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Local Knowledge MattersPower, Context and Policy Making in Indonesia$

Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, and Hans Antlov

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781447348078

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447348078.001.0001

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Stories of local knowledge

Stories of local knowledge

(p.59) Four Stories of local knowledge
Local Knowledge Matters
Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, Hans Antlov
Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter introduces ten case studies of how local knowledge is generated, managed and used for influencing policy and community practices. The cases are from Aceh, Java, South Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, Kalimantan and Maluku, and address issues such as forest management, water resources, maritime resource management, financial services, resistance against exploitative mining, health insurance and other community development topics. The stories present diverse understanding about what the knowledge to policy process means for local actors and how different communities can engage in the policy process; however, they share the same belief that involving citizen and communities in policymaking will lead to better policy through democratization of public policy making process.

Keywords:   policy process, community development, natural resource management, Indonesia, NGOs

In 2014, KSI awarded ten grants to Indonesian research institutions to write up their stories on local knowledge, specifically on how local knowledge is generated, managed and used for influencing policy and community practice.1 In April 2016, a conference was organised, ahead of which KSI asked the ten organisations to write a short story about their experiences.2 Before we move into more detail about how local knowledge is generated and used, this chapter will give a brief overview of these cases to provide a bit of context and flavour to the more analytical chapters to follow. We base these stories on the summary reports of the organisations prepared ahead of the conference.

(p.60) Case study 1: Water for all – Perkumpulan Pikul (Pikul Association)

In 2010, the villagers of Baumata Timur village in East Nusa Tenggara received great news. The government’s Community-based Drinking Water and Sanitation Provision Programme, or Penyediaan Air Minum dan Sanitasi Berbasis Masyarakat (PAMSIMAS) was coming to their village. Goodbye water crisis! This project successfully built four new water reservoirs, including a reservoir from the local Baumata water source; it rehabilitated four reservoirs that were inherited and abandoned by another project in 2006; and it expanded the piping network by around 500 metres. To distribute water, an electrical pump with a capacity of 13,000 Kwh was installed. The total cost of this project amounted to Rp 275 million (US$20,600), with funding from the national budget (APBN), local budget (APBD) and the community itself. However, since the completion of this project in December 2010, the long-awaited water never came. The electrical metre on the pump has already been removed by the electric company.

Many locations in the province of East Nusa Tenggara share similar stories.3 Government projects to provide clean water or irrigation systems often end badly. Currently, East Nusa Tenggara experiences a water deficit of around 1.5 billion cubic metres per year. The water needs of only 36 per cent of the population have been met. The provincial government has set a target that by 2019, the water needs of everyone will be fulfilled. Technically and hydrologically, it is feasible to meet the water needs of the people with the water resources in the province. But why are so many water provision projects not sustainable? What is wrong? And what is the solution? The Kupang-based NGO Pikul believes one of the reasons is that very little is known about the (p.61) local socio-political factors that may be constraining the sustainability of water management initiatives in East Nusa Tenggara.

According to the province’s 2014–2019 development plan, at least ten dams/aqueducts, 200 irrigations dams and 4,000 small dams will be constructed by the government. Looking at the case of the Kolhua Dam, in the city of Kupang, the development plan may not be easy to realise. Kolhua Dam, which cost Rp 480 billion (US$36 million), incited protests and conflicts due to land acquisition issues. This is only one dam which required just 81 hectares of land. The land needed to build ten dams is in the order of 15,490 hectares. It is hard to imagine that this will be feasible in the near future.

To explore this challenge, Pikul conducted research in a number of locations in East Nusa Tenggara where communities have successfully managed water resources for their own needs using local knowledge and wisdom-based approaches. The research was carried out in several communities and a variety of approaches were identified. In Naip village, for example, communities successfully engaged in clan-based water management; in Apui, the community approach to managing water was church-based; in Noelbaki, the community used interest group-based water management; in Uiasa, a village-based water management approach was used; and in Wehali, indigenous community-based water management was practised.

Pikul found that there were ten principles of using local knowledge needed so that the supply of water would flow to all parts of the community. The most important of these were:4

  1. (p.62) 1. The community agrees that even though the water is underneath the land or an area belonging to a certain clan, it will still be collectively used and managed. The ownership of water resources is not based on personal claim but will always be under the control of clans.

  2. 2. As a source of life and myths, water resources are closely linked to the indigenous structure of the local community. The relationship between water and people lies within a local system/institution. For example, water in the context of the Wehali group is related to a supernatural force, Wematan Maromak, which is the origin of the local people. Indigenous relationships or structures in connection with water sub-systems are symbolised by indigenous houses. These act as a collective reminder of the structure and process of water management according to the beliefs of the local people.

  3. 3. As an identity within which rests the knowledge and various local wisdom values, water resources are physically managed in accordance with local beliefs. In Naip and Wehali, water owners or controllers do not wish to physically change to a more modern system, such as creating reservoirs. However, in Noelbaki, Uiasa and Apui, there have been efforts to create physical change by building reservoirs and using other forms of water capture. Despite differences in the capture systems, one thing remains the same: the management structure remains in the hands of the clan who discovered the water.

  4. 4. Water resource management revolves around specific boundaries in terms of owner clans, myths, epics and the stories behind the water source. Also, there are clear rituals and regulations related to its management and use, identification of beneficiaries, and the physical boundaries of the water supply. The procedures and structures of water management become a collective memory for the local people, a form of acknowledgement and responsibility over existing resources.

Pikul made local wisdom a reference for its recommendation to the local government’s obligation to meet the people’s rights to water. (p.63) It successfully inserted the idea of local knowledge in the debate on water management. Six policy briefs were developed and disseminated to trigger local discourse and policy dialogue.5 The Drinking Water and Environmental Health Working Group (Pokja AMPL) of the public works office, which is a multi-party working group managing drinking water and environmental health affairs, has shown an interest in disseminating Pikul’s findings.

Case study 2: ‘Baleo! Baleo! Baleo!’ – Poros Photo

The ‘Baleo! Baleo! Baleo!’ call marks the beginning of whale fishing parties in Lamalera, a small village on the island of Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara.6 The people of Lamalera move swiftly to the beach facing the Sawu Sea. They know that the ‘godsend gift’ has arrived in the sea: whales.

