MAC: Mines and Communities

Indonesian Update

Published by MAC on 2006-06-30

Indonesian Update

30th June 2006

Haruku people prefer nature to glittering offer of gold

M. Azis Tunny, the Jakarta Post

27th June 2006

The gold potential of a village in Central Maluku has sparked a public controversy, with confusion over the office responsible for issuing an exploration permit mixing with the environmental concerns of locals.

Haruku Island district chief J. Kene requested permission from the Haruku village customary chief, Paulus Kissya, in a letter dated June 3, 2006, for a company to conduct a two-month geological, geochemistry and geophysical study in the area. Kene based his request on a permission letter dated May 29, 2006, from the head of the Maluku Mining and Energy Office.

Kene had earlier discussed the matter with Paulus and local residents on March 5, but they turned down the request for PT Galtam Indonesia to conduct research and survey in the area.

Residents had rejected mining activities on their traditional land because, they said, Haruku Island was a small island with a tiny population and such activities could damage the island's natural ecosystem.

They also expressed concern that mining activities would be a breach of the local Sasi traditions they upheld, taboos against the removal of marine and forest products, which had earned them the Kalpataru Environmental and Satyalencana Development awards from the government.

Head of the Maluku Energy and Mining Office MG Simarmata said his office had learned about PT Galtam Indonesia's activities in Haruku, but it was not his but the Central Maluku regency office that had issued the permit.

"The permit was issued by the Central Maluku administration. I was only informed by them verbally," Simarmata told The Jakarta Post.

He cited an article of the 1967 Law on Mining Principles that states the regency administration has the authority to issue permits for mining conducted on a 5-hectare plot, and sizes above which will be under the authority of the provincial administration.

However, following the amendment of the 1999 Law on Regional Administration into its 2004 form, full authorization is now granted by the regency administration.

"The Central Maluku regency administration now has full authority over the permit issuance to PT Galtam Indonesia," he said.

Despite that, Simarmata said Haruku island, which is surrounded by other, smaller islands, was not suitable for mining activities due to its tiny size, 150 square kilometers, and its consisting of only 11 villages and around seven hamlets. The distance between Haruku island and islands around it, such as Ambon, Saparua and Seram, range from just two to three nautical miles.

"I would never sell the small islands to investors due to the adverse impact it might bring," said Simarmata.

He said a study on the potential gold on Haruku had been carried out previously, but his office had not obtained any records on the possible gold content of the area.

He said PT Galtam Indonesia was still analyzing the possibility of gold in the village.

"They were only given the permit to do research and they're not in the exploration stage. I haven't received the latest information on the company's activities in Haruku," he said.

An earlier study on possible gold in Haruku was conducted in 1990, by the PT Aneka Tambang state mining company and the Canadian-based In Gold, which entered at the exploration stage. Their activities were stopped in 1997 after strong protests from Haruku's traditional community and environmental groups.

The Haruku village kepala kawang (traditional village guardian), Eliza Kissya, said the second research that began on June 3 was just a camouflage, because the government already knew about the gold in the area. Moreover, he said, the district chief had been determined to bring in the research group and had set up border markings on residents' lands without giving notice or gaining permission from the owners.

"They are obviously intending to exploit gold because earlier studies have indicated that our area contains gold. As a traditional community, we strongly reject the presence of mining activities in our area due to the detrimental effects it would have on the community, environment and tradition," he said.

Environmental activist M. Ichwan Patty said the research indicated there would be exploration activity and the possibility of gold exploitation activity on Haruku Island.

"If this is disregarded, then a tragedy like the one in Buyat, North Sulawesi, might occur in Maluku, which would be more destructive considering the tiny size of the island and as it is located among other islands," said Ichwan.

Eliza Kissya: Preserving the 'sasi' tradition against the odds


2nd May 2006

M. Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon, Maluku

Eliza Kissya has for 27 years dedicated his life as a kewang chief to guarding the land and waters around his village on Haruku island in Central Maluku regency.

The 57-year-old Haruku native who comes from a family of kewang (traditional village policemen), says his job to conserve the environment in accordance with tradition is not easy.

Unpaid and alone he regularly deals with fishermen who use explosives in the area to stop them destroying the marine ecosystem, particularly the coral reefs.

He also meets state officials, bosses, mining companies and even opposes government legislation that does not conform to the traditional norms his ancestors laid down hundreds of years ago.

Despite the stressful nature of his work, Eliza felt unable to refuse being appointed a kewang chief by his Kissya clan. He and his brother gave up school at elementary level to undergo preparation for their future positions.

