The people of Merauke Regency have different customs and languages, but mostly belong to the Malind ethnic group. Towards the north are the Mandobo and Muyu peoples; further northwest the Mappi and Asmat. ‘Anim’ means people, so the people identify themselves as Malind Anim.
The land of the Malind Anim is Anim-ha and it has traditionally provided people with all the sustenance they need. Living mostly in the areas in the upper reaches of rivers, their staple food is sago, the starchy interior of a palm species which is abundant in the area. This diet is supplemented by hunting wild animals and fish. The Malind Anim consist of several clans, and each clan identifies with and is responsible for one element of the landscape. So the Gebze clan takes the coconut as its symbol and looks after the coconut trees, the Mahuze clan looks after sago, Basik-Basik the pigs, Samkakai the kangaroos, Kaize the cassowary and Balagaise the falcon birds. If one of these should be lost from the landscape, the clan would lose it’s identity(1)
Each clan also has ownership over different areas of land. This geography is created by the memory of paths that ancestors have taken, or where they stopped to spend the night. In this way each clan knows where they can hunt, or fish or build their homes. Tales of the ancestors, the Dema, are passed from generation to generation, and their descendants believe that they have a duty to protect that land. If they fail to do so, some bad thing will befall them. “
It is more than likely that in five or ten years time, the next generation of Malind people will no longer sing: ‘I grew up together with the wind, together with the leaves, together with the sago, together with the coconut trees.’ Instead, they will sing: ‘I grew up without the wind, without the leaves, without my sago village. I know nothing about my Dema, the symbol of my tradition, my language, my homeland. I will no longer be able to speak about my origins. All I will be able to say is that Papua is the land of my ancestors , the land where I was born.’”(2)
The roads and straight-line boundaries of oil-palm and sugar-cane plantations do not fit with the indigenous geography as viewed by the Malind, where the people, land, plants and animals are aspects of one whole. On a research trip to a village in Merauke, Down to Earth have reported that they were told of a man who had been found dead in the forest. It seemed that he was confused by the new forest ‘demarcation’ and got lost. He had died of hunger.(3)