When the whales arrive, the peledangs, the traditional Lamalera fishing boat that can accommodate 16 men, are prepared. The matros or ship crews stand by in position. The fishers, along with their spears, known as lefa alap, enter the peledang. Leo, or ropes, kept in their traditional houses are carried on their shoulders – this is the origin of the term ‘baleo’. Lamafa, the spearmen carrying the leo are prepared to command the ships.

Prayers are offered, then the peledang are pushed into the ocean. Traditional songs are sung to lift the spirits of brave men sailing the sea. And so the hunt begins. Good cooperation and a clear division of roles between peledang crews and between peledangs contribute to a high success rate in whale spearing. In addition, there is a belief that peace on the land makes for good hunting from the sea. If a matros (p.64) sails without making peace with his family or enemy, his boat will face problems during the hunt.

There are tensions, however, involved in whaling and commercial tourism. To support the local whaling communities, Poros Photo decided to communicate the message that this tradition was integral to the community’s way of life and indeed its world view; abolishing it would end not only their livelihood, but the very thing upon which their sense of community and identity is built. A photo and film exhibition was organised and a photo essay book was published to communicate the message that the indigenous practice of community whaling is different from commercial whaling.

Community-based whaling is a centuries-old tradition which is still practised in Lamalera today.7 Usually, whales ‘anchor’ here from April to November on their migration between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. When these giant sea creatures pass Sawu Sea, right in front of the entrance to Lembata island, the hunt for whales begins. Only sperm whales (Physeter macrocphalus) are hunted. Seguni whales are not hunted because they are too fierce, while blue whales are believed to be the guardians of Lamalera. ‘We do not hunt blue whales because it is forbidden by our ancestors’, the fishers said.

The distribution of the hunting yield is a tradition passed down from generation to generation, based on local wisdom. All the Lamalera people obey this distribution system, ensuring that there is no argument over the bounty from the hunt. The distribution follows the social structure of the community. It begins with landlords, the owners of houses located where the ships first catch fish, then the ship owners, followed by spearmen, and then the rest of the people. ‘Everybody gets their share’, said Bona Bedding, a local fisher and community organiser. Ship owners still remember the kindness of people who gave them wood to make peledang. Bona remembered being told by his father to give meat to someone whose trees are cut to make ships.

(p.65) Everyone has the opportunity to obtain a share of each captured whale. Not only men who joined the expedition, but also widows, unmarried women, and wives whose husbands can no longer sail or do not have the opportunity to spear, receive a share. In order to receive a blessing from the sea, the community exchanges goods. Therefore, it is not surprising that when the whale is cut (when the community sharing mechanism is completed), there are women sitting next to it with containers filled with goods that can be exchanged for whale meat.

This process illustrates that the hunting yield distribution system is based on communal cultural values as opposed to accumulated economic values. As part of a larger economic system, whale meat is also kept as ‘savings’ for major events, such as marriages or deaths. What is more important is that whale jerky becomes an exchange coin in Lamalera, sometimes serving as the main barter tool. Merchants in market places tend to prioritise bartering over ‘the power of cash’ or selling and purchasing for people coming to the market.

Poros Photo went beyond the simple documentation of local observations and knowledge by using interactive exhibitions and multimedia. This presented new possibilities for recording and sharing local observations and knowledge. The audio and video recordings documented observations, knowledge and narratives as told by knowledge holders and communities in the language of the local community and was able to highlight the importance of respecting community-based whaling.

Case study 3: Pranata Mangsa: When traditional knowledge meets science – Centre for Anthropological Studies, University of Indonesia (PUSKA UI)

Climate change can trigger a domino effect in the world’s atmosphere. El Niño, which hit Africa in February 2015, has left a drought in its wake. However, the devastation of El Niño did not stop there. The dry season in several tropical regions, such as Indonesia, is getting (p.66) increasingly worse. FAO stated that in 2015 and 2016, El Niño brought the worst drought in 35 years.

Farmers are one group directly affected by climate change. A long dry season, an erratic rainfall rate and hot temperatures result in confusion in the planting pattern which they have used for so long. ‘We can feel the climate change. The heat is unbearable now’, said Yusup, a rice farmer in Indramayu on the north coast of West Java, in early April 2016. Although Indramayu is a primary national source of rice production, it remains one of the poorest areas in Java where the majority of the farmers are landless and get little benefit from rice production. People’s livelihoods have gradually changed to non-agricultural, with a very high migration rate, both through urbanisation and for cheap migrant labour in East Asia and the Middle East.

The sub-district of Balongan in Indramayu experienced harvest failure at the end of 2015 due to the lack of rain and the absence of other water sources. According to Yusup, climate change has decreased the rainfall rate in Indramayu. The rainy period has also shifted. ‘Rain usually starts to fall in October, but this year (2015), the rainy season only began at the end of November’, Yusup said. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency later issued a statement that the planting season for 2015 was delayed due to the shift in the rainy season.

Most farmers rely on traditional calculations to determine the planting season. Farmers in Indramayu are familiar with the farming calendar known as pranata mangsa.8 Farmers in East Lombok call it the warige, a farming guideline which uses the lunar calendar, according to Hijriyah month. The type of rain that will fall is decided by looking at on which day the Muslim day one of Muharram falls. This system (p.67) is handed down from generation to generation and uses natural signs like the position of stellar constellations and animal behaviour to determine the planting season.

The problem is, climate change has rendered traditional systems like pranata mangsa and warige inapplicable. Yusup said that the calculation of the planting season in pranata mangsa could be far different from the actual conditions. ‘When the planting season should have begun, there is still long drought’, said Yusup. ‘Farmers need to learn to adapt.’ In principle, farmers are true learners. From year to year, season to season and day to day, they learn from their planting processes, from successes and from failures. They also learn from elders and wise people sharing their experiences. They share knowledge and learn from each other. Some farmers realise the situation has changed. ‘I am 50 years old, and this is the first year I have experienced no rain during Bau Nyale’, said a farmer in East Lombok. Bau Nyale is a folk festival that celebrates the annual appearance of the nyale sea worms. Hordes of people flock to the sea to catch these rare creatures. ‘Usually, people would get soaked when they want to take nyale’, the farmer continued.9 Meanwhile, farmers who usually plant their crop based on a planting calendar can no longer use one, as the estimations of the planting season are incorrect.

