu were in very frequent communication with coastal communities. Many of the coastal people say that Togutil people cannot keep anything secret, if they would have killed someone, they would have said that they were the killers, if not then they would say it wasn’t them.

Other information we have obtained from several workers at the PT Weda Bay Nickel mine indicates that when the murders occurred, they saw Nuhu picking up the rice they were allocated by the company. If that information is true, Bokum and Nuhu cannot be the true perpetrators. However, they are in prison now. Their families have gone to the villages to look for the two men, but they are in detention in Ternate. The families are very angry. People on the coast are also panicking and have had to go into hiding because they don’t want bad things to happen.

Bokum and Nuhu are currently living in a four metre by four metre cage, even though they are free people that are used to living in nature. After all the heavy public attention surrounding their arrest, the police are continuing with a second operation to search Togutil people who are still in the forest. What could be the reason for doing this?

Ternate, 5 March  2015


source: Maluku Online:  (apart from the map which is from awasMIFEE)

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