Jul 19, 2024 Last Updated 5:22 AM, Jul 16, 2024

Trees or people?

Arianto Sangadji

What comes first, social justice or conservation? This article is the first in of a two-part series examining the rights of settlers in national parks.

The interests of indigenous peoples and migrants are colliding head on with the preservation of tropical forest and biodiversity in the 229,000-hectare Lore Lindu National Park, in Central Sulawesi.

Lore Lindu is a conflict hot spot. The causes are complex, with claims to the land from adat (traditional) communities as well as various groups of immigrant settlers.

The first wave of immigrants arrived in the Dongi-Dongi region fifty years ago as refugees from the Darul Islam separatist movement, which displaced many local communities.

Thirty years ago a second wave of migrants began to arrive. The migrants were Buginese in search of land for cocoa plantations. In the mid-1970s the Suharto government built villages to ‘settle’ (meaning control) these shifting cultivators, referred to, somewhat strangely, as ‘isolated peoples’ (suku terasing).

Then came the World Bank sponsored transmigration scheme. From the early 1990s landless farmers from Java, Bali and Lombok were brought to work as labourers on newly opened tea plantations.

Finally, the communal unrest which erupted in 1998 in the provincial capital of Poso has forced thousands of people out of the city. Some of these new migrants have bought land from previous migrants. Others have cleared the forest with permission from the local village administration.

No warning

The recent conflict began when in 1982 the government declared Lore Lindu a national park. This decision was made without any prior consultation with the local peoples. The classification means that activities such as hunting animals, cutting down trees, collecting forest products, and planting food gardens are prohibited.

For local people, the ban on hunting and collecting forest products has had a significant impact on their livelihood and traditional ways of life. ‘Without any warning, our livelihood was turned into a national park,’ said Humpul Tore, an 80 year old community leader.

The local people refuse to accept the bans. They claim individual and common property rights in Lore Lindu, as well as open access (wilayah tak bertuan) to the park. They believe their traditional communal ownership rights come from their ancestors.

In 1997, before Reformasi began, the government announced plans to evict farmers from the park, under the terms of the Central Sulawesi Integrated Area Conservation and Development Project (CSIACDP). The project was financed by a US$23 million Asian Development Bank loan.

Two years later, as a result of a series of protests and dialogues, the government reversed the decision and allowed the Katu people to remain on 1138 hectares of traditional land which was now part of the National Park.

Poverty and decreased access to land have worsened the situation. When shifting cultivators were settled in Dongi-Dongi twenty years ago, they were promised two hectares of land. They received less than half this amount. Because land has been sold and the population has increased, 80 out of 177 families are now landless.

Before 1998, these pressures forced farmers into the park itself, where they planted cocoa and coffee and collected rattan in secret. Since Reformasi, rangers have pulled up their crops and burned their huts. They even sent some people to jail for ‘stealing’ forest products and planting cash crops.

In 2001, more than 1000 farmers protested against their treatment in the district town of Palu, demanding that the government address the issue of landlessness amongst settled communities. The farmers then returned to the national park, and cleared 4000 hectares of forest. They planted thousands of cacao, vanilla, candlenut and durian trees, as well as vegetables, sweet potato and maize.

The government says the settlers are not allowed to settle in the park or use it for agriculture. The governor of Central Sulawesi, the bupati (district heads) of Donggala and Poso and the head ranger of Lore Lindu National Park have asked the police to remove the Dongi-Dongi settlers. Rumours abound that they will use force if necessary

But the farmers refuse to move. They continue to organise protests and reject proposals to move them.

‘Here we already have land, and we’ve planted cocoa. Living here we have enough to eat. Even if they shoot at us, we won’t run away,’ said Mrs Sarce, a community leader.

Mrs Sarce and other adat community leaders know about Law No.5/1990, which prohibits settlements in national parks. But they say they will stay where they can make a living. ‘There is nothing to worry about’, they say, ‘we have our own way of conserving nature’.

Arianto (Sangadj antosangadji@yahoo.com) is an activist with ther NGO Yayasan Tanah Merdeka in Central Sulawesi.

Inside Indonesia 80: Oct - Dec 2004

Latest Articles

Essay: Testing out my Bahasa Indonesia

Jul 09, 2024 - PATRICK J MAHONY

We need to learn more about each other. If we do, we will find that in many ways we have much in common

Asbestos danger

Jul 08, 2024 - GWYN ROBERTS

What can be done to prevent suffering in Indonesia?

Obituary: Stop telling, start listening

Jul 04, 2024 - DUNCAN GRAHAM

Owen Podger’s guide to aid-giving

Essay: What remains of the 1998 tragedy for the post-1998 generation


Hearing about my mother's experiences in May 1998 became a pivotal moment that has shaped my life. 

Obit: Bob Muntz, 1947-2024

Jun 24, 2024 - HELEN PAUSACKER

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.

Bacaan Bumi: Pemikiran Ekologis – sebuah suplemen Inside Indonesia

Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar.