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They’re killing the Koroway with mercury and precious metals

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This is one of the images which circulated on social media in early 2018, purporting to show a new helicopter landing pad made by illegal gold miners in the remote forests of the Koroway people. Now it appears that mining was already taking place in the area three years ago – Supplied

Jayapura, Jubi – At the start of this year, several photographs showing illegal gold mining in the Koroway lands went viral on social media. The photos show work to build a helicopter landing pad to drop off and pick up mining equipment, believed to be near the head of the Deiram River. The authenticity of these photos can’t yet be confirmed. However, a similar case had previously occurred in the Danowage area three years ago, in 2015 or thereabouts. Our knowledge of that incident comes from the reports of Koroway schoolchildren. They told their teacher about illegal gold mining around Danowage. These schoolchildren had been working for the gold miners.

This article is based on the stories four Koroway schoolchildren told to their teacher in early February 2018. The name of the teacher is being withheld in this article, and the names used for the children who gave evidence are not their real names.

‘Silver Water’
Yakobus told of how he had worked for a gold miner in the Landslide area, to the south of Danowage, 15 minutes away by katingting (a boat with a small motor). As he explained to his teacher, he had worked for straight-haired (a term for migrants from outside Papua) miners, from the Bugis ethnic group. He was given the task of building a base camp, carrying equipment, splitting firewood and other odd-jobs. However Yakobus claimed he had witnessed the whole mining process from start to finish. The person Yakobus was working for was called Koprak.

Yakobus told his teacher that the people who came to mine gold used a water pump, carpet, cloth for straining, pans and also ‘silver water’.

“The silver water is so heavy, even half a jerry can of cooking oil is so heavy, I can’t even pick it up”, said Yakobus.

Yakobus explained in simple language how silver water forms into balls, as if it were from outer space. He compared the weight of the jerry can with a battery from a solar panel system which weighs around 48 kilogrammes.

Obviously when Yakobus said silver water, he was referring to mercury, a heavy metal.

“Did they throw the silver water in the river?”, the teacher tried to make the question clearer, trying to get more information from Yakobus.

Yakobus said no. The illegal miners used the silver water to process more gold.

However the teacher was still not satisfied, and so asked Yakobus to describe how the silver water was used.

Yakobus related how the silver water was used to separate gold from black sand. The method used was to add a little water and silver water to the gold and sand mix and then stir. Then the gold would automatically be separated from the sand, and was kept, while the remaining water and black sand was thrown away. The silver water was poured into a bottle, and then strained through a cloth to filter out the water.

“After that they stored the silver water to use again and threw away the left-over water”, Yakobus said.

Yakobus didn’t know that the left over water which still contains mercury poses a danger to the environment. He went on to say that this water would be thrown anywhere, into the bushes, on the ground, or even into the river.

This practice represents a serious risk to the Koroway people’s livelihood, bearing in mind that the Koroway community depend on the Deiram river for their lifelihood, including transportation, a source of food and a source of clean water.

The miners gave Yakobus 900,000 Rupiah for 12 days work. During those twelve days they were working, the yields had been low. So after 12 days they stopped mining and moved to Yaniruma. The miners asked Yakubus to come with them to Yaniruma, but Yakobus refused saying he wanted to go to church, as it was a Saturday when they asked.

Lazarus’s Circle, Abiowage and Landslide.
Another schoolboy, Imanuel, had a different story. Imanuel was working for another person, called Jimi, who came from Kendari in Sourth-East Sulawesi province. However, Imanuel was not heavily involved, he was only asked to do some odd-jobs.

Imanuel admitted he was not permitted to be directly involved in the gold mining process. However he could confirm that the miners were using silver water. His job was to bring them the silver water and mining equipment.

“I was given 300,000 Rupiah pay for five days work”, said Immanuel.

Imanuel was working in the river to the north of Danowage towards Abiowage. He said that the name of the place the illegal miners were working was Lazarus’s Circle.

“It’s called Lazarus’ Circle because there’s an island in the middle of the river and the owner of that land is called Lazarus”, explained Imanuel.

The third schoolboy to tell his story was Anis. Anis was from Abiowage, and he also worked for Koprak, Yakobus’s former boss. Anis told his teacher that his work was similar to that of Imanuel, general labour, including carrying the silver water.

“Koprak’s mining operation started in Abiowage, but then Koprak split his team in two, and part of the team started working in the Landslide area, the rest in Abiowage”, said Anis. Anis worked for six days and was paid 600,000 Rupiah.

Some other schoolchildren said they were only playing in the mining area, sometimes helping a little or becoming day labourers. One of them is called Tius. He says he was paid 50,000 Rupiah for one day’s work. However, Tius backed up his friend’s statements about the silver water. Another pupil, Nahyu, said that he had only helped to carry equipment and was paid as a day labourer. Asked about their transport, he said they only used boats and katingting, they didn’t have a helicopter.

The scenes witnessed by these Koroway children make the theory that illegal gold mining is taking place in several parts of the Koroway territory, not just in Danowage, seem more plausible.

“In fact we only know about these three locations. It could well be that mining is taking place all along the upper reaches of the Black Deiram river, bearing in mind that this recent mining incident has been revealed as having occurred in the headwaters of the Deiram River”, said the teacher after listening to the schoolchildren’s claims.

The teacher, who is also from the Koroway ethnic group, added that the illegal miners came and met the landowners, asked permission, gave them some money, and enticed them with the idea of great riches. They made a lot of Rupiah by panning the gold belonging to the Koroway people. They even used the Koroway to work stealing the gold that they were the rightful owners of.

