Fate of Kinipan

For the Dayak people, the forest is like a natural supermarket that provides everything they need. However, their forest landscape is now changing due to climate change and the massive expansion of the mining industry and palm oil plantations.
Photo & Text:
Khairul Abdi
Friday, 22 July 2022

The Red Army “Tariu Borneo Bangkulerajank” performs a traditional ritual in the sacred area of the Kinipan indigenous community. The Dayak Red Troops claim to be taking an important role in defending the Dayak customs and the rights of the Dayak indigenous people. The Dayak tribe highly upholds the customs that have been passed down from generation to generation. In this ritual, the organization also has the ability to communicate with Dayak ancestors who cannot be seen directly.

This event was organized to unite the Dayak people in Kalimantan, so as not to be divided by corporate political interests and so on. 
And this time the event was held after a conflict between the Laman Kinipan indigenous community and a plantation company PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari (PT SML) in Lamandau. The conflict led to the arrest of five young people from Kinipan Village, including the head of the Laman Kinipan Indigenous Community Effendi Buhing, whose video went viral on social media in August 2020.

Land clearing for oil palm plantations was carried out by PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari (SML) in Kinipan, Lamandau, Central Kalimantan.
Some people get off the engine boat. Kinipan Village is one of the villages where almost all activities are carried out using small boats and canoes.
For the Dayak Tomun indigenous people, chickens play an important role in every ritual procession they perform.
A young man from the Dayak Red Army dances after an ancestral spirit enters his body during a traditional ritual in the Kinipan customary forest area.

This was due to accusations of stealing chainsaws belonging to PT SML and Kinipan residents being accused of threatening the company while working in the field. On the grounds that they were considered to be hampering the investment, six Kinipan residents were criminalized and became suspects.

In the land conflict, the Laman Kinipan indigenous community was disappointed with the company’s actions in clearing approximately 2,900 hectares of forest for oil palm plantations. While this area is believed to be the forest of the Laman Kinipan customary management area.

Until now, this has become an unrest, there is no bright spot or no solution to this conflict. Kinipan indigenous people have fears that the company’s activities will cause deforestation of their customary forests. Also the deprivation of indigenous peoples’ living space is an early pattern of broken investment control.

A woman walks with cooking utensils in an area where there is a conflict between the Kinipan indigenous community and a palm oil company.

If this ancestral heritage is lost, we Dayaks will lose our identity. Whatever happens to our customary forest, we must protect it, because this is a fixed price.

A member of the Dayak Red Army cuts up a chicken he brought from the village. Ritual offerings for the ancestors are prepared from night until dawn by the troop members.
Effendi Buhing stands in front of the large tree swirl where the ritual is performed.

Kinipan residents remain in their position, which is to reject their customary forest becoming oil palm land. “If our forest becomes palm oil land, then we have nothing left. Because the forest is everything to us. For Dayak people, the forest is a natural supermarket, where we farm, grow crops, where we hunt, look for rattan for weaving, medicine and also forests that provide clean water and fresh air. So if this ancestral heritage is lost, we Dayaks will lose our identity. So whatever happens to our customary forest we must protect it, because this is a fixed price. So in life don’t spend, don’t be greedy. Because everything you will not take with you to die, so leave it for future generations, said Effendi Buhing.

Based on the results of the FWI (Forest Watch Indonesia) study, in the 2013-2017 period the deforestation rate of natural forests in Indonesia amounted to 5.7 million hectares with 2.8 million hectares in concessions and 2.9 million hectares outside concessions. These deforestation figures should serve as a trigger to further explore the causes of deforestation in Indonesia. Is it due to illegal logging activities, concession performance that has not been in line with efforts to prevent deforestation or is it actually part of planned deforestation.

Two Kinipan indigenous people walk in an area of customary forest that has been turned into an oil palm plantation.
Kinipan's customary forest landscape that has been converted into oil palm plantations. This forest used to be where the Kinipan people hunted animals, foraged for medicinal plants and vegetables.
In the procession of traditional rituals, the Dayak Red Army is identical to wearing necklaces made of game bones and forest fruits.

During 75 years of independence, Indonesia has changed government regimes seven times and we have lost more than 23 million hectares of natural forest, equivalent to 75 times the size of Yogyakarta Province. At least that much forest loss is the figure recorded by FWI from 2000-2017. Since then, we have not been able to provide good forest governance. The condition of natural forests that continues to decrease and degrade is an accumulation of weak forest governance that occurs from year to year.

Currently, climate change and deforestation pose a serious threat to indigenous Dayak communities in Kalimantan, as well as the tropical rainforest areas of Sumatra and Papua. Due to massive expansion, indigenous forests are being swapped for oil palm and mining plantations. Indigenous peoples struggled to resist until they ended up in prison, and not only that, natural disasters were in sight.

The Laman Kinipan indigenous people have lived for generations in Batang Kawa District, Lamandau Regency, Central Kalimantan. Together with 239 families, around 938 people, they depend on the forest for their livelihood. Until February 2018, SML came with heavy equipment to cut down the forest on a large scale. The trees were destroyed and immediately planted with oil palm. Their plantation area reached 1,242 hectares.

In 2018, Laman Kinipan’s customary territory, settlements and farmland were evicted by PT SML using heavy equipment in favor of oil palm plantations. PT SML argued that the eviction and forest encroachment were carried out legally because it had obtained a forest release permit covering 19,091 hectares from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) through letter 1/I/PKH/PNBN/2015 on March 19, 2015. Then based on the Decree of the Minister of Agrarian and Spatial Planning / Head of the National Land Agency (ATR / BPN) Number 82 / HGU / KEM-ATR / BPN / 2017 concerning Granting Cultivation Rights in the Name of PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari covering an area of 9,435.2214 hectares.

However, the issuance of forest release and HGU above is legally flawed because without the consent of the Laman Kinipan indigenous community as the owner of the customary territory. The decision of the Minister of LHK and ATR / BPN has resulted in the displacement and loss of customary forests covering an area of 3,688 hectares (the results of the review of the HGU map and customary territories at the Ministry of ATR / BPN, August 2019) and will still increase considering the size of the HGU.

Until now, the agrarian conflict in the Laman Kinipan customary area has never found a solution because it is ignored by the Minister of Environment and Forestry, ATR / BPN and the local government. The ongoing agrarian conflict has resulted in 6 (six) members of the Laman Kinipan indigenous community languishing in prison, including the head of Kinipan Village. However, on June 16, the panel of judges at the Corruption Court of Palangka Raya District Court acquitted Willem Hengki (40). The head of Kinipan Village, Batang Kawa Subdistrict, Lamandau Regency, was not proven to have committed a corruption crime.

Khairul Abdi

A photographer and filmmaker from Gayo Lues, Aceh. With an interest in nature conservation, he began studying photography and filmmaking informally after graduating from high school.

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