“The PKMT has listed among its numerous objectives the development of tribal ability to produce works of culture and ‘in tune with the values of Indonesian society’.”
– Norman Lewis: An Empire of the East (Travels in Indonesia) (1993)
Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Masyarakat Terasing (PKMT) was a section of what was the then Suharto government’s Department of Social Welfare, obstensibly set up to provide welfare services, including health, to the ‘alien peoples’, often forest dwellers, to be found throughout Indonesia.
Lewis pegged his comment to a reproduced letter from a friend or family member (he doesn’t say) who had visited the Mentawai on Siberut island around the same time that Son No.1 and I did. Presumably by the “values of Indonesian society” Lewis was referring to the acculturation of folk whose cultures, which in the opinion of many should be cherished because they have much to teach us, and not homogenised into a consumptive whole.
Strategically positioned where the Indian and Pacific oceans meet, the attempts to ‘civilise’ the archipelagos were first made by missionaries, particularly Christians and Muslims, who sailed with, or shortly after, traders from Europe and Arabia.
More recently, ‘acculturalisation’ has been made through the disasterous transmigration programme* which saw Javanese (and Balinese) spread throughout the archipelago. Military units and bureaucrats were similarly posted away from their home bases to oversee the process, along with the rapacious grabbing of natural resources, most of it sanctioned by central government, such as ores and timber, land grabbing for palm oil plantations. All of this continues to have a profound negative effect on the lives of those who practise ‘traditional lifestyles’ with cultural values beyond our complete understanding.
In 1989, “in line with the growing trend toward recognizing natives’ traditional property rights and the inherent value of preserving native culture“, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) passed Convention 169 which asserted that indigenous people have basic ownership rights over the lands they have traditionally occupied. Indonesia has been a member of ILO since 12th May 1950. However, the country has only ratified 18 conventions and left 64 unratified, including 169.
After almost ten years of work, in 1994, the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations completed the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The NGO Cultural Survival describe it as “a statement of what the member states believe the rights to be, a broad statement of fundamental values and human or legal rights that ought to be respected by the countries of the world“.
It was accepted by member states, including Indonesia, a member of the Working Group. However, a large number of indigenous groups, including the Alifurus in Maluku, objected because “proposals by States to weaken or amend the text have not gained the consensus of the working group participants, which included both States and indigenous peoples.”
Thirteen years later, on 13 September 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIPS) was adopted by 144 states, including Indonesia. However, a ‘Declaration’ is not subject to ‘Ratification’ and is not a binding legal instrument or agreement. Therefore there are no regulations to enforce or sanctions to be applied.
And so, in Indonesia, the rights of forest dwellers such as the Mentawai, the Alifurus, Papuans, and a group of semi-nomadic forest dwellers living in Jambi, the Orang Rimba (video), are trampled upon with impunity as the archipelago’s finite “natural resources” are plundered in the name of “globalisation”, “economic growth”, and other sanctimonious euphenisms.
*Source: Transmigration in Indonesia: Lessons from Its Environmental and Social Impacts by Philip M. Fearnside, downloadable from Academia.Edu.
Cultural Survival, incorporated in 1972, and First Peoples Worldwide, founded in 2005, are two major non-government organisations active in “a revolution of empowerment for Indigenous Peoples around the world”.