Official farmer schools, Penyuluh Pertanian Lapangan (PPL), have existed for some time through government-led outreach programmes. However, the approach was a top-down model which lasted for only one planting season and only covered certain areas of land during training. Siregar and Crane (2011) reported that locally specific conditions, such as social and technical conditions of agricultural production, influence farmers’ ability and willingness to apply seasonal climate forecasts provided through PPL schools. Field schools (p.68) have blossomed since the Green Revolution was initiated in 1970s. Unfortunately, this revolution also caused farmers to rely more on commercial agricultural packages (seeds, fertilisers and pesticides). The top-down model does not work well for local farmers. They want sustainable, participatory field schools and have therefore developed Farmers Clubs and Rainfall Observation Clubs. They will not believe something until they have seen the proof. Participatory experiments between scientists and farmers, as well as among farmers, are needed to find planting methods that are adaptive to climate change.

Since 2009, the Indramayu Farmers’ Club, facilitated by PUSKA UI, has learned about agro-meteorology at science field shops (Warung Ilmiah Lapangan). Several farmer groups, local NGOs and agro-meteorology experts from Indonesia, the Netherlands and Africa have also collaborated through this programme. In early 2015, a similar programme was introduced to farmers in East Lombok, also a very poor district with similar migration issues.

Learning to monitor and calculate rainfall helps farmers respond to climate change. Working with PUSKA UI, a number of communities have combined scientific methods with monitoring rice field conditions, animal behaviour, pests and plant diseases that they routinely record. ‘This monitoring results in planting period estimations’, said Yusup, a member of the Indramayu Rainfall Observation Club. Farmers are developing new behaviour: they have become researchers. Farmers who previously carried hoes now also carry pens and books. Measuring rainfall and observing rice field ecosystems can help farmers determine the timing of the planting season. This method is practised every day by farmers in Indramayu and Lombok Timur. ‘This is an adaptation strategy to deal with climate change’, said Yusup.

‘We measure rainfall.’ This is how the farmers identify themselves as members of the Indramayu Rainfall Observation Club, an association, network and organisation where farmers throughout sub-districts in Indramayu come to learn agro-meteorology. In the seven years since they were first introduced in Indramayu district, West Java province, science field shops have been established as social institutions for learning agro-meteorology. Science field shops are a new approach to (p.69) education, an arena where farmers, scientists and educators engage in a knowledge exchange dialogue. Through this exchange, knowledge is transferred from scientists to famers to be used operationally by farmers as active observers and learners. Farmers observe rainfall and agro-ecosystem conditions every day, measure rainfall, document the results, and analyse, discuss and evaluate them together.

In Lombok, farmers call the place where people gather socially berugaq. People meet at least once per month to discuss rainfall measurement results, agro-system observations and seasonal scenarios. Scientists or guides provide services that enable new agro-meteorological knowledge to be implemented by farmers. These knowledge transfer and communication technologies include rainfall measurement, comparison of harvest yield and distribution efforts. Scientists learn ways to better operationalise science and combine traditional or local knowledge with scientific knowledge.

This science field shops approach is very different from the government outreach programme, which has a top-down approach. Science field shops provide an interactive learning arena between farmers and facilitators, discussing traditional knowledge, empirical knowledge and scientific knowledge. It is not oriented towards ‘aid’ or ‘a project’, but instead focuses on ‘farmer empowerment’ based on actual conditions and farmers’ needs, and is thus much more effective. Local governments in Indramayu and East Lombok have been talking about institutionalising the field shops, something that PUSKA UI is excited about.

Case study 4: Fish sovereignty in sasi lompa, Haruku – Centre for Regional Studies and Information (PATTIRO), Jakarta

The marine resources in eastern Indonesia are very rich but are under severe pressure, particularly from destructive fishing techniques that have been used since the 1980s. Economic pressure and market demand provide a strong incentive for further expansion of fisheries. Traditional fisher-farmers with low-technology boats and fishing gear and limited formal education have to compete with commercial (p.70) vessels carrying younger and stronger fishers. At the same time, enforcement of national fisheries regulations is lax. As well, there are serious deficiencies in government management agencies in terms of motivation, coordination, knowledge, infrastructure and funding. Local village institutions, while generally well respected, have less credence with the younger, commercially oriented fishers (Novaczek et al, 2001: 5). A collapsing economy among local fisher-farmers and competition among community groups have created a situation where conflict within communities10 and with commercial sectors is inevitable if management and conflict resolution arrangements are not put in place.

To manage these challenges, in the district of Central Maluku, communities are relying on sasi, a series of regulations and sanctions governing natural resources and life in the region. In various community groups in Central Maluku, sasi has even become a part of religion in their lives. Sasi is divided into four types: sea sasi, domestic sasi, river sasi and forest sasi. Each sasi contains different regulations and sanctions. The sanction is established by Saniri, or the Indigenous Council, whose membership consists of representatives from five soa (tribes). The enforcement is upheld by Kewang, the traditional institution in charge of supervising the implementation of sasi rules. ‘The King has established sasi since the old times’, said Vecky Saijka, an inhabitant of the island of Haruku.

To highlight this important local practice, PATTIRO documented the ritual and process of sasi, and did an analysis of the key actors involved in the events and their specific roles. They facilitated a number of meetings that agreed on recommendations from the study, to be converted into an academic paper to gain a comprehensive and deep understanding of the concept, objective and goals.

(p.71) Haruku island is one of the sub-districts in Central Maluku that upholds sasi. Statistics in 2012 recorded the population of Haruku at just over 30,000 people. There, the most popular sasi is sasi lompa, namely sasi that governs the people who cultivate and harvest lompa fish (Trisina baelama) living in the Learisa Kayeli river and Maluku sea. ‘Sasi lompa was made to keep people from being hungry’, said Soleman Latuharhary, ‘but also to protect the sea from being depleted.’ Sasi lompa is a combination of sea sasi and river sasi to regulate the aquaculture of lompa fish. In the daytime (from 4:30 am to 6:30 pm), the lompa and make fish are in the Learisa river, 1,500 metres from the estuary. Overnight, the lompa and make fish swim down the estuary to the sea to find more plankton.

