Indigenous small-scale mining under threat

Down to Earth No. 48 February 2001

For the Muluy Dayak community in East Kalimantan, small-scale gold mining is part of their traditional way of life. adat (customary law) governs their gold-panning activities, practised using simple equipment made from materials collected in the surrounding forests. But this integral part of Muluy livelihood is now under threat. Mining company surveyors have recently shown interest in the community's gold mining area. In response, the Muluy community has taken the decision to oppose large-scale mining.

The following is the summary of a report in the Indonesian language newsletter Gaharu published by the East Kalimantan NGO, Plasma. As well as outlining the threats to community resources, the report offers an unusually detailed account of traditional small-scale mining practices.The Muluy community, who are all Pasir Dayaks, live in Muara Komam sub-district, in the southwestern corner of East Kalimantan, bordering South Kalimantan province. They have occupied two villages, Kampung Muluy Lama, at the foot of Mount Lumut, and Kampung Muluy Baru, on Mt Janas, since 1977 when the community split away from the village of Swan Slotung. Repeated attempts by the authorities to move the community out of these villages have failed.

Kampung Muluy Baru is located in the logging concession of PT Telaga Mas and the villagers use the logging roads to go to the village of Simpang Lombok 70 km distant, and beyond to the cities of Balikpapan and Banjarmasin. PT Telaga Mas runs a timber estate (HTI) project using transmigrant labour. Forty Muluy families have joined the HTI project, leaving 22 families (105 people) who continue to refuse to do so. Various promises by the company to build housing for the Muluy families have come to nothing.

The Muluy villagers depend on the forest and river resources for their livelihood. They live in small houses (up to 4 x 8 metres) built of materials including bark, sungkai, and ulin timber and corrugated iron. They gather gaharu resin, hunt birds and game including mouse deer and porcupine, cultivate mountain rice, fruit, honey, rattan and coffee, and catch river fish. Women assist the men in managing the natural resources. Activities associated with rice cultivation such as opening fields, planting and harvesting are done together.


Adat gold mining

Gold mining areas are a communally owned resource secured by adat agreements handed down over the generations. A person who discovers gold will inform the community so that it can be worked together and the profits can be shared. The community is divided into groups and share the results of their labour between group members.

The gold is taken to markets at Long Ikis, Banjarmasin and Balikpapan, but only sold when there are pressing needs - for food, electronic goods or other items.

The traditional tools include panning vessels, made from local wood and coconut shells, to separate the gold from the stones and mud. No chemicals are used.

Several rituals must be carried out before panning can start. First, the community must go to the river and state their intention to pan for gold in the local language (bemamang), in order to secure the approval of the water spirits (tondoi danum) and the sacred figure, “Nabi Haidir”. The Muluy then make an offering from red-coloured rice. This is placed on a palm leaf with an egg and is taken to the water by four or five elders, whilst chanting bemamang. The offering is then released into the river. If, after floating a distance of about 4-5 metres, the offering sinks, this is a sign that the water spirits have granted the request to pan for gold. If it does not sink, permission has not been granted and, if people insist on panning, they will not be successful.

There are several taboos which come into force during mining. If these are broken, bad luck is brought to the whole community in their gold-panning activities. They include taboos against cursing or saying 'bad words', promiscuity, stealing from another group's area, saying the word "gold" or "stone", killing animals that come to the panning location and going to the toilet in the panning area.

Certain times are deemed best for panning, calculated according to the Dayak lunar calendar. The "season" lasts for 6 months, after which an adat closing ceremony is performed.

Outsiders wishing to mine gold in the Muluy area, must first apply to the adat leader, with the decision whether or not to give permission usually being taken in consultation with the community. If the application is unsuccessful, the person is asked to leave. If successful, the miner may go ahead within defined boundaries and on condition that they use traditional mining equipment. They must also inform the adat leader of the results of their mining efforts and give half of the gold to the Muluy community. These conditions usually act as a disincentive to outside miners.[A very similar traditional mining system prevailed in the Kelian area, East Kalimantan, where local Dayaks reached an adat agreement with outsiders coming in during the 1980s “gold rush”, but Rio Tinto followed them and the Dayaks were deprived of their resource. Indigenous mining rights to mining are not recognised by the Indonesian authorities, who favour large-scale commercial exploitation over small-scale mining. - DTE]


Outside threats

The Muluy villagers have suffered at the hands of the logging company, PT Telaga Mas, which has been destroying their forest resources since the 1980s. In the 1990s, a new threat arrived in the form of the mining company PT Aneka Tambang, part-owned by the Indonesian government, which sent a team to conduct a survey of the gold resources in the Muluy area. According to Muluy villagers, team members said they were from PT Aneka Tambang and a private, Filipino company.

Other attempts to steal local gold have been made by "officials" and entrepreneurs who send personnel to Muluy with modern equipment like diesel pumps, plastic hoses, lights, trucks and supplies of mercury. Such attempts are always opposed by the Muluy villagers. A meeting called by the adat leader to discuss the presence of the Aneka Tambang survey team decided to resist any attempt to bring in heavy equipment. The community also selected two young Muluy to travel to Balikpapan to consult with NGOs. Together with several NGO activists the Muluy drew up strategies to oppose mining. These included raising awareness of the potential threat in 8 other villages downriver from Muluy village, whose water supplies would be affected by large scale mining. The Muluy villagers have also approached the sub-district head and village heads and have issued a general appeal outlining the impact of mining and stating the Muluy's opposition to a mine.

(Translated summary by DTE from "Bila Orang Muluy Menambang Emas," by Jidan, Muluy Community; Gaharu No. 06-07/I/2000)