Papua tribes film story of forest destruction

Posted: 3 January 2008

Remote tribal communities in Papua have for the first time used digital video to tell the outside world about the impact uncontrolled logging is having on their traditional way of life - in a series of short films they have produced themselves.

The Indonesian province of Papua is almost inaccessible to outsiders and closed to journalists. So Papuan villagers learned to use the latest in digital video technology, and how to research, make, edit and produce films themselves, often in difficult and life threatening circumstances.

After training provided by London-based Environmental Investigation Agency in partnership with Jakarta-based NGO Telapak, four films have been completed in the 'Bird's Head' region of West Papua, Indonesia. "By teaching local people the very same film and research skills and methods we use for documenting our investigations, we aim to empower communities to protect their environments and effect change," said Paul Redman, EIA film maker.

Paul Redman, who has worked on such projects for EIA in Indonesia for five years, said: "These are the voices of local people, the voices of the forest - explaining the issues that directly affect them and their lives. They are films made by Papuans, about Papua - they are the real thing. They were researched, written and filmed by them."

Secret footage

Some of the film-makers' identities have been kept secret because of security concerns. "These people have worked extremely hard to bring these films together, sometimes at great personal risk. For example, one film-maker waited for four days in the forest to get footage of illegal loggers.

"Logging is a multi-million pound industry which impacts upon where they live. For them, the forest is their supermarket - when it is gone they have nothing and no access to any income either. They want these stories to be told and these stories have to be told - without their land, they have no hope, " said Paul.

In the summer of 2007, EIA campaigners and staff were adopted as "Children of the Knasaimos tribe" ('anak adat Knasaimos') by the Knasaimos Tribal council in West Papua for their work with the community.

Mother's tears

The two films now available are Teh Tears of Mother Mooi (Mooi Sorong Moi) and Defenders of the Trial Boundaries (Berdiri Menjaga Batas), both of which run for 11 minutes.

Shot in the Sorong regency of West Papua by a Sorong NGO, Pt Traiton, the first film begins by explaining the interdependent relationship between the Mooi people of West Papua and their forest lands.

It introduces logging company activity with "stolen footage" of recent logging activity, demonstrating the impact of logging on Mooi lands.

It goes on to employ powerful visual evidence to show how timber alone is not enough for the company involved, revealing for the first time how huge areas of Mooi forests are being stripped bare for a new palm oil plantation. The question is also asked whether this clearance really began illegally before any required licence to do so was issued in 2006.

In an interview with Yohanis Giffelem, head of the Mooi People's Institute in Sorong, the film explains the impact of the bulldozers on Mooi traditional livelihoods, and how the Mooi people's very future is at risk.

Land rights

The second film, shot in the Prafi plain, in the Arfak region of Manokwari regency in West Papua Province, shows how community land boundaries were abandoned after a company promised that a new palm oil plantation would benefit the community for a generation, but how already the plantation is not profitable.

Made by Papuan production company Mnukwar, with a consortium of five West Papuan NGOs/film makers this film is based on the history of a state sponsored oil palm plantation as told by Ananias Muid, one of 4 Arfak community figures sent by the government to Medan in Sumatra in 1982 to bring oil palm back to their area.

The film makes clear the consequences to local clans, including the loss of indigenous land tenure rights and the replacement of their indigenous forests.

The film also outlines how pollution from undiluted palm oil discharged from the factory into the local Nimbay river means the rivers can no longer be used by local people as they were before. At the end of the film Ananias Muit admits his regrets about the communities' involvement with the palm oil company, following the conflicts that resulted.

A further set of five 5-minute films, Voices of Change from the forests of Indonesia released by the UK Departmen of International Development (DFID) in November 2007. Made by Handcrafted Films, all of the stories and some of the footage are from groups trained by EIA and Telapak since 1998.