That is why there are two sasi in sasi lompa. If the fish are at sea, the community uses sea sasi. This sasi restricts people from capturing lompa in the inner sea. Fish can only be captured from the coast in water as deep as the waist. This sasi also forbids people from damaging reefs where lompa fish live. In some areas, damage is caused by using dynamite to catch lompa.

When the fish are in the river, the community implements river sasi, which restricts the capture of lompa using nets or bore (fish poison). This sasi also regulates river traffic. The people are forbidden from using motorised boats in the river, as the oil spill and waste will kill juvenile fish and plankton. People are restricted from capturing another fish if there is a lompa fish nearby.

Lompa fish can be harvested or collected at least three times a year. The ceremony is called ‘closing the sasi’, which is symbolised by closing the estuary to fishing, and ‘opening the sasi’, which means people can harvest as much lompa fish as they want. This ceremony involves people from all tribes. ‘Closing the sasi’ is usually held in April or May, when the fish can be seen in abundance, gathering around the shore. When this happens, people are restricted from taking a large number of fish, both from the river and from the sea.

After ‘closing the sasi’, the event continues with ‘hot sasi’. This is an event to call fish to go into the river. It starts at 2 am with prayers led by the head of the Kewang who is also responsible for punishing or (p.72) disciplining citizens violating these rules. Afterwards, the head of the Kewang, followed by others, burns coconut leaves to attract fish and walks towards the Kewang Rocks at the river, accompanied by music from a drum. When the drum stops, they then shout out, ‘Sirewei!’ which means a promise and vow. Then the head of the Kewang conveys his speech to the community and pays respect to the ancestors, other living creatures and the spirits. During this time, ‘closing the sasi’ is officially implemented.

Over the next five to seven months, ‘opening the sasi’ is held, usually every Friday. Specific to ‘opening the sasi’, the traditional Haruku King holds the veto right to decide on the time to harvest fish. Other indigenous officials only manage the event. ‘The king decides after consulting with government officials, not the Kewang’, said Vecky Saijka. The time and the amount of fish are two things considered by the king when determining the right time to ‘open the sasi’.

For years, the sasi lompa has been obeyed. As a result, during the opening and closing events people can harvest many tons of fish. The revenue from harvesting fish strengthened the economy of the people on Haruku. With the appropriate harvesting pattern governed by sasi, they have maintained supply, while neighbouring islands are becoming over-fished.

The community, however, sometimes disobeys sasi lompa, especially youths or outsiders. The people often see motorised boats crossing the river and disturbing fish. Youths sometimes violate sasi and keep taking fish even during the ‘closing the sasi’ period. The reported violations mainly result in first and second warnings. However, if violations occur for a third time, the Saniri, the indigenous people’s council, will call the offender to account. ‘We will summon the reporting party to give testimony, so we don’t decide the verdict right away. We give opportunity because offenders have the right to defend themselves. It is up to them whether their defence makes sense or not. The witnesses will also be asked for their testimony’, said Eliza Kissya, an indigenous Kewang leader.

(p.73) Case study 5: The river that brings life to the city – Institute for Islamic and Society Studies (LK3), Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan

‘The Martapura River is calm.

Ships are going back and forth on the stream.’

This is the first line of the traditional Banjar folk song, Sungai Martapura. From Riam Kanam dam in the district of Banjar (South Kalimantan), the Martapura river flows 17 kilometres, dividing the city of Banjarmasin before merging with the much larger Barito river. ‘A place of daily livelihood before returning home’, continues the song. This is the closing song in a documentary film, ‘Our River, Our Life’ made by the Institute for Islamic and Society Studies or Lembaga Kajian Keislaman dan Kemasyarakatan (LK3).

The Martapura river is one of the main priorities of the LK3 team, because the course of this river is central to the life of both the city of Banjarmasin and the surrounding district. The Banjar is an ethnic group of around 3.5 million people in southern Kalimantan, including in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan. Portions of Banjarmasin are below sea level, so the city rises and falls with the tide. Lanting (houses on stilts) line the multiple waterways, which crisscross the city. Taking a small klotok (motorised boat) around the rivers and canals reveals a wide variety of activity: people bathing, washing laundry, gossiping, and buying fruit, vegetables and fish from female vendors in small canoes (Sjamsuddin, 2016).

The Martapura delta is considered the centre of the city and is the source of livelihood for the people. Society depends on the Martapura river as it serves as a means of transportation and interaction, irrigation, drainage, ecological and water resources for settlements. The main problem is that the river is heavily polluted due to deforestation and poor sanitation, causing economic and ecological losses.

The deterioration of rivers in Banjarmasin is exacerbated by local governments who ignore local wisdom. The objective of LK3’s documentary film of Martapura and its people was to highlight to all parties, be they community or local government, the importance of (p.74) rivers in the lives of Banjar people and the importance of local wisdom in their management.

The history of the Banjar people is the history of the river. Before the establishment of the Banjar Sultanate at the estuary of the Barito river in the 16th century, each villager named his or her river care community group based on the direction of the river flow. Sei – water or river in Banjar language – became the ‘spirit’ of their life. Unfortunately, this centre of people’s lives is increasingly ignored and shrinking, and some of the rivers are experiencing sedimentation. This clearly affects the lives of people who use the river as their means of livelihood.

In addition to being a river community, Banjar people have a very strong religious culture and background. Therefore, a theological approach is very important to encourage participation in activities to save the river environment. By collaborating with religious and indigenous figures, LK3 strives, on one hand, to bring back awareness of local wisdom in Banjarmasin, and on the other hand, to make theology more than a normative issue.

First are the myths of ghosts living in the river, such as a fat creature (tambun) living in the whirlpool, a yellow alligator, and a water ghost (hantu banyu). According to most people, these myths are passed on from generation to generation, from parents to children. The people realise that the myths, which travel by word of mouth, protect the river, especially by preventing people from throwing garbage into it.

The second aspect of local wisdom is traditional songs and poems that show the bond between the people and the river. These are sung and read during fishing trips or to praise the river. An example is the Sungai Martapura song at the beginning of this story. In addition to being a place which supports livelihood, this song gives the Martapura river pride of place for Banjar people, a beautiful site during the night, with abundant local fish: jelawat, puyau and sanggiringan. Unfortunately, the importance of this song fades as the fish decrease and the river is damaged.