Eliza was officially appointed kewang chief in 1979, while his brother is now the village secretary. His first challenge was Law No. 5/1979, which aimed to bring uniformity to all rural administrations throughout the country. Eliza says the enforcement of this law weakened traditional, village-level institutions in Maluku.

Eliza stood his ground against the new law, working to maintain the kewang institution and its central concept -- sasi -- conservation-inspired prohibitions passed down by his ancestors.

As a kewang chief, he feels called upon to apply the traditions of sasi as a means to preserve natural resources on land and in the water.

There are three kinds of sasi in Haruku: marine, terrestrial and domestic prohibitions. To protect a particular species of fish, one must enforce a marine sasi in a particular part of the ocean. Fishing is then forbidden in this particular area for a certain period of time, say a year or two.

When a sasi is enforced in a particular part of a forest, people are not allowed to collect anything from the area for a set period. Anyone violating the law is normally subjected to social sanctions along with material ones in the form of a fine.

Domestic sasi in Haruku are concerned particularly with personal morality and conduct. A man is allowed to be outdoors wearing only a sarong during the day, except when he is sick. However, when a woman comes home from taking a bath or washing clothes in the river, she must wrap her body in a cloth, covering it past her breasts. Violating these sasi leads to a fine of Rp 10,000.

Eliza says the different kinds of sasi stem from one traditional source -- generations of wisdom about how to deal with nature.

Sasi govern the relationship between human beings and nature as well as between people.

"Today, people talk about sustainable development. But hundreds of years ago, our ancestors created and enforced sasi, laws which are still adhered to in our community," Eliza told The Jakarta Post.

One local sasi which has attracted some international attention is the lompa sasi (lompa is a fish).

In Haruku, seawater lompa are bred in rivers. The customary law on the island requires the villagers to protect the fish from the time their eggs are released into the rivers until the adult spawn are collected.

Eliza said the sasi tradition was economically advantageous to the public because it ensured an abundant harvest. Villagers could accumulate more-than-enough to eat and had savings for hard times in the future.

The tradition also has a special arrangement for widows and orphans in communities, who generally get a bigger share of the natural resources collected when a particular sasi is lifted.

For his consistent efforts to preserve the sasi tradition, Eliza was awarded the Kalpataru environmental award in 1985. In 1999, he received the Satyalencana medal of merit.

He has also received several citations at the international level for his dedication to environmental conservation and is frequently invited to speak at forums involving traditional communities from a variety of countries.

It has not been easy, however, for Eliza to ensure the sasi ancestral tradition is well-heeded. He has had to take those fishing with explosives to court singlehanded and attend trial sessions, going from Haruku to Ambon island without legal assistance and paying for his own travel.

Still, the father of six and the husband of Elizabeth has never stopped fighting for the rights of his village, especially if its the natural environment is under threat. Unpaid as a kewang, he feeds his family by growing plants and raising cattle.

To earn some money for the institution, in 1980 he wrote a book -- Sasi Aman Harukui (The Sasi of Haruku) -- in which he describes the sasi traditions and the kewang role to the public.

The book has sold well among students, environmentalists, researchers, anthropologists and non-governmental organization activists. OXFAM has asked that when reprinted, the book be translated into English.

The first village of Haruku was razed to the ground during the religious rioting that broke out in the region in 2000. The villagers later abandoned the place, rebuilding elsewhere.

Eliza is now cautious about applying sanctions on fishermen using explosives because most come from a neighboring village that was involved in a bloody conflict with his own.

While before he tried to put the fishermen behind bars, he now prefers to settle problems with them more amicably.

Eliza had to work even harder when PT Aneka Tambang, a state gold mining company, planned to carry out prospecting activities in his village during the early 1990s.

He believed the exploration work would be a threat to the environment and a health hazard for his fellow villagers.

Staunchly against the mining, he did not budge from his position when dealing with the enterprise and the regional administration.

The head of a family that usually prays together when any of their members is facing a problem, Eliza remembers he was moved to tears when his youngest daughter, Halida Kissya, prayed so solemnly that she cried when he was in conflict with PT Aneka Tambang.

Assisted by non-government organizations, environmentalists and the media, he fought hard against the company and eventually won, when it abandoned its plan.

"I feel happy if I am successful in my struggle, particularly if I can preserve the legacy of my ancestors," Eliza said.

"My family understands that I face a lot of challenges in my position. They understand that I fulfill my responsibilities without hope of reward.

"I receive no salary and suffer great pressure in this job."

