Loncek Baguas*)

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SIGNAL-Under the Cempedak Tree , residents Loncek access the internet, watch a movie about them in www.kompas.com. Photo by Mering


By: A. Alexander Mering

Riko sat dazed under the jackfruit tree. The 'craft' did not throw anything, not even a piece of cake. Although he and six other children had screamed till their voices turned sore, till the craft had disappeared from sight behind the forest. They had called the craft an aeroplane.

"Plane, we want cakes, we want cakes, plane we want cakes!"

The other children still screamed, in a rhythmic  tune until it stopped only to be replaced with the sounds of the kelereng of the yellowed and dusty road of Loncek village.

No one cared much for the date, 28 October. Even the elders of the village did not care for the date, sacred to the Indonesian nation. Moreover, what was the importance of the village that did not exist in the map for a large country such as Indonesia?

Before 2010, the Dayak Salako community at Loncek village was still isolated. The highest education level was middle school, SMP. This was possible only if one's parents had friends in the city. The only route to Loncek village at the time was by river. It would take a day and night's journey to reach Loncek village from Pontianak, the capital city of West Kalimantan. Even then it was reachable only by motor kelotok.

"When the river subsided, it was a three day and three nights' journey," siad Yohanes Aboy, who is the Catholic leader at Loncek village.

The young Riko felt dejected. He went home with a thousand questions lingering in his mind. " Why didn't the plane leave any cake from the sky?" His dad had told him the story of how the 'plane' had landed at their village, and distributed cakes to the children. Riko could only dream that one day he would be able to board the plane and bring back a lot of cakes.

***

Loncek village is surrounded by seven hills, Loncek, Buliatn, Buluh, Ano, Gamok, Jahanang and Tangang hills. The highest is Loncek hill. It is here at the top of the hill that a sacred place was built known as Pantak Nek Motek, named after one of the village's founder. Administratively, the village is part of Teluk Bakung village, Abawang river district, Kubu Raya Regency, West Kalimantan province.

It is said that ancestors of the village had been there since 1910. They had opened a plantation and built a Dayak longhouse known as Rumah Bantang in the valley, between the seven hills. One of the founders of Loncek village who was still alive, Ga'eb, said that their ancestors were from the Ambawang 40 community, near Lingga village, Kubu Raya district and some were travellers from Banyuke, where Landak regency is today.

Riko is a descendent of the Salako culture at Loncek village. He is also one of more than 200 youths at Teluk Bakung village, who did not finish school (OMPS). They eek put out their livelihood from harvesting the woods or whatever is left of it, after their ancestral land was converted to a large scale palm oil plantation. Of the 197 families living at Loncek village, 90 percent are forest harvesters, including Riko. This was informed me by Donatus Dino not long ago. The women were workers at tha palm oil plantation, while others were rubber tappers. Villagers who had some money paid forest harvesters from Sambas regency to clear their land. Dino is the headman of Loncek.

"Sometimes the Sambas people who work here, their numbers are more than the people in the village," he explained.

Dino estimated that the less than 7 000 hectares of forest is left. Since the 1980s, several private companies that held the license to manage forest (HPH) had earlier depleted the forest of its resources. While the villagers only became coolies.

One day, Valentinus Agip told the same story. At the time I was sending an invitation to his home at Jalan Kalimantan, Dusun Benuah. According to him, the villagers there were harvesting the forest to make a living. Agip is one of the fortunate youths at his village to pursue an education until he obtained his degree. A few years before, he became the Headman of Bakung village and is still the village head today. We talked of the plight of the village and those surrounding it, including Loncek village, where the PNPM programme was implemented.

Teluk Bakung village is an HPH area, and a huge part of the land had been turned into a forest producing area (HP) by the goverment. They had also converted the resources that was left for palm oil land and mining areas. This in turn made life more difficult for the Dayak Salako community that lived in the area.

I sat dumbfounded listening to Agip's story. They had not only lost their ancestral land, but also rights to local resources and in turn their cultural identity and local knowledge. It is an irony when their ancestors had inhabited the land, even before the nation Indonesia came into existence.

" Several locals tried to have their land certified but the application was rejected by the BPN office as their land came under the HP area," said Agip, sighing dejectedly. BPN refers to the National Land Authority. We sat in silence for a long time. I pretended to look outside the verandah, looking at the vehicles that passed by while sipping coffee that tasted more bitter than usual.

One night, towards the end of October 2011, Riko and 15 other OMPS established an agricultural organisation at Loncek village. I was present to help organise their ideas adn dreams. There were 10 men and 5 women gathered that night. A few villagers and elders also joined in and some were just curious.

