"Father and Son" (Mumugu Village, Asmat, Papua-August, 2013). @bayumaitra

“Father and Son” (Mumugu Village, Asmat, Papua-August, 2013). @bayumaitra

When the indigenous forest has finally been freed from the state dominance, the challenge comes from the Asmat society itself.

“If we already understand this picture, we can tell what is inside here.” Wika Rumbiak (33) spreaded a big map, lifting it high so the people in the meeting room of Agency of Regional Development of Asmat Regency (Bappeda), Papua, could see. Her glance swept around the room.

Wika is the Coordinator of Geographic Information System (GIS) WWF-Indonesia. She studied Planology in USTJ Jayapura, then got her master degree in Faculty of Environment University of Gajahmada, Yogyakarta. She is currently still studying in the same university for her doctoral degree. Since first went to university until now, she has always been in touch with lay out and planology. She is happy because she “can meet more people in the society.”

On that one morning in the end of June, she spoke in front of the representatives of 12 Community Forum (FAR) of Asmat which gathered to learn one thing: mapping. In Asmat, the issue of mapping may never be this important.

Land, or area, including the content which are the forest and its elements, mean a lot to Asmat people. The bond has been imprinted since a long time ago. An old Asmat saying states that Fumeriptsy god created two statues which then become alive with the beating of tifa (musical instrument originated from Papua which looks like a drum). Both of them are first people, the ancestor of Asmat people. Asmat originates from the word of  “As” (human) and “Amat” (tree).

Since that time, from generation to generation, Asmat people have connected themselves to cosmological world, connecting the past and the present through docur ipits (ancestor’s spirits) which occurs through medium of Mbis statue which is also made out of wood.

However, the using of wood in Asmat is not only limited for religious purposes. Traditional lifestyle and the location of the community, which is placed in outfall of the river and in the middle of the forest, make woods exist in all aspects of their life. Houses, including jew (long typical Asmat house), is made of wood. The main transportation of Asmat people, boat, is also made of wood. Same thing with paddle, spear, arrow.

Until now, the life of 80,000 Asmat people is closely related to 2,345,351 hectares of forest growing around them. The society considers the forest as “our mother”.

When the status is changed to “state-owned”, the action can be forbidden and people can get punishment for that.

That wood had once taken by the state through the Regulations of Indonesian Republic number 41 year 1999 about forestry. The state divides the forest into two categories: state forest or private forest (can be owned by individual or institution which has been given rights on the land).  The regulations stated that “indigenous forest is state forest which is under area of common people law.”

The status weakening of “indigenous forest”- a forest which managed by its own society from generation to generation- has caused a lot of disadvantages for its people. The regulation, in its worst case scenario, can even criminalize its own society. In Asmat, Papua, for instance, common people cut the tree in the forest and use it for daily purposes. When the status is changed to “state-owned”, the action can be forbidden and people can get punishment for that.

At that time, the condition was more difficult by the Ministry of Forestry’s Decree No 458/2012 which changes the forest function from forest area from non-forest (376,535 hectares) and conservation forest area becomes production forest (392,535 hectares). It also means that 769,070 hectares of Papua forest is ready to be cleared.

It is true that the government also appoints 45,258 hectares of non-forest area to become forest area. However, she is also worried that because it is done by the government, the party which has appointed 130 million hectares of land as forest area but only 14 percents of it (5.2 million hectares) has been done and set boundaries.

In last May 16th, Constitutional Court announces the test case decision UU Nomor 41 Year 1999 against Undang-Undang Dasar Negara Republik Indonesia 1945 which is proposed by Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN), Kesatuan Masyarakat Hukum Adat Kenegerian Kuntu and Kesatuan Masyarakat Hukum Adat Kasepuhan Cisitu, on March 2012.

One of the articles of the decision mentions that the word “state”, in Article 1 Number 6, which states “indigenous forest is state forest which is under the area of common people law”, contradicting with UUD 1945. Therefore, it is revised into “indigenous forest is the forest which is under the area of common people law.”

Mumu Muhajir, Manager of Environmental Law and Justice from Epistema Institute said that the effect of the decision is the appearance of “indigenous forest” between the two categories which have existed before which is state forest and private forest.

