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When the Forest of the Tobelo Dalam people continues to be eroded by nickel mines

“I have, I own. Just take a look if it wasn’t me who planted it, while there is where my house used to be. I don’t let them take it,” said Hairani, a woman from Tobelo Dalam, complaining that the forest which is her living space is slowly disappearing recently.

Together with Turaji, her husband, she lives behind the village of Loleba Village. They had to move to the forest, because the previous location, in Moleo Ma Bohuku (Tofu), was no longer comfortable because the river and forest water had been damaged.

Hairani, and Turaji, as well as other residents of Tobelo Dalam, were disturbed because their living space was disturbed by the activities of a number of nickel mining companies.

The Tobelo Dalam or O Hongana Manyawa people , such as Hairani and Turaji, live dependent on the forest. The forest is damaged, they can’t do much and are forced to escape, looking for a new location that is considered comfortable.

Ngigoro Batawi, a Tobelo Dalam man who was born in Tofu, said the Tobelo Dalam Community was disturbed by forest clearing by mining companies such as PT Weda Bay Nickel—now PT Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP)—until it shifted to the east of Subaim.

“Currently [the Tobelo Dalam Forest] are being built by several company camps. A sub-contractor from IWIP, a nickel and smelter megaproject company currently producing in Central Halmahera,” he said.

Novenia Ambeua, a descendant of Tobelo on the coast of South Wasile, was sad to hear about Hairani and Toraji’s condition when they had to leave their forest.

He said, even though they are nomadic or moving, there are places where they will return. Hairani’s place is in ofu They’ve been there for generations. However, they had to leave because the company’s activities were disrupted.

He is disappointed with the government, both the district and the central government, who seem not to care about the existence of indigenous peoples in Halmahera, such as in South Wasilei.

Get to know Tobelo Dalam

According to Syaiful Madjid, a sociologist at Muhammadiyah University of North Maluku (UMU), in his research he classified the Tobelo people into two, namely the O’Hongana Manyawa (Tobelo people who live in the forest) and the O’Hoberera Manyawa (Tobelo people who live on the coast).

While the word Togutil, he said, is the mention of outsiders to the Tobelo people who live in the forest.

Unfortunately, the mention of the word Togutil develops into a stereotype—connotative meaning. There are also names of the Outer Tobelo People and the Inner Tobelo People.

For the word  O’Tau Gutili ,  it actually means a medicine house or a place where the Tobelo people carry out the treatment process.

In his research, it can be seen that O’Hongana Manyawa divides their area into production, consumption, and even protected forest.

This division, he said, was before the Indonesian government mapped the status of forests according to their version, such as protection forests, production forests, and conservation forests such as national parks.

In the classification of the Inner Tobelo People, it has three sections: Fongana , Hongana , Raima Hamoko .

Fongana is the place of the ancestors. As for Hongana , a place to live and gather, hunt, and so on. “So, Fongana is a protected forest. Hongana is called the forest of life, inheriting life from generation to generation around it,” he said.

For Raima Hamoko ,  production forests are a source of life. “That’s the same as the state dividing forests into protected forests, production forests, conservation forests.”

He reminded investors operating in Halmahera, they must consider the existence of the Tobelo Dalam Community who depend on the forest.

“Investors who enter without going through the regions, but go directly to the central government. What did the indigenous community get in the Halmahera forest? I consider that there is no benefit, instead it destroys local wisdom.”

Isaiah R. Banari, a researcher and author of the book ” Searching for Those Who Have Been Lost “, said that the term Tobelo Dalam is the designation or nomenclature of the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN), which refers to communities or tribes living in the interior of Halmahera .

They, he said, speak Tobelo. In the context of the Tobelo language it is called O Hongana Manyawa which means people who live in the forest.

The living space of Tobelo Dalam is spread from North Halmahera, East Halmahera to Central Halmahera. It is mostly in the area between Central Halmahera and East Halmahera in and around Obi.

Their living space, he said, was in the jungle. So far, they have not been disturbed because one group after another has boundaries. They don’t interfere with each other. This means that one group from Tobelo Dalam cannot enter another Tobelo group. So, he said, many settlements and their living spaces in the forest area were different from one another.

” Well , now there are a lot of problems due to the entry of company plots.”