"They must be b** again," complained a voice. I turned but couldn't find the person. The loud noise of the generator we used that night for the village meeting had drowned out all voices. Indonesia has achieved Independence for 67 years, but what was Loncek to a huge country like Indonesia and the National Electricity Company (PLN)?

The meeting started out with an ice- breaker. We had agreed that each person would mention their name, education and their work.

"I am Herpina, only primary school education (SD), I tap rubber."

" I am Emerensiana, I didn't finish middle school (SMP), I also am a rubber tapper."

I frowned. The two girls voice had softened their tone once they mentioned that they were rubber tappers. Even the men who worked as forest harvesters had lowered their voices. But Petrona Lia and the others who worked at a palm oil plantation looked more confident. I was intrigued. Why were those working at palm oil plantation more confident than those farmers that tapped rubber?

"Those wokers like us we have salaries, " said Lia confidently. Lia had studied up to high school (SMA) but because she did not have enough funding, she dropped out of school. Riko who was a forest harvester and Emerensiana a rubber tapper both looked at me unsurely. Was it wrong to become a rubber tapper?

That week, I asked them over for a serious discussion at Laurensius Edi's home. Not only about the PNPM Peduli program that should have started at the time, but only focusing on the terminology used by the OMPS that made them feel inferior : 'workers' and 'salary'. Edi was my first contact at Loncek.

I asked for their input and one of them wrote it down on cardboard. After it was written, I saw their viewpoints and began to understand the value they put on being 'officers'. To them, being an officer was a successful person, at least it was the mainstream opinion of the local community.

" Those who go to school don't they all have the same goals to become an workers?" said Riko, asking bravely. The others nodded in agreement.

I did not give any comments. I answered it with a game. Before discussing it with the participants, I divided them into two groups. The first group were rubber tappers and the second workers working at the palm oil plantation.

"To the second group, please write down all the information related to the job of an officer at a palm oil plantation in your version. This includes work hours, pay and others..."

They wrote that palm oil workers start working at 7 am. Their pay is Rp 35 000 a day, but if they work extra hours they would get more. They go home at 3 pm, including rest for an hour. This does not include the time used to go back and forth from their village to the work location which was quite a distance. At times they had to leave home at 6 am and arrive home at 4 pm. Hmmm, I smiled silently, so this was their version of an workers? What difference was it to being a coolie?

"Good... now what is the input from the discussion by the rubber tappers?"

They explained that rubber tappers do not work more than 5 hours a day. They are not stressed out, there is no one to give them orders and they can do other jobs after they finish rubber tapping. Their income was roughly Rp 70 000 every morning. This was because a hectare of rubber tree plantation produces not less than 5-7 kg every morning. At the time, the price of rubber was at an all high of Rp 10 000/kg.

I was satisfied with their discussion. I made an illustration, and asked them to imagine everyone in the room had 2 hectares of land planted with rubber trees that could be harvested every working day.

"A hectare land of rubber trees can produce a minimal of 25 kilograms dily, times the number of work days, times 2 (hectares) and the last, times the price of rubber in the market today. This is your income for the month," I said.

The room was silent. Everyone was busy counting on the cardboard that had been passed around. A mathematics teacher that had not finished his studies also helped to count the figures with a calculator.

"How much do you earn?"

"Seven million and five hundred rupiah, bang!"

"Good! Compare this with the highest salary you get working at the palm oil now?"

Silence. No one made a noise. Even Lia pretended not to hear my question. Paulinus knocked on the floor with her pen. I broke the silence by coughing loudly.

After a coffee break, discussions continued. This time, the ice had broken. They laughed after looking at the results of the discussion. It was not easy to reclaim the youths' dignity, a victim to most of the villagers' way of thought in this ex- colonial country. Though, the very least their thoughts were unravelled; the facts and meaning to the words 'officer' and 'salary' had shifted.

"Now which ones would you choose? To be a boss or a worker?"

"Bosssss!" they shouted out simultaneously. I smiled winningly, and that night slept peacefully.

***

There are two main camps at Loncek vilage. One is the pro and the is contra to the palm oil business. Leonardus was in the camp against palm oil. He is a Catholic youth (OMK) at Loncek. Due to his experiences, he was later proposed as a leader by his friends to become the organisations's first agricultural leader named Kelompok Tani Muda Palambon Pucuk Baguas (KTM PPB) or Palambon Pucuk Baguas Young Agricultural Group. He was known as Leo.

Leo told me once, he and a few of the youths in the village had demonstrated against the oil palm businesses. They were almost penalised by the local leaders. He was worried as he felt the village land slowly shrinking. The forests that once were rich and vast now turned into palm oil estates. "Rivers were polluted, fishing became more difficult, even the birds and animals are almost gone," sighed Leo.