The third aspect of local wisdom is the presence of lanting houses – floating houses with bamboo flooring. During the golden era of the Banjar Sultanate, these houses served as resting places for merchants. (p.75) They also became places for merchants to interact and conduct transactions. Today, their function has even expanded to be a place for fishers to live. Lanting houses represent the identity of the Banjar people and are an important medium to unite them. Thus, they should be preserved as part of Banjar people’s culture. However, the Banjarmasin city government views lanting houses as clutter, and feels that they should be torn down. The people argue that lanting houses should be viewed not only on the physical level, but also in terms of the social and cultural values attached to the community.

LK3 held hearings at the Banjarmasin House of Representatives (DPRD) and cooperated with several local government agencies in public discussions, seminars and television talk shows to raise awareness of the importance of river revitalisation and its contribution to local wisdom. The networking and advocacy prowess of LK3 led to an opportunity for community groups to criticise and provide inputs to the government in relation to river revitalisation in Banjarmasin. As a result, the government has established a community-based river care committee.

Interestingly, the effort to learn about these songs and poems has raised people’s awareness of the importance of revitalising the river and becoming culturally, religiously and environmentally friendly. Together, people cleaned the river of any waste that polluted it or caused sedimentation. They did this with the intention of obtaining clean water and abundant fish, as in the past. This initiative continued for some weeks, as people realised that cleaning the river could not be done just once, but must be done continuously in order to restore its function.

Case study 6: Wisdom fends off disaster in Pakis village – Bandung Institute for Governance Studies (BIGS)

‘This is our village.

Our village, located on the slope of the mountain.

There are fields, hills, but the forest is bare.’

(p.76) This narration opens an animated movie by BIGS, ‘Preserve Our Forest’ (https://youtu.be/RBVuii4REkQ). This eight-minute video is about disasters that occur due to the barren forest, from landslides to floods. The image switches from showing an area affected by disaster to a different community. In this village, there are rice fields and hills. It is also located on the slope of a steep mountain. The difference is that the forest is still intact. Even though the images are animated, the village truly exists. This is the village of Pakis in the district of Kendal, Central Java. It is here that BIGS went to investigate how local knowledge supported the preservation of the Merangan forest around the village.

Merangan is classified as a community forest or hutan rakyat, owned by private smallholder farmers. This type of forest is mainly located on Java. Its ecological and sociological landscape is totally different from forest plantations, which are mainly located outside of Java. In densely populated areas such as the districts of Kendal and other forested areas on Java, community forests are located in hilly areas surrounded by state forests, managed by the state forest company, Perhutani (Bratamihardja et al, 2005). The daily livelihoods of villagers depend on a combination of agriculture and forestry, but as the forests are controlled by Perhutani, farmers are often unsure of their income.

Besides conducting research and systematising local knowledge among the people of Pakis village, BIGS disseminated the findings to villagers in surrounding areas and to policy makers, by exploring and exposing the local wisdom of Pakis. This was not only useful for the people around Pakis and Kendal, but for people in many forests in other locations, especially in densely populated areas like Java. They were able to learn from the experiences of Pakis in managing its forest.

BIGS found there were patterns of behaviour among the people of Pakis when supporting forest conservation, using both traditional and contemporary local knowledge. There were different ways in which local knowledge contributed to preserving the Merangan forest.

Local knowledge has been passed down across generations through stories of heroism by village ancestors when trying to manage the water flow. These heroic stories are closely related to restrictions upheld by (p.77) the villagers. Restrictions include a ban on cutting trees in the forest and encouragement to harvest forest products only as needed. There is also a restriction prohibiting villagers from entering the forest on certain days.

A second way local knowledge contributes to sustaining the forest is the harmonious behaviour of the people, who are closely connected to nature. A third way is an agreement between farmers and Perhutani not to damage the forest. This agreement is enforced using the traditional rikuh (shame) culture. As a result, although the Forest Community Organisation is inactive and the forest ranger is not always available to supervise, villagers do not damage the forest because they do not want to be shamed.

BIGS brought these findings to the animated film, ‘Preserve Our Forest’ to be used as a basis for dissemination and advocacy to other villages around Pakis in Kendal and Semarang. Based on the film, BIGS conducted external validation of the research done in Pakis and collected responses to the film from villagers who attended the screening. BIGS asked villagers how the film was linked to forest conservation in their regions.

After these activities there was a grand event in mid-February 2016 to pay respect to the water springs, and to serve as a reminder of the important role the forest plays in preserving these springs. The ceremony, Susuk Wangan, was very festive, with villagers participating from all around Pakis and officials from villages, sub-districts and local government agencies in the province of Central Java and the districts of Semarang and Kendal. Through this ceremony, villagers were reminded of the importance of forest preservation, and especially the importance of local knowledge in this preservation effort.

BIGS identified the inaugural ceremony as a symbolic change in behaviour from the old traditions and habits (local knowledge) related to natural and environmental preservation. Previously, only a handful of villagers would get involved in environmental events (water springs and forests) as they did not feel that they were relevant to their lives, and because some believed the tradition violated religious (Islamic) norms (bid’ah).

(p.78) The presence of officials from outside the programme area at the Susuk Wangan ceremony showed that forest conservation in Pakis is not limited along administrative lines. The attendance of government officials and figures indicated that the local government understands the importance of local knowledge, existing traditions and practices within the community. The positive support and response of the local government to this traditional event will continue, with the adoption of principles of local knowledge in local policy-making processes regarding forest conservation. This would be a significant change.

Case study 7: Revitalising Keujruen Blang – Centre for Education and Community Studies (PKPM), Aceh

Pangulee hareuket meugoe

‘The most important work is farming’

This proverb describes the importance of rice fields for the Acehnese. While praying (shalat) is the main worship activity, working in a rice field is the main means of livelihood. Like many other ethnic groups in Indonesia, the Acehnese has its own special indigenous organisation to manage rice fields, called Keujruen Blang.

Keujruen Blang comes from the words keurajeun or kingdom, meaning territorial power, and blang, which means rice field. Keujruen Blang can be interpreted as power in the rice field. This also suggests that Keujruen Blang has existed since imperial times in Aceh. ‘Their duty was to regulate water all the way to giving the order on when to start the planting season’, said Syamsulrizal, the Vice District Head of Aceh Besar.

