The women of Kendeng set their feet in cement to stop a mine in their lands. This is their story.
- Across Indonesia, hundreds of communities are in conflict with companies seeking control of their resources. In some cases, the resistance has been led by women.
- Journalist Febriana Firdaus traveled across the country to meet grassroots female activists and delve into the stories behind their struggles.
- This article is part one of a series about her journey, which has also been made into a film, Our Mothers’ Land.
Serene, prosperous, fertile. These words come to mind as I stand at the top of a hill in Tegaldowo village, on the island of Java, in Indonesia, one Sunday evening in 2019. It is an idiom used to describe this giant island, with its rich soils, verdant rice paddies and teak forests. But the tranquility hides a more turbulent story.
Across Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy, mass demonstrations have erupted. Some 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) to the east, anger at decades of mistreatment of indigenous Papuans has spilled over into violence. In the capital, Jakarta, students are taking to the streets in their thousands, protesting against a raft of new laws many fear will erode civil liberties.
Among the most contentious features of the new legislation is concern that it will enable the government to criminalize farmers and activists fighting against extractive companies taking their land. Already, hundreds of communities are locked in simmering conflicts with firms that have logged their forests, mined their mountains, and transformed their farmland into plantations. Many of these people once hoped that the president, Joko Widodo, would tip the scales in the favor of the powerless.
But in the coming months those hopes will be dashed. By November 2020, the government will sign into effect sweeping new legislation that appears to entrench the power of oligarchs, and of the private firms responsible for damaging the nation’s environment, including its vast rainforests.
For many communities engaged in the fight to protect land rights and the environment, the hills in which I stand hold huge resonance.
It is not just a hill, but a karst: a limestone formation that undergirds the North Kendeng Mountains and stretches 180 kilometers (112 miles) east to west. The rock has been eroded over time to form a giant warren of underground caves and rivers, providing clean water to the people of the region throughout the year.
The Indigenous people of Kendeng consider the karst to be their Ibu Bumi — their Mother Earth. She nurtures and even breastfeeds the land, in their lore, allowing them to grow rice and other crops.
“Mother Earth has given, Mother Earth has been hurt, Mother Earth will seek justice,” sings Sukinah, a farmer who accompanies me as she patiently checks the corn in the field that surrounds us. She moves nimbly, dressed in slippers and a traditional Javanese blouse called a kebaya.
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This article was co-produced with The Gecko Project. Read part two of the series here.