His attitude annihilated Leo and his friends from the leaders and locals. Yet again I was faced with problems. If this issue were not tackled, it may become a stumbling block. Not only for the existence of the PNPM Peduli program, but it could become a ticking timebomb for the village just like the case of Mesuji in South Sumatera.

I decided to gather them once again. This time we held it at Leo's house. To the youths, I told them to fight against the palm oil businesses and causing havoc among the loclas was not a good solution. Moreover, it ended up draining their energy.

"Remember, these businesses have money, they can afford to hire people, to have security forces, what do you have? Would you even be able to pay for a lawyer if you were caught?"

The room was silent. Leo looked uneasy. I regretted saying out the words, but it had already been done. It was unthinkabale to retract the sentence? The meeting had started on a tense note. Even the neon lights could not hide the uneasiness behind the faces of those present. I became uneasy as I was not sure what to say in the midst of the problems. Sweat poured heavily down the back of my shirt.

“Lalu ahe nang diri’ panjawat, bang?”

Laurensius Edi voiced uncertainly, breaking the silence.

He is Leonardus's friend. Later on, Laurensius Edi would become one of the facilitators on the ground for the PNPM Peduli program organised by YPPN and Partnership at Loncek. Edi had asked in the local dialect. Loosely translated, Edi had said, " So what are we to do?" It was fortunate that I could speak Dayak Salako, because I myself am Dayak Iban native. The Salako language or popularly known as Kanayatn is the normail everyday language of the Loncek villagers.

" If you see palm oil as a threat, you should be brave enough to see it as an opportunity," I said later.

Remarkably, that night they managed to organise a work structure for the organisation. This included strengthening their village base. One method was to start with cultivation of good rubber trees creatively. Second, is to map sacred places, and document the culture and history of Loncek village.

Since then, I would frequent Loncek often. I would be invited every time there was a meeting or celebration. They were starting to think of their future and Loncek village would have to prepare if they were to be safe. Pastor Paroki of Ambawang river had complained to me, that Loncek village had turned into a gambling nest, a source of karaoke and immoral entertainment. Later, he would sympathise and help to promote the Loncek youth movement to other churches along Ambawang river.

"The most that we would be able to harvest the forest would be another two or three years?" said Sarjono, abruptly. When Leo married, Sarjono would replace him as the leader for KTM PPB for the second half of the program with the title of Pucuk.

"Pucuk! Pucuk! Pucuk!"

They screamed while hitting the tile floor to mark then election of Sarjono as the leader for the group.

***

At dawn in May 2012, I was awakened by the sound of the handphone ringing. I was in a semi-conscious and dream-like state, while grabbing the handphone on the table, at the corner of the hotel I was staying. Oh god, it was 4 am in Washington D.C. It was still dark outside.

“Selamat sore bang, nian Leo. Ahe kabar kitak?"

"Good afternoon, bang, nian Leo. Ahe kabar kitak?" ( Hie, It's me Leo. How are you?"

A voice from overseas echoed in my ear, and my brain in a groggy stupor was still processing the situation.

"Good afternoon, good morning. It is still dawn here, he... he..."

"Gajah, maaf, maaf boh bang. Kukira waktunya sama man ka' diri"

In the Indonesian language, it would mean, "Oh my god, I am sorry, bang, I thought it was the same time as here." The word gajah in the Salako language mean a huge surprise just like 'Astaga' (Oh my god) in the Indonesian language.

Leo had called from Bogor. He and five other KTM PPB members had been sent by Yayasan Pemberdayaan Pefor Nusantara (YPPN) for a week to learn about organic farming at Bina Sarana Bakti, Cisarua. I smiled listening to the voice at the other end that were scrambling to talk. I suddenly felt homesick, thinking of Loncek village. But it had only been a week since I came here to Obama's city. I was a fellow under the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) organized by the United States government.

"Bang, around 40 WK ladies (mothers) at the village have formed their own agri group. They have been inspired by us."

This time it was Laurensius Edi who spoke. I was honored. My nose flared upon hearing the good news. It was lucky no one saw.

"We never expected this bang ....bla...bla...bla...," Edi continued talking on the handphone. I adviced him to continue helping the ladies as soon as they came back from Bogor. WK is the short form for Catholic women, a term used for a women's organisation under the Roman Catholic church.

These ladies later named themselves as Kelompok Tani Burung Arue (KTBA). In January 2013, their numbers increased to 80 people. Each week KTBA would work together to clear their own land for planting rubber trees. Their mentor and trainer were KTM PPB members.

Back from America, I visited the home of Solastika, KTBA leader. She is a middle- aged lady and mother to Petronela Lia, a KTM PPB member. Solastika talked long and praised the movement.

"We only ask that our children from KTM teach us the correct method to planting rubber trees," said Solastika.