There are also people who clear land plots and then sell them to mining, among other things.

This is where, he said,   O Hongana Manyawa was affected, who initially moved around, but within their own sphere. Now, they have to move to another place.

“Until there is some sort of shift, that’s what in AMAN’s language, ‘we don’t want them to become extinct’,” he said.

When nature and forests are controlled by other people, their lives become limited. In fact, the forest is their life.

Inner Tobelo Protest

Hundreds of Togutil Habeba, Hoana Wangaeke Minamin Saolat took action to block IWIP mining activities in the Tofu Indigenous Forest, East Halmahera Regency, last September. Those who took this action were from the villages of Saolat and Minamin.

The action began with traditional rituals by the two villages at the WBN/IWIP mining road junction.

The traditional elders from the two villages made a traditional oath. A handful of the land around the residents was taken, and then the two traditional elders recited a prayer. After the prayer, the lands were collected by the traditional elders and put into “Harangata”, namely areca nut fronds which are woven in the shape of a bowl.

These lands are then wrapped in red cloth which will be planted around the company’s roads.

In addition to traditional rituals, this action is also accompanied by cakalele dance. The war dance of the Maluku indigenous people, especially Halmahera. This dance adds to the excitement of this action which is accompanied by the rhythm of traditional tifa and hitadi music, a type of bamboo.

This ritual ends with the traditional ” Bugo ” procession. The Bugo ritual is the culmination of the traditional ritual actions of these two villages.

Even so, they threaten to continue to occupy the company’s path until there is a definite answer to their demands.

Paulus Papua, the traditional leader of Minamin Village, conveyed that the purpose of this traditional ritual ceremony was to defend customary land. Also restore the sovereignty of customary forest management.

“So far, mining corporations have taken over cooperation with the bureaucracy, without permits, they don’t even involve this stage of the process with indigenous peoples, until we come to this place for traditional rituals,” he said.

Their customary territory, he said, had been confiscated.

Yustinus Papiling, Traditional Chairperson of Saolat Village (Para-para) said the Hoana Wangaike Minamen Saolat Community had tried to make their demands heard by the government but was ignored.

He asked state officials, President Joko Widodo, to pay attention to the fate and life of the people in Halmahera.

“The customary land of the Togutil Habeba Hoana Wangaike Minamen Saolat Community has been taken by mining.”

The East Halmahera government held a meeting with the indigenous people of the two villages. Anjas Taher, Deputy Regent of East Halmahera, said that the government is accommodating people’s aspirations.

“We mediate, what is clear is that the local government is in the middle to bridge these two interests. We must also protect the interests of the community and the interests of the company. We will meet the two of them to mediate,” said Anjas in October 2022.

The government, he said, accommodated the aspirations and demands of the people of the two villages. Last October, the company’s activities were totally paralyzed because local residents prevented it through customary traditions.

“The traditional leaders have explained that if the Bugo tradition cannot be opened. Coincidentally, the company workers also agreed with them. The government is only mediating.”

Anjas admits that the forest where the mining activity is located has always had inhabitants, namely the Togutil tribe. For data on the Toguti people in the forest, data collection is needed.

“The government is in data collection. There are also residents who have not come out there. For example, in Titipa and Tutuling there are several communities.”

Likewise the Tobelo Dalam people behind the villages of Minamen and Saolat Villages, he said that he had not collected data because they were far away in the forest.

“Social Services will check again later. This is a matter of data but that there have been indigenous peoples from the past.”

He also admits that many customary lands overlap with mining areas.

“Indeed, on average, our tribes in the forest are in mining areas. This is the responsibility of the state to take care of.”

As an extension of the central government, said Anjas, the East Halmahera Government has an obligation to carry forward the aspirations of the people and is obliged to convey them to the center.

“I think there will be something we can bridge. Because the problem is not resolved, if there is no coordination to bridge it.”

Regarding the demand for the return of customary forest that was subject to company plots, the local government will review it again. Likewise regional regulations regarding indigenous peoples. “If it regulates the nature of district locality then of course regulations from the district.”

Between one tribe and another, he said, had different customary laws and it was impossible to mix them into one rule.

“If it has to be different then it has to be the district’s domain. But I have to check with the legal department to make it clear.”

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