Sepang sand mining threatens locals' livelihood in Bengkulu, Sumatra


18th June 2006

Teluk Sepang's residents are restless. The sea water gets closer to their porches and the wind blows stronger. The waves used to sound remote but now they make a thundering noise. Within only six years the beach has moved closer from 200 meters away to only 25 meters from their houses. This has happened due to the sand mining activities in the area since 2000.

Teluk Sepang beach is a part of a conservation area of Taman Wisata Alam Pantai Panjang in the western coastal area of Sumatra in Bengkulu province. The area, which is protected under, among others, Forestry Ministry decree No. 383/1985 functions to protect the land from the large waves and notoriously strong winds of the Indian Ocean.

However, despite its conservation area status, two companies CV. Dua Putri and PD. Bahari Jaya exploit the sand in the bay. The sand mining causes abrasion of the coastline which happens at a considerable speed. The coast line moves closer to the hinterland and plants along the coast die.

For the first two years, locals saw nothing wrong with the mining activities; they were even involved in them. But after two years, they began to see changes they didn't like. First, they saw coast line moving inland. So they wrote a letter signed by all the residents, to the Bengkulu administration and Bengkulu Council calling on them to stop the mining.

After receiving no response, the residents took the matters into their own hands. They closed the access to the mine at Teluk Sepang village. Their action was supported by the mayor, who issued a decree to close the mine.

The mining stopped for two days, but recommenced working after the companies made a new access road. Besides threatening the future of their homes, the mining also affected the local economy. The mining activities have uprooted many trees along the shore, which now crowd the bottom of the sea. Mining has also made the sea shallower while coral reefs have died due to sand smothering. These impacts have led to dwindling fish stocks in the area.

Walhi Bengkulu made a survey of the area in February 2006. They estimated that at least 400m3 of sand is transported out of the area every day by the mining companies.

Locals who work at the mining as sand diggers confirmed the number. They said not less than 100 trucks a day were loaded with sand.

History of the sand mining

The companies which operate the mine are partners of state seaport enterprise PT Pelindo II Suaka Bahari in Bengkulu. Yon Frizal, the head of Pelindo's employee cooperative, said that the mining began in 2000. Yon said that the mine was set up by the Bengkulu Governor, Hasan Zen, to get rid of the illegal sand mining at Pelindo's area. The governor issued a license to mine sand that results from
sedimentationat Pulau Baai seaport.

However, in reality, the mined sand is not sediment from the port. The companies instead mine rough sand at Teluk Sepang, which is actually a protected area. They do it to get more profit because the sand at Pulau Baai is more powdery. Rough sand is valued higher.

Seeing profit potential, the city administration immediately followed suit. With several government institutions including BKSDA (Natural Resources Conservation Agency), the administration surveyed Teluk Sepang and later issued a license for PT Pelindo.

Yon said that his mining was legal. They have to renew the license once a year in September and last year they received the license from the Bengkulu Governor. He added that sand mining was necessary to reduce sedimentation resulting from port activities at Pulau Baai.

He added that PT Pelindo was actually not the party who got most profit. The port only got benefits from the tax paid by each truck every time they enter the port. Other vehicles also have to pay the tax. Yon said PT Pelindo did not get profit from the sand sales.

Therefore, he said PT Pelindo wouldn't mind closing the mine in the protected area. The loss from the truck tax could be compensated for by being released from having to pay property tax at the mine.

Walhi's observation concluded that mining activities at Teluk Sepang did not have a significant impact to the sedimentation at the Pulau Baai port. The sedimentation was caused not by Teluk Sepang's sand but by sand from other places that moved to the port due to currents.

BKSDA, the national conservation agency, which was supposed to protect the area, claimed that they had tried to fix the situation. They sent a letter to Bengkulu Energy and Mineral Resources Agency, questioning the license for the mining in the protected area and at the port.

BKSDA said the agency replied by saying they had never issued such license because it violated the regulations. BKSDA's attempt to fix the situation stopped there as they didn't pursue the company or provincial government any further.

Ali Akbar, Walhi Bengkulu's director, said that the sand mining in the protected area had to be stopped because it threatened the future of Teluk Sepang's residents. Not only the future, the mining has already destroyed the livelihood of the bay's fishermen. Many of them now worked as porters at the port or are jobless.

Walhi believes that if the administration and the companies do not stop the mining, all of Bengkulu will have to pay for the expensive consequences. Therefore, Walhi urges all stakeholders to meet and find a solution.

For more information, please contact:

Ali Akbar
Executive Director (WALHI Bengkulu)
Email Ali Akbar (

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