I felt overwhelmed with a sense of happiness. In the history of the Dayak society, moreover the Dayak Salako society, it was usually the young that learned from their elders. This time it was the elders that wished to learn from their own children institutionally. Later on, the men (fathers) of the village would form their own agri group, Kelompok Tani Sabaya Mao (KTSM).

KTM PPB not only manged the rubber estate, they became facilitators and tutors for the other agri groups. Although there were members who resigned from the group as they married or moved, participation and volunteers at KTM PPB continued to increase. There were now 25 people involved with the group.

Whenever people thought we were teaching them, it was I who learned from these young people. For example, carrying out simole things hile not forgetting their roots and local wisdom. KTM PPB not only planted and cultivated rubber trees, but they adopted the Pantak culture of their ancestors. This was done through labeling each rubber seedlings, according to its origins, the person who planted the sapling and the type of rubber clone such as L- Mering IRR39. We called this method 'pantak baru'. KTM has not less than 20 000 rubber seedlings that had been planted at the end of December 2012.

Pantak is like an inscription to eternalize names of people that have rendered a service or popular to the Dayak Salako community. Pantak is usually made from wood or stone that is carved, just like a totem of the Asmat tribe. This method enabled the KTM PPB to inscribe the names of the people that had planted the rubber seedlings. Other than immortalising the person's name, it was also to protect their rubber saplings so that it would not be copied by other parties.

It was not only the local and national journalists that had been subjected to the 'customary punishment' by the KTM PPB to plant rubber seedlings, a German tv reportert too that had visited last December 2012 was also asked to planted rubber seedlings at the KTM PPB rubber nursery. Hence the inscription etched on to mark the rubber seedling was L- Frederika IRR39. Pak Kadus, Pak Kades, students, housewives that came to Loncek were also subjected to this form of 'customary punishment'.

"Even if the President came we would also subject them to this 'customary punishment' by planting rubber seedlings!" they said confidently.

One day, journalists from Media Indonesia, Pontianak Post and the Jakarta Post correspondent I had asked them to help train youths of Loncek village to write. I also trained them in the writing technique using citizen journalism. They has wanted to docment their sacred places, culture and village history that had almost vanished.

Hence, it was unexpected when Media Indonesia came out with a two-page story in their column on stories from the archipelago, focusing on the OMPS movement with the title, 'Titik Balik Para Perambah'

( An about turn of the harvesters). In The Jakarta Post, the daily had printed a story titled, 'Rubber cultivated to protect family lands.' I was overcome with immense pride.

"Woiiii, diri' ada tama' Koran!" shouted Apan early in the morning.

In a short while the village became chaotic. Some of the harvesters that were about to go to work crowded round Leonardus' curious to find out. We had yet to see the newspaper. A friend had sent an SMS from Pontianak. I brought my laptop outside, near the soursop tree. Looking for the online site, but the signal was so slow. Puiih!

***

Riko sat stunned under the jackfruit tree, when I asked him. A plane flew across our heads as we talked of the meaning of Sumpah Pemuda for the village youths living far from Jakarta. This was written in The Indonesian Journalist, an online portal based in Jakarta.

"So what does Riko's Sumpah Pemuda mean?"

He didnt't answer. I scratched my head. The school children were already leaving school after attending a Sumpah Pemuda event on October 28 at their school.

"Ahe uwa? ku pun inak nauan," said Riko finally. If loosely translated to the Indonesian language, "Oh, what? I myself don't know."

Even Riko does not remember who Moehamad Yamin is. He does not even keep an Indonesin history book. The Sumpah Pemuda verses read by Soegondo he did not memorize, nor did he even hear of Keramat Jati, the place where the 2nd Youth Congress was held? So what does it mean to be a youth who had not finished school, in a village that only existed on the Indonesia map after the palm oil plantations moved in?

I did not push him. Another plane flew again above our heads. Up the road, came Sarjono, and Ropinus Induk, Apan and the other Loncek youths sat near us. They were all forest harvesters, youths who did not finish school in a rich country called Indonesia.

Riko is one of the fortunate ones. He was active in PNPM Peduli - a lanky youth with curly hair that would later be chosen to attend the local facilitator training organized by Partnership in Jogjakarta. This is the first time Riko flew on an 'aeroplane'. Although he was 23 years old, he had never been anywhere except to Tayan, and Pontianak city. He became nervous, the first time he stepped into the cabin of the

"Ko, banyak kah kue dalam kapal terbang yang kamu naik ke Jogja?"

( Were there a lot of cakes on the plane you took to Jogja?"

I asked jokingly.

"There were a lot, but they were all too expensive, hahahaha...?"

NOTE:

*Baguas in the Dayak Salako language means to sway