Abdon Nababan, Secretary General of AMAN, sees the decision as a victory of the society. “The state must abide to Constitutional Court’s decision,” he said. However, he also states that it is just the beginning. The government-especially local government- must be encouraged to make new regulations which are in accordance with the decision.

Related to Asmat forest, Abdon said, “There is a chance that all forest in Asmat become indigenous forest.”

Communal lifestyle shift due to modernity and economic pressure have made society based mapping is required

Wika still waits for process which will happen after the Decree of Constitutional Court. She believes that “this will still be a long journey.” While waiting to what will happen next, Wika and WWF-Indonesia still holds on Ministry of Forestry Decree No 782/2012. The decree declares 39 percents of forest in Asmat as conservation forest, and 12 percents as conservation area. For Wika, this decree is really helpful for forest conservation, and is considered to be taking side of the society.

Even so, the decree still has some weaknesses. Since it is made based on the old mapping which does not involve the society, the new status has made its own challenge. This challenge is wide and touches all level of society. It is also related to land exploitation issue and area borders.

In the town of Agatz, for instance. The Asmat Regency capital which is located in the southern part is now more difficult to develop because the area is now in the area of conservation forest. The development in the past made the supply of wood fewer, so that the people have to take it from other place. Unfortunately, the wood can only be taken from Production Forest in northern area of the regency. This will definitely make the cost even higher.

Even if it is done, it will raise questions of the people in the area between Agatz and Production Forest. Why not buying wood from them just like all this time? This can trigger social envy and it may also cause friction with economical backgrounds. It is need to be understood that wood is one of the biggest income of Asmat people.

Another story happens in Mumugu village. The people in the border feel upset because in one side of the area-which administratively is a part of Asmat, lives people from mountain tribe. They feel the people from Nduga Regency in Middle Mountains have crossed their territory boundaries.

On the other side, Mumugu is a poor village whose people seldom have special skills, such as carving or farming. Their main income comes from selling iron-wood. Unfortunately, on one side of wood land area, they face the lumberjacks from other villages, who feel that the land also belong to them.

The examples above are a small part of the challenges existed in indigenous forest management. Communal lifestyle shift due to modernity and economic pressure have made society based mapping is required. This mapping can create discussion space related to management and space exploration. And later, the setting of boundaries or area status may not be a one way process but result of dialogues between government and the people of Asmat.

If that happened, new regulations may appear, along with new brilliant development ideas which can go along with life philosophy, traditional and spiritual values of Asmat people.

In that morning in the beginning of June, the representatives of 12 Forum Adat Rumpun (FAR) Asmat tribe gathered in Bappeda and learned about mapping. The twelve family groups cover tribe Joerat, Emari Decur, Unir Sirau, Unir Epmak, Bisman, Simai, Kenekap, Becembub, Safan, Aramatak, Braza and Yupmakcain.

“The needs of mapping has been felt by the society,” said Wika. In her discussion lately with the local people, she got an impression that the society considers map as a way of negotiation. If there are any problems of area boundaries, the map will be their basic argument. “And whenever there is conflict with the government or investor, they will show that it is their place, the place for their children and grand children later in the future. Therefore, they cannot just exploit it like that,” added Wika.

Mapping program in Asmat Regency was firstly done by WWF-Indonesia in 2006. At that time, they involved one of the family tribes living in the area around Lorentz National Park. There they mapped several important locations of the local people, starting from hunting location, village area, clean water sources, ancestor resting places, to sacred places. The mapping result has been legitimated by Asmat Regency Regional Development in 2008.

Seven years later, WWF-Indonesia has completed the mapping of important areas of Asmat tribe of the twelve FAR family tribes with the scale of 1:250,000. The next step is to do more detailed mapping of the villages, by involving five family tribes whose regions are the destination of next governmental developments.

“According to the plan, the mapping will be completed in January 2014,” explained Wika. Her dream is to include that participative mapping result in Area Spatial Plan of Asmat Regency later in the future.

If that happened, new regulations may appear, along with new brilliant development ideas which can go along with life philosophy, traditional and spiritual values of Asmat people.

Wika Rumbiak has spent the last five months in Asmat and she cannot imagine living in near future. Daily she spends her time in WWF-Indonesia office. However, during her leisure time, she will take her friends to go fishing in the port. “We have plan to go fishing further but we do not have time yet,” she said smiling.

Published in Reader’s Digest Indonesia (8/2013).