In the local government structure, Keujruen Blang is an indigenous institution tasked with assisting keuchik,11 the head of gampong (village), (p.79) and Imuem mukim, the leader of mukim (a community unit between sub-district and village level) in agriculture. As an indigenous institution, the management of Keujruen Blang is not appointed by the head of the village (keuchik) but elected by farmers through discussion.

The structure of Keujruen Blang is tiered. At the mukim level (an administrative area consisting of several gampong and under a sub-district) it is called Keujruen Cheik. At the gampong or village level, it is called Keujruen Muda. If the rice field in the gampong is large, there is also Peutua Blang, which acts as the ‘assistant’ for Keujruen Muda.

Not all areas in Aceh practice these traditions, not even in Aceh Besar. To most, Keujruen Blang is only a name. ‘It is not functional at all’, said community facilitator Muhammad Ridha. In 2015, the Aceh-based civil society organisation PKPM interviewed hundreds of farmers, community figures and government officials in order to revitalise Keujruen Blang. The research aimed to highlight the importance of Keujruen Blang, and to depict the governance of Keujruen Blang in the existing Aceh agricultural system, its substantial typological knowledge, and its relevance to the dynamics of development and agriculture. PKPM closely collaborated with the local government, the Indigenous Community Council or Majelis Masyarakat Adat (MAA), and the local agricultural agency to socialise their research findings and explore the potential for cooperation. This was to follow up and implement the recommendations from the research.

One of the reasons Keujruen Blang had weakened was the establishment of the Water User Farmer Association or Perkumpulan Petani Pemakai Air (P3A), an organisation created by the government with a similar role to that of Keujruen Blang. In 1997, the Aceh Besar district established 176 P3As. However, these P3As are not working optimally in managing rice fields, and have failed to replace the function of Keujruen Blang. Keujruen Blang functioned not only as the agricultural leader, but also as a mediator if there was conflict among farmers. P3A is less effective because it ignores existing values in the community. For example, most of its management members are directly appointed without involving farmers, and as a result, it has failed to gain the support of the people. ‘P3A is not rooted in society’, said (p.80) Ridha. The community is also often confused when differentiating between Keujruen Blang and P3A. In several areas of Aceh Besar, P3A is seen as replacing Keujruen Blang. In other areas, the Keujruen Blang still exists, but with a narrower role – only managing rice field water traditionally.

In yet other areas, however, Keujreun Blang is becoming increasingly relevant. In addition to serving as social capital to bring the community together, this indigenous institution is a facility to strengthen democracy at the grassroots level. It also has the potential to create food security and improve the welfare of farmers.

PKPM saw that an opportunity to revitalise the role of Keujruen Blang is significant in the context of the new Village Law (Law 6/2014). This law acknowledges local institutions within society. The Aceh government has also made a regulation in this matter. Most recently, the Aceh governor released Regulation Number 45/2015 on ‘Keujruen Blang Irrigation Management’. In this regulation the term P3A is eliminated. ‘Now there is a strong sense of acknowledgement of local and indigenous wisdom’, the PKPM organiser Ridha said. However, this regulation has not been followed up with the necessary technical measures. ‘There is yet to be a real strategy from the district government’, Ridha continued.

PKPM found that the community and government officials at the grassroots level hope that Keujruen Blang can be revitalised. This issue arose because, in addition to rice fields being under-managed, farmers did not want to fight over water for their land. Even though the conflicts remain small, these frictions disrupt relationships between the people. ‘The community’s wish should be responded accordingly by the local government’, said Ridha. The Vice District Head of Aceh Besar, Syamsulrizal, is ready to cooperate with various parties to revitalise Keujruen Blang and said he has a strategy to make it happen. He will embrace members of the old Keujruen Blang and respected people in society. He will also hand over the election of the management to the farmers, as a campaign promise for his re-election.

(p.81) Case study 8: Blessings from mawah – Foundation for People’s Welfare (YKU), Aceh Besar

Min, the keuchik (village head), began by keeping one of his neighbour’s cows. He is now a cattle boss in his hometown and owns 40 cows, having been in business since he was in senior high school in Banda Aceh in 1990. The number of the keuchik’s cows increases every year, as there is always a cow giving birth. In 2015, there were 12 calves. The keuchik delivers some of his cows to his neighbours to be taken care of. In return, Min takes care of a number of cows belonging to the neighbours. This traditional financing and investment mechanism is called mawah, and does not only have economic benefits. ‘It is effective in maintaining good relationships with neighbours’, Keuchik Min said.

Mawah is a form or pattern of economic and business cooperation practised by the Acehnese, using a profit sharing system according to an initial agreement. This system is often applied in agriculture and on farms. For example, for cattle mawah, the profit sharing takes operational costs into consideration and the selling price of the cattle is calculated by the time spent raising it.

The Lamteuba people sell cows when they need school fees for their children. When the cow sold belongs to a neighbour, the profit will be evenly distributed between the owner and the caretaker. The local people depend on agriculture and livestock for their livelihood. ‘This is an economic practice that is very helpful for the people’, said Min, who is now providing capital to the mawah system.

Mawah became an alternative solution for poor people who had difficulty accessing capital through micro-credit programmes, due to their inability to meet the administrative provisions of micro-credit. Some did not have assets to serve as collateral, while others did not have a regular income to make the repayments. The mawah process begins with trust. Its success is highly dependent on the honesty of the beneficiaries.

There are three stages in mawah. First is a verbal agreement or handover in accordance with local customs. In Saree village, mawah practice is so common that they communicate via text messaging. The (p.82) second stage is in regard to management and the third stage concerns sales and profit sharing. Currently, the profit sharing system is 70 per cent for the mawah receiver and 30 per cent for the capital provider.

Most people use their mawah practice as savings. In Saree for example, the youth use the profits from mawah to cover their future marriage costs. In Pidie, mothers created mawah tiram (savings) for ‘just in case’ purposes when their husbands were unable to set sail due to bad weather. ‘Mawah can also be an investment opportunity for external capital providers, to maintain good relationships between communities, and to strengthen food security’, said Min.

