Archive for September, 2009

Save Benzoin, Save Forest and Local Wisdom (Sipituhuta and Pandumaan’s Benzoin-forest communal land confiscated illegally by PT Toba Pulp Lestari)

a.gurney drive - penang

Limantina Sihaloho

It was on June 23, 2009, both Sipituhuta and Pandumaan people got to know that their communal land was being confiscated illegally by PT Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL). People of these two villages have their benzoins (locally known as haminjon or kemenyan) as well as other natural-trees at that communal land; they have been benzoin-farmers for more than 300 years since their ancestors first settled there. Benzoin is their primary source of living for generations there as many other parts of Batak Land. It has been one of the most important products of Batak Land known internationally for centuries.

Then suddently, they had to start to witness how their primary source of living, their benzoin trees being cutting down by TPL. It was precisely like witnessing theirselves and relatives being murdered. Within their deep sorrow and limited source of power to face TPL since they are just ordinary people whom may only counted as numbers from Jakarta (the central government), they have done their best to hold on to their communal values, fortunately. These values have been uniting them for generations.

That day, when both Sipituhuta and Pandumaan villagers came to know what’s going on their benzoin-forest communal land, spontaneously hundreds of them walkep up to there. They found TPL’s workers were cutting down their benzoins and other trees around benzoins. Benzoin can only produces a good resin as long as it naturally surounded by other trees. The villagers demanded TPL workers to stop cutting the trees down; telling them that the land where TPL’s workers were working was their communal land, therefore TPL has no right to destroy it.

Three days later, both of Sipituhuta and Pandumaan and nearby villagers joined a protest addressed to the local government and house of representative; they demanded to stop any illegal activity on their communal land. Sadly, just for a few days, TPL already cutting Sipituhuta and Pandumaan’s benzoins and others trees down for about 200 ha out of about 4100 ha of the whole communal land.


Two weeks later, on July 14, hundreds of people from the two villages again went to check their communal land. TPL was still working there continuing cutting their trees down and started planting TPL’s eucaliphtus for its pulp production in Porsea. They were furious; they demanded strongly for TPL workers to soon leave their communal land; the workers left. TPL had been taking logs out of the area for its own profit; those trees that belong to the people of the two villages. This fact drove some them even more furious that they throw fire to burn some of those remains stack of logs. After all, those logs are belong to them not TPL.

The next day, around 200 of police and brimob (police-special-force) besieged  Sipituhuta and Pandumaan villages. This number is quite a big number to show force since they were going to take only 4 members of both villages. The villages were quite since many of the people there were at work and other activities. A mother was deeply shock when she returned from her farming land to see her chidlren were trembling and crying in front of the house while the polices were busy within the house looking for her husband. An old mother (95 year old)  was being trampled on her bed by a police when the police was searching if there was any TPL saw-machine there. A father was trying to ring the church bell in order to call for people to gather but he was taken by the police. An old father in his 60s on the way home from his relative party also taken by the police as well as the other father from his farming land while he was working there.

Four people from both villages being arrested by the police that day. They were in jail in Siborong-borong for a week before their status being changed to become house-arrested and they have to come to give regular report to the police office. Their case will be brought to court at the end of this month. They were arrested since they were leaders of their people according to the police. They were taken without legal letter from the police office. It was the next day that the families of those who were arrested received letters from the police office through the head of the villages.

People of Sipituhuta and Pandumaan have been doing their best to fight for their communal land. Early this month, on August 3, around 400 of them, the majority are mothers arrived at front of Humbahas regental office. They were going to dialogue with the Humbahas regent due to their benzoin-forest communal land which was confiscated illegally by TPL. They already sent a letter before telling that they were going to come to local police office; this is according to the rule given by the state. A day before, some of bears furiously entering the villages and became a terror for the people; bears then destroy some people houses since they had been chased away from their original place in that benzoin-forest.

TPL owners have their own interest to accumulate profit even though they have to destroy environment and people source of living. They are backed by the central government from Jakarta up. President, related-ministry and head of national police in Jakarta issued letters for TPL to run their business including to confiscated Sipituhuta and Pandumaan communal land in 2004 and 2005 without Sipituhuta and Pandumaan people knew about it.

For the sake of developmentalism ideology and interest of limited number of bussiness owners and some other elite-Indonesians, they think they can manipulate ordinary people such as those in Sipituhuta and Pandumaan. Good that these people are not stupid ones; they know how to fight for their rights even though it is quite difficult; they are the victims but they are those who put into jail by the government in the name of the state. TPL owners feel that they are doing legal things just because of they have those letters from Jakarta to confiscate people communal land. Their   main goal is to accumulate money for themselves. Later on, the government issued what they call: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in order to tame people and to fund their devide et impera projects.

Sure, to confiscate and destroy benzoin-forest of Sipituhuta and Pandumaan is to kill them alive. That’s why, spontaneously with tear rivering down her face, an old mother of several grandchildren, shouted to the government at Humbang Hasundutan regental office saying:  “You better kill us first if you are going to confiscate our benzoin-forest from us!”  The other mother said, “You were able to have a good position there since we had benzoin to send you to school. Without benzoin what are going to be the fate of our chidlren now?”  It means, children of both villages are not going to be able to continue their study and people are going to be badly poor. This is a horrible cost that the people have to face without their communal land.

As I came to know from one of the father of Sipituhuta, benzoin-farming has a rich cultural value. By generations, they have been learning that benzoin farmers have to be clean in word and act otherwise  they are going to face any difficulty during their work in their benzoin-forest or in their everyday life; their benzoin are not going to produce as they expected or something bad might happens. They use to stay in the forest for several days; usually men. Women come to bring stock of foods to the forest if needed.

Benzoin farmers use to sing songs to do with benzoin; songs directed to God and Creator for having been giving them benzoins as their source of living. These people are strong and health people; they use to walk on feet for tens of km on the way up to their benzoin-forest and down home. This tradition shapes their character and spirituality. It is clear indeed that the matter of benzoin not only to do with economy but also spirituality, art, education, character, history, etc – all binding together as a uniting-values for the life of the people of Sipituhuta and Pandumaan. To destroy their benzoin-forest communal land is to destroy their uniting-values. It means to stop them to breath.  Sadly it does, the central government together with business owners such as TPL are mainly concern with the short-term profits, that is to accumulate money.

If we are sane enough, it is our duty to side with Sipituhuta and Pandumaan people. To let them defeated by TPL that has been widening its deforestation programs is not only to let Sipituhuta and Pandumaan being killed but also this is going to be a bad sign since the government together with giant business owners such as TPL can repeat the same horrible program at other places. Strengthening our solidarity both in national and international levels are going to be quite important to support Sipituhuta and Pandumaan as well others people who have been fighting for the same reason: to depend their life which is also our life either we realise it or not. As human beings, that’s one of our most important callings to do!***

P.S.: Thanks to KSPPM especially Suryati Simanjuntak who has been preparing on going reports on what is happening in both Sipituhuta and Pandumaan. I was happened to be in those villages once and walked up and down for 30s km to their benzoin-forest. I owe Suryati for information, the chronology of the case. I am glad to see such an activist like her, the way she interacts with those of Sipituhuta and Pandumaan; she talks using their language and she knows their hearts.

Limantina Sihaloho, a writer lives in Pematang Siantar. She can be visited at her blog:


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