Aleta Ba

Indonesia

INDONESIA

Rabu, 08 Mei 2013 17:01 WIB

Author

Arin Swandari KBR68H

Aleta Ba

Indonesia, Aleta Baun, Goldman prize, environment, Arin Swandari KBR68H

Aleta Ba’un is cooking in the kitchen. Her 7-year old daughter joins her with a couple of her friends.

A few years ago life wasn’t so peaceful. Aleta was hiding in the forest with her three children – her daughter was only 2 years old then.

“As a mother, I felt so sad and scared because I had to take my daughter to hide in the forest. I was so sad; she should have been at home,” she recalls.

Aleta is an indigenous Mollo from Timor, an island in Eastern Indonesia – rich in oil, gas, gold and marble.

Aleta was protesting against mining companies that were destroying her tribe’s lands. And that made her a target.

In 1996, two marble mining companies came to her village and began to explore Nausus Hill, the area’s most sacred mountain.

“Our village was destroyed,” she says. “We lost our forest, our water supply decreased, and landslides happened more frequently than ever. In 1999, I organised some ethnic leaders to fight along with me.”

Aleta started a local environment movement with the help of three other people, and it slowly gained support from the tribe’s council of elders.

In the end, she convinced 300 people from 12 more villages to join in.

“Everyone here has a farm around the mountain. We don’t want the environment to be destroyed because... where would we live? What would we eat?” says ethnic leader Wiliambae Satu.

The tribe sees Mother Nature as similar to the human body – the trees are like hair and skin, water is like blood, soil like flesh and the stones are bones.

The protest grew over several years. Aleta shows me an old video about the struggle, when she led a protest in front of a local government office.

But the mining companies hit back. Thugs came to the village and threatened the protestors, and threw stones at Aleta’s house. She had to flee her home and family and live in the forest for around four months.

But it didn’t stop her work.

“We had to walk kilometres to reach the other villages to convey our message. We had nothing to eat. We only ate when people gave something for us to eat. It was really hard. We received a lot of threats.”

Her struggle turned her into the Molo tribe’s icon in the fight against the miners – they call her Mama Aleta.

Her husband Liftus Sanam backed her along the way. He guarded their house every night against mobs sent to intimidate them.

“I didn’t know who they were, it was really dark outside. For months, every night I had to watch my house closely. I threw rocks at them, and when they hit me, I fought back.”

“Many people wanted Aleta’s head,” says Hendrik Rihi, one of Aleta’s best friends. “There was one time, when we were returning back to our village, we were attacked. Mama Aleta went to hide in the forest after that. One of the attackers said that Aleta was the target, that she must be killed.”

In 2006, Aleta founded the Attaemamus Indigenous Organisation, which means ‘to protect and restore’ in local language. Hundreds of indigenous communities have joined the organisation, ready to fight anyone who threatens the environment that is their home.

Their protests can be unique – they don’t just stick to demonstrations. In some of their most successful protests, they just did one of the things they know best: traditional weaving.
 
In 2006, hundreds of women occupied marble mining sites and wove their traditional cloth, while their men stood guard. The weaving occupations went on for four months, and forced the miners to stop their work.

Elisabeth Oematan was pregnant when she joined the protest.

“We just sat on location, weaving day and night. Then we marched to the governor’s office, demanding the government withdraw the mining permits. We’d become victims of the marble mountain. We said to the government, we don’t want the companies to return, we will guard our mountain,” she recalls.

Three years ago, they finally managed to throw out four of the mining companies, and shut down four mines.

“We won, and the miners went home,” says Mama Aleta proudly. “But they still hold the mining permits, as the government hasn’t taken those back. But the most important thing is that the miners have left and are not active here anymore. We will stay strong. You can’t mess around with our land.”

Five villages in the area have put together a communal map to show who owns what land – to claim their rights and prevent companies destroying their land again.  Two national ministers, for the Environment and for Regional Development, came to the villages to endorse the map.

But not all the damage can be undone... and other struggles continue.

At a recent meeting, Aleta urged the nearby Pubabu Besipae tribe to defend their land.

The local government is clearing the forest to make way for a foreign-owned farming business. An oil company is also coming to the area.

“If the company comes, I will stay here with you. We must not be afraid. We’re not outsiders - we were born here, we grew up here, and our ancestors gave names from nature to our land and villages. It will be our fault if we let it be destroyed,” says Mama Aleta.

20-year old Lodiana Kaba is a member of Aleta’s organisation, and has great admiration for her.

“I believe women can bring peace,” she says. “Mama Aleta proved to us that women can solve the conflicts faced by our society. I dream of being like her one day.”





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