During the past few years, the Aceh-based organisation YKU has worked with local NGOs and government officials to develop technical guidelines for mawah and a syariah index. The knowledge system’s existence was threatened because many people possessing the knowledge were lost in the tsunami of 2004. YKU is presently developing operational guidelines to implement the mawah system in Aceh Besar.

The Beng Mawah Micro-Finance Institution was formed in Aceh Besar in 2012. Founded by a number of civil society organisation activists (including YKU), this institution provides capital access for its members in the fields of agriculture, farming and home industries. The loan is given without collateral, using a profit-sharing system. The receiver will gain 70 per cent profit, while the remainder goes to the Beng Mawah Micro-Finance Institution. This institution created a more modern mawah system. In this programme, besides presenting knowledge on improving the household economy through the mawah system, YKU has successfully established cooperation with key actors, both domestically and internationally, who have delved into this issue. Official cooperation includes memoranda of understanding between the Islamic Business and Economic Faculty of the Banda Aceh-based Islamic State University (UIN) and the local environmental NGO Yayasan Aceh Hijau. Mawah has also been adopted by the Regional Development Planning Agency (Bappeda).

(p.83) Case study 9: Zero compromise in Torong Besi – Centre for Politics and Government, Gadjah Mada University (POLGOV UGM)

The Association of Indigenous People in Torong Besi, Manggarai district, on the island of Flores in East Nusa Tenggara, has become a symbol of the community’s rejection of the exploitation of manganese ore in the area. Formed in 2007, the association is the hub of the Forest Circle Society Network that actively rejects the mining project because it destroys agricultural land and diminishes the community’s ownership of its productive asset. This is in an area where no fewer than 75 per cent of households earn their livelihood as farmers and fishers.

Since 2013 there have been no mining activities. However, through this association, the local people remain vigilant about the possible return of miners. ‘Our stand is clear, refusing all mining activities’, said Simon Suban Tukan, one of the local figures in Torong Besi. The local people also built a cooperative enterprise to empower the local economy, so that they do not depend on foreign investment, particularly from the mining sector. Through the cooperative, the people cultivated pigs and cattle. Each community member voluntarily donates between Rp 50,000 and Rp 100,000 (US$4 to US$8) per month for the cooperative’s business capital. By using a savings-and-loan system, the capital is often used to help local fishers.

This is a snapshot of how local people came up with an initiative to voice their rejection, starting by forming an association, then requesting advocacy support from environmental organisations and establishing a cooperative to build economic independence. They have a noble cause: early prevention of mining in protected forest areas. The local initiative described below is an effort by indigenous people to refuse mining projects in their area, which could be an example to other areas.

The Centre for Politics and Government at Gadjah Mada University (POLGOV UGM) has been documenting and supporting this local resistance to mining for the past few years. POLGOV and other civil society organisations engaged religious leaders to influence the policy-making process in Manggarai. POLGOV also supported the affected communities to work with several national NGO networks.

(p.84) Mining exploitation in Torong Besi began in 1994 with the entry of companies such as PT. Arumbai and Istindo Mitra Oerdan (Colbran, 2010). Torong Besi is well known for producing manganese and its reserve at that time reached millions of tons. The problem was that the mining activity was located within a protected forest area, which was traditionally owned by the customary villages of Gendang Loce and Gendang Kerkuak. After PT Sumber Jaya Asia began operating in the area and massively mined manganese ore in early 2007, people started to see negative impacts. The manganese mining devastated the fishers’ means of livelihood, as it polluted the beaches. Mining activities also clogged a number of water springs in the area, causing drought. The people were beginning to suffer from liver disease due to breathing manganese dust. By early 2008, there were at least three local people who had died because of this illness. ‘There is no longer comfort here, only anger’, said Yakobus Daud, an indigenous figure in Robek village, describing the situation at the time.

No longer able to stand the increasing impacts of mining, in early 2008 a number of indigenous figures gathered the people of Torong Besi. They agreed to go to the local government office and the Manggarai Local People’s Representative to complain. Their visit was completely ignored. This happened a few times. ‘We demanded the mining companies in our area be shut down’, said Gaspar Sales, the head of the Gincu Indigenous kampung in Robek village.

They finally changed their strategy by requesting support from well-known national civil society networks, including the Alliance for Indigenous People (AMAN), the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), and the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM).

The composition of local actors varies. In Manggarai, with its Christian culture, the church plays a significant role in revitalising local knowledge on ecological preservation in the context of religious norms. The church is active in facilitating political processes that consolidate collective actions by indigenous communities around mines. It also establishes strategic alliances and coalitions with AMAN, WALHI and JATAM. Under the Ruteng diocese, this advocacy network is connected locally, nationally and globally.

(p.85) With this support, local communities were able to develop better advocacy skills. In addition to demonstrations, the network prepared various advocacy strategies, from opinion forming in mass media to class action suits. For example, Simon Suban Tukan, a well-known former member of the provincial House of Representatives in East Nusa Tenggara, helped with advocacy efforts at the provincial and district government level.

This resistance finally showed results. The Manggarai District Government ceased the mining activities of PT Sumber Jaya Asia in Torong Besi. Strong pressure from the people drove the head of the Manggarai district, Christian Rotok, to revoke the company’s business licence in 2009. The district head also regulated a cessation of all exploitation activities in the protected forest area of Torong Besi. Since then, the people of Torong Besi have been committed to never compromising on any mining activities, especially in protected forests. The people of Torong Besi optimised communal and indigenous ownership principles as pressure to influence policy.

Case study 10: Traditional insurance – Lembaga Advokasi HIV/AIDS (LAHA) Institute for HIV/AIDS Advocacy, Kendari

In Konawe Selatan (Southeast Sulawesi), the spirit of sharing does not know the meaning of loss. They call this melesi, which means sharing the burden or lightening each other’s load in times of happiness or grief. Melesi is taken from the language of the Tolaki, the ethnic group in Konawe Selatan. Assistance is given when there is misfortune (such as death), or for the school fees of a neighbour going to school outside of the area, or for a marriage. ‘We generally come bringing money or coconuts’, said Haryanto Yunus, a community organiser.

According to Haryanto, the melesi tradition comes from the spirit of togetherness and mutual assistance. This tradition is intrinsic in the social lives of the local community and has been preserved for generations. Based on this idea, a number of community groups wanted to institutionalise melesi as a formal policy. One of its concrete (p.86) forms is the translation of melesi into a self-funded community health insurance scheme.

