Oil Palm threat to the Auyu People’s Forest

[awasMIFEE note: This report about a company which is trying to establish a palm oil plantation in Boven Digoel Regency, which neighbours Merauke, was written by a Catholic Priest from the area and published in Indonesian by suarapapua.com. While we do not currently have information on this company, PT Menara Group, or their exact plans in Boven Digoel, it is extremely worrying that they appear to be distributing large amounts of money to local villages, leaving the villagers perplexed about what might be coming next. Pastor Felix Amias starts his report with a description of the Auyu ethnic group and how they live.]

By : Pastor Felix Amias MSC *

About the Auyu people: History

It would seem that like many other Papuan ethnic groups, the Auyu people who live in Boven Digoel Regency of Southern West Papua are not sure of their exact origins or history. What is certain is that the Auyu people now live over a far wider geographical area than other ethnic groups in the Southern part of West Papua. Although their lands cover a vast area, the population is small, which means that much of these expanses of forest remain untouched.


Firstly; The Auyu people’s culture is that of a peaceful people, both within their group and towards outsiders. They are a timid people who would shy away from causing harm to others.

In the era of tribal wars before the arrival of government and religion (the Dutch Government in 1902, Catholic religion in 1905 and then the Indonesian Government in 1960 with the TRIKORA proclamation), they would only kill out of self defence, and they never initiated aggressive actions to attack other tribes to take over and occupy their land.

Their strongly held philosophical view is rooted in a belief that humans do not just shed their skin when they are old and wrinkled and become young again, but die instead, and that is why tpeople are regarded much more favourably if they can manage to live peacefully alongside others.

Secondly, the Auyu’s territory lies far from the border between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, separated by the mighty Digoel River, which means they know little about anything which might pose a threat to Indonesian State security, and especially have no involvement with separatist ideologies. This area has never had anything to do with anything connected with security politics. This is one of Papua’s peaceful zones.

Until the present day, the Auyu people are still very dependent on their natural environment. They hunt in the forest with bows and arrows, scrape starch from the sago palm, drink water straight from the forest, and use traditional methods to catch river fish (using fishing rods or blocking rivers with forest leaves when water levels are high and then picking the fish from the mud when the water recedes). They know nothing about nets, or fishing using potash, electric shock or explosives.


The Auyu people distinguish between three kinds of people who have influence in leadership structures.

First of all , Basing Maiyo (big man). The meaning of the Big Man is physical (healthy body, rich in possessions because he is skilled in cultivating his garden and rearing pigs, owns a big house, etc.). However, part of the meaning is also that the Big Man is someone who wants to help people in difficulty, their home is open to all, they are peacemakers etc. In other words, these people are very suitable leaders.

Secondly, Basing Maiyo Kao/Vreyo (Not a Big Man). Someone is described as Basing Maiyo Kao/Vreyo if their behaviour is incompatible with that of a Basing Maiyo. This type of person cannot become a leader.

Thirdly, Oviyo (Majority of the people). People classed as Oviyo are those that do not behave either as Basing Maiyo or Basing Maiyo Kao / Vreyo. They live ordinary lives, and have the possibility to become leaders if they build themselves up to become Basing Maiyo (Big Men).

It can be seen from these three types of individual that the Auyu people have an open form of leadership, where anyone can become a leader, if they fill the criteria for being a Basing Maiyo.

Overview of the Natural Situation

The area attracting corporate attention is Auyu territory in Boven Digoel Regency. This is wild forest which has never felt the touch of the outside world, which contains many animal species (both in land and in the water), many bird species (that walk on the land, fly in the air or live on the water surface), including birds of paradise.

Many rivers flow with exceptionally clean water (free of viruses), and importantly, many large trees in areas which have never been logged (including trees with medicinal uses such as Masohi (a variety of cinnamon) and Eaglewood trees)

Widespread swamps containing spiked sago palms remain the staple food of local people. It is this land that the company has currently got its eye on.

PT Menara Group arrives on the scene.

I make the notes in this section as an indigenous member of the Auyu ethnic group, from Meto village, and therefore also a victim of the company’s takeover of our forests.

As Indonesian citizens and members of society, we know that the whole country is governed by law, including laws about forest management. We also believe that the Indonesian government will not bring misery to its people.

However, since early 2012, once I was no longer in Papua (because I got a new posting in South Sulawesi), many people called me with their worries, because a company had appeared, its background unknown, but seemingly determined to exploit the forests and unwilling to compromise with local people.

How could they not be nervous, when so many local people are totally dependant on their natural environment. They are nervous because they fear that their livelihoods are under threat, and it could even mean the destruction of their entire world.

A few months later, the company brought 10 people from several villages to Jakarta along with two policemen from Getentiri (sorry, I did not make a note of their names). It is still not clear exactly what was their purpose in Jakarta. As a Auyu person who is also affected, I feel that the company has the mal-intentioned plan to manipulate local people’s goodwill for its own profit.

Auyu people are a peaceful people, they have never been involved in separatism, so why is there the need for security personnel? Why haven’t some of the more educated Auyu people, such as myself, been called upon to speak on behalf of the people?

In business the term ‘Permission Fee’ doesn’t exist, the word which is used is ‘transaction’. Permission would mean ‘I can cross your land and won’t cause any disturbance, do anything or take anything’. It would be only permission to pass by, and after that, you would be left alone as before. A transaction, on the other hand, means indigenous landowners and companies that wish to exploit the land each reckoning or bargaining what they could gain versus what they will lose.

But this company, which wants to exploit the Auyu people’s forest, has asked for ‘permission to enter’!! What kind of logic makes them use this sort of language? It seems that they are trying to manipulate the kind-hearted nature of less-educated people in order to reap their profits.

This company, that wants to exploit this piece of untouched natural forest has already paid a ‘permission fee’ of 13.75 billion Rupiah (1.4 million US$).

This money has been shared between the different villages, including where I grew up, Kampung Meto. The data is as follows

–         Friday 19 April 2013  in Anggai                      Rp 4 Billion

–         Saturday 20 April 2013 in Getentiri                Rp 2.5 Billion

–         Sunday 21 April 2013 inHobnanggi                Rp  4 Billion

–         Monday 22 April 2013 in Meto                          Rp 1.250 Billion

Total Rp 11.75 Billion

Why should a company be so kind and brave as to open up their wallet and share out so much money: 11.75 billion Rupiah? This company wants to develop an oil palm plantation, but if they do that what will become of all the forest wood, which is full of top-grade timber?

Has the company paid this ‘permission fee’ so that it can take wood as it pleases? What sort of transaction over the forest’s riches has occurred between the company and the people?

These are questions which need serious and thoughtful contemplation from all sides, especially by the company which seems to intend to exploit the whole of the Auyu territory.

Also the Indonesian government, both at the central and provincial level, and especially the Boven Digoel Regency Government, should think about, act and take responsibility for the fate of their people.

*The writer is an indigenous Auyu man from Meto village in Boven Digoel regency, Southern West Papua. He is a member of the MSC order (Missionariorum Sacratissimi Cordis), currently serving in Palopo (South Sulawesi).

This entry was posted in Around West Papua and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.