“The Second Body”, a poem for International Women’s Day

On 8th of March 2021, TKPT, a women organization in Indonesia, held the Kalimantan Island meeting. This meeting was attended by 16 women representatives from all provinces in Kalimantan Island, who rely on extractive economies – such as big mining, logging and oil palm plantation. They discussed and had a reflection on their “Tanah air” experiences.

Tanah Air is an Indonesian phrase. The original meaning is “Tanah = soil” and “air = water”.  However, Tanah Air has multiple meanings, from the place where you were born and grew up, to your ancestor territories, to your nation state. According to the participants (all women activist affected by extractives project), Tanah air is the living space for human and non-human nature that they rely on and try to defend.

WEGO researcher Siti Maimunah, who attended the meeting, wrote a poem based on the stories told by these women in their meeting. The poem is inspired by the “Feminist Political Ecology Dialog with Indonesian Youth: Feminist, Multispecies and the Second Body”, two days before the meeting. The poem is dedicated to Women Survivors and Women Right’s Defendants in Kalimantan Island, Indonesia, and to all those celebrating International Women’s Day around the world.

(1)

I met my second body that afternoon,
We talked for almost four hours,
We talked about rivers,
palm oil catfish,
mud cracks,
paper trees,
saltwater crocodiles,
Semandut lake,
lost tallow nuts,
bauxites and cans,
landslide and sandbags,
children died at coal mine pits

I met my second body that afternoon,
We talked until dusk came,
We talked about fields,
land spirits,
village festivals,
alternative economic,
persistence in learning,
nature’s supermarket,
coconut oil soaps,
and growing trails of the forest

I met my second body that afternoon, Tanah Air.

(2)

Ra,
I’m picturing your story about Dulau River and its ripples
About the forest eaten by countless of paper trees
About its leaves protruding like tissue papers
About its bright white fruits, blinding the mounting paper pulp
I see your story in toilets, offices and university library

Le’,
I’m reminiscing your painting of Kapuas River and its creeks
About those mud cracks in where Semendut Lake used to be
About the four villages losing their water and gaining heap of bauxite waste
About tengkawang trees that no longer stand in line along the river
I see your painting on food cans, on cars in the streets and on batteries

Jan,
I’m listening to your tale about Malinau River and its hospitality
About the oil palm trees replacing what once was a rainbow forest
About those catfish carrying palm fruits between their skinfolds
About the fish and water that used to be sweet, now tasteless and oily
I read your tale in cosmetic bottles and boards in gas stations

Jul,
I’m daydreaming about Sanga-sanga River and its gloriousness
About your alienation from land that now moves when it rains,
About the necessity to build a dam using sandbags
About the cracked dry land, and gaping holes of toxic water
I see your frustration at traffic lights in metropolitan cities in the island of Java

Sar,
I’m reminiscing about Mahakam River and its edges
About the ships full of hundreds of Meranti trunks
About the coal barges lining under the bridge
About the drinking water costs a third of the labors’ minimum wage
This memory is written in the list of children who died in coal mine pits

Had,
I’m heeding your story about Santan River and its guardian crocodile
About the damaged upstream and the now regular floods
About the powerless Balians against the crocodiles who prey its neighbours
Your story is on the faces of the rich at the President Palace and Parliament Office

Ann,
I’m picturing Barito River and the floating market
About the foul pilgrims of coal toying with their religion
About the capital city lying below the sea level and the giant pits
The picture sticks to the flash floods that drowned the capital

Still, I’m also listening to Suket’s story
About the female rattan weavers who are related to land spirits
About the farming rituals to honor land, rice, and forest
About “Unang Telang Otah Ine,” for the forest as breast milk
About the belief that forest is the true life provider

Still, I’m dwelling about the story of Had,
About the youth of Santan who bring life back to their village
About the the goal of recovery surrounded by giant mines and palm oil siege
About the spirit of learning and building an alternative economic
About the hopes of the independent festivities and communality

I met my second body that afternoon, Tanah Air.

 

Passau, 8th of March, 2021

Meet Aleta Baun: Indonesian environmental activist, politician, weaver

Aleta Baun. Photo credit: Eva Tobing - Organizational documentary for Cipta Media Ekspresi (Wikimedia) on Mario Vitoria's drawing, for Teachers of the World: Courage and Wisdom.

WEGO researcher Siti Maimunah and Tessa Toumbourou published an article on Teachers of the World: Courage and Wisdom,  an ALICE Project initiative, that highlights the lives and voices of women and men – activists, academics, intellectuals, artists or writers – who stood out in the fight against different forms of oppression, building paths of social, cognitive and sexual justice. Here is their piece about Aleta Baun, Indonesian environmental activist, parliamentarian and weaver.

Aleta Baun

Aleta Baun successfully led a citizens’ movement for over a decade, working to prevent four large marble mining companies from destroying the land and forests of her sacred homeland on the western part of the island of Timor, Indonesia. In 2006 she brought together 150 women from surrounding villages to peacefully protest while weaving cloth – the traditional craft of the Mollo people. After a year of non-violent occupation, the mine was abandoned and the sacred area protected. Aleta, known as Mama Aleta in her community, is now a parliamentarian representing her community against the impacts of extractives industries. By supporting women to take leadership roles and use creative protest techniques that reinvigorated traditional cultural practices, Aleta’s accomplishments extend further than just preventing mining destroying her communities’ environment to also improving gender equity, governance structures and economic development in her region. Aleta’s work offers inspiration for what indigenous rights’ and environment movements can achieve with passion, creativity and persistence.

Forest lifeblood

Home for Aleta is the Mollo region, at the foot of Mutis mountain range on the western half of the island of Timor. The area is known for being green and fertile, distinct from the otherwise dry province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). As well as being spiritually significant for the Mollo people, the community indigenous to the region, Mutis mountain range is also an important watershed for the Timor island. The mountains are made of porous marble towers, which allow water to permeate and drip down to follow the roots of vegetation, forming wellsprings at the base of the rock. The name Mutis, meaning ‘the flow of water’, is indicative of the function of the mountains. Thirteen rivers flow from the mountain to supply drinking and irrigation water for much of West Timor.

The Mollo people rely on forest resources for their livelihood needs, including food and medicinal products. Soil is considered to be the source of life, and the crops that grow in the rich mountain soil the embodiment of their ancestors. Natural dye is collected from forest plants, to use in their traditional weaving—a skill that women in these villages have crafted for generations. The Mollo people have a strong spiritual connection to their environment, and are believed to have occupied the land around the mountain range for more than 13,000 years. They consider the soil, water, stone and trees intrinsic to their own selves. For the Mollo people, land is symbolic of flesh, water as blood, stone as bones and forests as veins and hair. Aleta explains this relationship as fundamental to the identity of a Mollo person:

– If we are separated from any one of these natural elements, or if any one of the elements are destroyed, we start to die and lose our identity. So, we find it very important to protect the land.

To read the complete article, click here.