“And then the children and other Koroway people who worked for them were only given low wages,” the teacher added.

The Korowai people live in the border areas between five regencies: Boven Digoel, Asmat, Mappi, Yahukimo and the Star Mountains. This ethnic group was discovered by workers from the Sorong branch office of the French oil and gas company PT Conoco in 1982 or thereabouts. The workers were carrying out seismic surveys at the time. At the time, the Koroway could still be classed as a nomadic hunter-gatherer community.

This kind of illegal gold-mining is a common occurrence in Papua, including in Degeuwo, Paniai Regency. Since gold mining started in Degeuwo, many people have arrived from different regions. They arrive using different routes, by air or over land, lured by the promise of gold. However Degeuwo subsequently grew rapidly, becoming a kind of wild west city in the middle of the rainforest. Entrepreneurs and traders tried to build houses as fast as they could, followed by kiosks and cafes. Places of worship were also built. Businesspeople opened nighttime entertainment spots, such as discotheques and billiard halls. Hard liquor started to become rampant. Before long, female sex workers also arrived.

Local people also started to map out the nearby locations as their property. Places for which the ownership had never been an issue became disputed between local people. This came about since each person felt that they could claim ulayat rights (a form of collective customary ownership recognised by Indonesian law) over the land which was formerly forested. Disputes emerged within the local community, and enemies were made.

More often than not agreements are never found to resolve these situations, so slowly Degeuwo is also being “killed” with silver water and gold. (*)

Arts & Culture

Taparu in Kamoro socioculture

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Kamoro women when sorting out sago caterpillars. – Jubi / Doc

Mimika, Jubi – Each clan in Kamoro has ‘taparu’ or a specific location as a place to find food sources when they encircle rivers and mangroves in the lowland estuary of Mimika District.

A Dutch anthropologist J Power states ‘taparu’ is a local terminology emphasizing the relations of land and its inhabitants. “There are also the names of surrounding neighborhoods taken from the ancestral names,” as written in a book “Taparu Fratri of Mimika-Kamoro ethnic groups in Hiripau Village, East Mimika District, Mimika Regency”, by Dessy Pola Usmany et al. from the Ministry Education and Culture Directorate General of Culture Papua Cultural Value Conservation Center, 2013.

‘Taparu’ itself is more related to groups who inhabit within this region or surrounding environment as Kamoro people always encircle the river and sago forest for catching fish or gathering food. Everyone knows their own ‘taparu’.

‘Taparu’ in Kamoro language means the land, while Sempan people call it ‘se iwake’. If someone wants to mark the land he passes in gathering food, he solely adds the prefix ‘we’ such as tumamero-we and efato-we in Omawka village.

Similarly, people in Nawaripi village also do the same. Their areas are including Tumukamiro-we, Viriao-we, and Iwiri-we. All of these names reflect the relationship between the land and inhabitants.

Meanwhile, like the majority of Kamoro people, Ojibwa people believe in the power of their late patrilineal clan that depicted in the symbols of animals. The anthropologists call these symbols with totems which mean a belief that embodies a symbolic representation of society.

Unfortunately, today taparu also face the severest challenges of sedimentation due to tailings of mining activity that cause the silting of river and discolouration of Mollusca habitat in the estuary of Mimika District. (*)

 

Reporter: Dominggus Mampioper

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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Jayapura indigenous school pays attention to children’s rights

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Children in the Indigenous School learn how to carve. – Jubi / Engel Wally

Sentani, Jubi – Director of Indigenous School of Jayapura District Origen Monim stated that he would pay attention to the rights of children studying at his school as it stands in an area declared as a child-friendly village.

“We have a guide about what indicator of a child-friendly village is, which was given by the Head of the Women Empowerment and Child Protection Office. So it would be our concern,” said Monim in Sentani on Tuesday (09/11/2018).

He further explained that the indigenous school runs their activities every day, from 14:00 to 16:30 Papua time, and a speedboat provided to pick up students to school.

“So far we operate independently. In the future, we would also try to provide snacks or additional food for children in Khandei class, namely for those aged 8-13 years,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the Head of Women Empowerment and Child Protection Office of Jayapura District, Maria Bano confirmed on the guide of the child-friendly village that already implemented in the Indigenous School of Jayapura District.

“Children from formal school continue their learning activities there, in the indigenous school, which encourage children playing and having fun with their friends. Because at their age, children need to observe their environment and people around them,” said Bano. (*)

 

Reporter: Engel Wally

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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KNPB supports Kanaky for self-determination

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KNPB and Gempar Papua activists at the Secretariat of Central KNPB. – Jubi / Hengky Yeimo

Jayapura, Jubi – Central West Papua National Committee (KNPB) held a limited discussion to support FKLNS (Organization of the Liberation Struggle of the Kanaky Tribe in New Caledonia) which has been well received by the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) to conduct a referendum in November 2018.

The First Chairman of Central KNPB Agus Kosay said it’s time for Kanaky to get self-determination from French colonialism.

“Kanaky must declare their self-determination. If Kanaky gets their independence, it would be able to give their support to West Papua because we share the same situation, which lives under the colonialism,” he said on Wednesday (08/12/2018) in Jayapura.

Meanwhile a member of Gempar (Papuan Youth and Student Movement) Nelius Wenda said as a nation oppressed by Indonesia, West Papua fully supports the referendum agenda of New Caledonia.

“Kanaky must determine their destiny. It must be far better than being under the French colonialism. In the future we Papuans are just like Kanaky,” he said. (*)

 

Reporter: Hengky Yeimo

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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