In August 2015, LAHA held focus group discussions in four villages of Ranomeeto Barat sub-district, Southeast Sulawesi, on the integration of melesi as a complementary element to formal health insurance. The committee asked participants about their experience in using the local community health insurance.12 For example, did they still have to pay fees outside the ones covered by the health insurance scheme?

The results showed that almost all the participants paid additional fees above the insurance coverage. They still used melesi when a neighbour was experiencing misfortune. Therefore, they conveyed the idea that melesi should be integrated into the local health insurance system of Southeast Sulawesi and linked with the Social Security Implementing Agency or Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Sosial (BPJS). ‘We want melesi to have a legal basis’, said Haryanto.

The process to formalise melesi did not go smoothly at the beginning, with some community groups rejecting the idea. They suspected this activity was only to raise funds for personal interest. Socialisation was then intensified in a number of locations, convincing the communities of the importance of active participation in providing health insurance. Haryanto explained that they needed to guarantee that melesi would benefit them in times of grief.

After some time, this process began to run relatively smoothly, and this was aided in September 2016 by a decision for all departments of government to sign an agreement to support melesi-based village (p.87) health insurance. ‘The key is the guarantee that melesi is equipped with a supervisory body elected by the people’, said Haryanto.

The government also regulated the premiums for melesi. The premium to be paid by heads of families is determined by community agreement. The only thing differentiating melesi from formal insurance is the benefit paid. Under formal insurance, the government or insurance provider determines the amount of benefit paid, but under melesi, Haryanto says, the people establish the amount, ‘depending on the result of village discussions’.

Haryanto thinks melesi can also bring other benefits to villages. For example, if in a specific time period the insurance coverage is not used by melesi members, it can be turned into deposits. If unused, this fund can be used to develop village-owned enterprises. These enterprises would then distribute the profits from productive activities in the village. ‘Melesi teaches independence and active participation in village development processes’, said Haryanto.

Since October 2015, with the help of LAHA, a number of villages have started to develop a draft of the ‘Melesi Local Culture Village Regulation’. One of the resource people invited for this drafting was the head of the Law and Legislation Section of the South Konawe Selatan government, Risman Kudaso. After the draft is complete, the village leadership socialises it and establishes a managing agency in each village.

Risman encouraged every village to develop village regulations to formalise melesi. ‘That way other villages can replicate this’, said Risman. In the discussion, a number of indigenous institutions expect the local government to provide support in the form of stimulus for initial financing. According to Haryanto, one of the challenges to implementing melesi-based insurance is fund management capacity. In his opinion, village officials still need support for a period of time. ‘That is why support from the government and village figures is crucial’, he said.

Risman Kudaso said that melesi is a translation of the Local Regulation Number 22/2013 on Mandara Mendidoha Desa (Healthy and Smart Village). According to him, this regulation can serve as a (p.88) legal umbrella for the implementation of melesi village health insurance. He noted that melesi has just been implemented in Ranomeeto Barat sub-district, and more and more villages are implementing it.


(1) Of the more than 500 proposals received, 74 per cent came from NGOs and 21 per cent from universities (the remaining were individuals and government agencies). There were 31% per cent based in Java and 7 per cent were from Maluku and Papua. The remaining proposals were divided evenly between Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and West and East Nusa Tenggara.

(3) Despite a series of infrastructure projects in this province, one of Indonesia’s poorest, low rainfall and poor infrastructure cause water crises every year in the dry season. This forces local communities to consume unhygienic water, as residents cannot afford local tap water at exorbitant prices. Further, water shortages in the province can take a heavy toll on rice cultivation and irrigation, leading to harvest failures (Asian Development Bank, 2012).

(4) The other six principles are: 1) staged sanction policy (sanction for the violators will be given in stages), 2) affordable conflict resolution mechanism, 3) recognition of rights to organise, 4) community-based hierarchical management, 5) community engagement, and 6) water governance reflects the socio-cultural structure.

(5) These six policy briefs (in Indonesian language) are available at www.perkumpulanpikul.org/2016/02/diseminasi-riset-air/

(6) Lamalera is a village of around 2,000 people. It is located on the stony island of Lembata and has very little agriculture. The population depends on resources from the sea and many communities on Lembata hunt whales for subsistence living (Barnes, 1984; Fortier, 2014).

(7) According to Barnes (1984), an anonymous Portuguese document of 1624 describes the islanders as hunting whales with harpoons for their oil, and implies that they collected and sold ambergris.

(8) Pranata Mangsa originates from two words, pranata, which means regulation, and mangsa, which means season or time. So, pranata mangsa is a regulation used by farmers to decide on or carry out their work. This was initiated by King Pakubuwono VII and began to be used on 22 June 1856. This system is used, for example, to conduct agricultural-related business such as farming, or for fishing, travelling outside of the home region, and going to war. Pranata mangsa is a seasonal time regulation based on the solar calendar.

(9) The indigenous Sasak population in East Lombok believe that Bau Nyale is a sign that the rainy season is about to begin. But in 2015, this ritual was not followed by rain, and there were no worms. Thousands of people gathered waiting for worms to rise to the sea surface, but only a few of them went home with nyale.

(10) With a history of communal religious-associated conflict in Maluku, increasing numbers of Muslim fishers in Christian-dominated areas on the island of Haruku may trigger other communal conflicts. For short but substantive overviews of the origin of sectarian conflict in Maluku in 1999, see van Klinken (2000) and Goss (2000).

(11) The leader of a gampong adat community who administers a legal community below the level of sub-district (called gampong or equivalent to village) preserves customary adat law, social peace, order, accord, amity and welfare. The keuchik are directly responsible to the head of the sub-district government (camat).

(12) Wanting community-managed health insurance can be seen as a reaction to operational problems (for example, the strict referral system and slow process) of the national and sub-national government universal health insurance schemes (BPJS Kesehatan and Jamkesda) that were introduced in the mid-2000s after decentralisation and direct election of sub-national leaders. Popular health schemes led to success at the polls and became an electoral asset during the election. See Pisani et al, 2016, for further discussion on the political journey of Indonesia’s universal health coverage programme.