The sound of insects at night calling back and forth with birds squeaking boisterously behind the trees. The sun begins to enter the nest, and soon the night will pick up. Calm and peaceful atmosphere. This condition may not be enjoyed by the Bati Kelusi and Bati Tabalean Indigenous Peoples, Kelaba Village, Kian Darat District, Eastern Seram, Maluku.
Why? The peace of the residents is threatened to be disturbed because the forests and mountains where they live are controlled by oil and gas companies. Oil and gas companies start drilling. The two companies are PT Balam Energy Limited and PT Bureau Geophysical Prospecting (BGP).
Residents began to protest. On July 26, 2022, wearing a red bearing cloth during the traditional ritual of the Maluku people—the Bati Kilusi and Bati Tabalean Indigenous Peoples, gathered in the customary forest. They installed customary sasi to deter two oil and gas companies from operating without permits on Ulayat land.
The sasi ritual takes place solemnly accompanied by the sobbing of a middle-aged man. He was sobbing in the local language while kneeling and kissing the ground. He kicked the ground where he knelt near the hole the company had drilled. Sobs broke out from a number of other indigenous people.
“Hurry up and leave, and don’t carry out operations here forever,” said the traditional leaders in unison.
For them, the land is like their children and grandchildren who must be protected. Drilling the ground is the same as injuring their child’s crown.
A traditional ritual of installing coconut leaves is a sign of prohibiting activities at that location. Apart from coconut leaves, a number of red cloths were placed around the location.
Kelimodar, a Bati youth, was hysterical when he put on the sasi Janur.
The drilling of oil and gas companies worries them. Unauthorized activity and notifications.
Apart from that, they also performed sasi in the Kapitan Duba forest, where the company built an employee camp. There was an argument between the community and the workers there.
The indigenous people were also disturbed and hysterical when they saw a number of Mobile Brigade officers guarding the location.
“You can’t enter here, this is where our traditional rituals are, we have barricaded this place several times but we still go in and do activities here,” shouted the Bati youth.
Zainudin Kelsaba, a descendant of the Bati tribe, is disturbed by the company’s activities on Mount Bati. “Mount Bati cannot be disturbed by anyone,” he said.
For this reason, as long as they live and inhabit the area, they will continue to maintain the existence of Bati as a traditional land, a sacred ancestral land. So, he said, there should be no outsider activity.
They, he said, cannot live apart from nature because they have become one unit.
Showing a number of holes crossed, Zain stepped towards a large rock filled with bushes and trees. This is a sacred stone that they believe is the place of the first human civilization in Gunung Bati.
The base of this rock, he said, is in the vicinity of Kampung Bati Kelusi and ends in the forest. With the presence of oil and gas mines, he said, disturbing the sacred places of indigenous peoples.
He asked all indigenous peoples’ organizations to help the Bati Community against companies so they don’t have activities there.
“This mountain is our home. Trees, rocks, are part of our life.”
In line with Yunus Rumalean, the Bati Tabalean traditional elder. He was also worried about the presence of two companies in their sacred location. He asked the two companies to leave Mount Bati.
The company’s drill points, said Yunus, are in places where the ancestors are considered sacred.
“There are dreams of the traditional elders that this village will be flooded because it is a warning for the ancestors,” said Zainudin translating Yunus’ statement using the local language.
Store the dynamite near the settlement
Not only disturbing their sacred places, but the company’s presence also endangers the lives of indigenous peoples. The company’s dynamite storage location is not far from the settlement of the residents of Bati Tabaleam Village.
From Mongabay’s monitoring, the distance between the dynamite storage and residents’ houses is around 30-50 meters. These dynamite were in small houses built near clove plantations. You can also see several bottles of gas cylinders hanging from a few clove trees near the dynamite house.
“Behind this beta is the company’s dynamite repository. About two, three meters are the residents’ plantations which are very threatened by this dynamite storage area,” said Rahman Rumuar.
In fact, Rahman said, the house where the dynamite was stored was not guarded.
Pieter Jacob Pelupessy, lecturer in Sociology at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Government at the University of Pattimura, said that the Bati customary forest is a sacred location and cannot be separated from indigenous peoples.
Hundreds of years said Pelupessy, the ancestors of the Bati people had taken good care of the Bati land. Moreover, this area is the remaining forest on Seram Island which is still well preserved.
This researcher and author of the book Esuriun Orang Bati said that the Bati people who inhabit East Seram Island call their area of residence the name tana (land) Bati. It is located in the customary territory of Weurartafela Negeri Kian Darat, East Seram District, and Kilimoi Village, Tutuk Tolo District, East Seram District.
In his book, Pelupessy mentions, the Bati people inhabit hillsides and mountains. It was only in 2009 that the East Seram Government opened connecting road access to connect villages or hamlets in Tana Bati.
Most of what the Bati people live in is still wilderness where there are large and shady trees.
The sacred area in the Bati forest must be maintained and they must be looked after. It is very fatal for them. If it breaks, he said, it means destroying the body from that area.
The Save Bati movement
Efforts to defend customary land as part of the identity of the East Seram Indigenous People, especially the Bati people, continue to be voiced by various elements of society and indigenous youth in Maluku.
Hundreds of people, youths, and students joined in the Save Bati movement and took to the streets protesting the activities of oil and gas companies on Bati’s customary land, consecutively from mid-August to October 2022.
Their action filled the main protocol roads in Bula City, Eastern Seram (SBT), Maluku. The demonstrators rejected the presence of the two companies on Bati’s customary land.
Bahril Kelibai, the coordinator of the Save Bati action, said the company’s activities penetrated the Bati customary forest without permission.
The white banner was unfurled asking for support from the community by putting their signatures against the exploration of two oil and gas companies in Bati’s customary territory.
Apart from the demonstration, they also held an online discussion forum with the theme: “ Customary forests are under threat from corporate crime ”.
In the discussion, Yunis Rumalean, a representative of the Bati Tabalean Community, said that Bati is a beautiful piece of paradise in East Seram. In the cosmology of the people of Seram and even the Moluccas, in general, they believe in the sacredness of Bati.
He explained, the current situation in Maluku, factually recognizes the existence of indigenous peoples. However, in practice, government policy actually denies the status of indigenous peoples as rights holders and legal subjects over their customary territories. Bati’s situation, he said, is a clear example of how bad practices last.
Save Bati also took action at the East Seram Regent and DPRD Office, the Governor’s Office, and the Maluku DPRD. Save Bati also voiced this rejection to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) in Jakarta.
During the Save Bati action last November, he was met by Abdul Mukti Keliobas, East Seram Regent. He promised to follow up on community demands, including stopping the activities of the two companies on Mount Bati.
“In principle, I will listen to whatever the Bati Indigenous People scream,” said the regent in front of the residents.
He hopes the Maluku government will consider and review the exploration permits for the two oil and gas companies.
Ilham Hoedrawi, Head of the East Seram Department of Environment (DLH), said that in 2019 the Environment Service was invited by a company to discuss an environmental impact analysis document (Amdal) in Ambon City.
For the Bati Tribe Community, he said, it would refer to the East Seram spatial plan which was stipulated by regional regulation No. 7/2013 which stipulates the Bati Tribe and its surroundings as a cultural area.
He regretted that there was no coordination between the company and the local government, even though the study of the EIA documents in the province was facilitated by the Maluku Environment Agency.
BGP, he said, which was facilitated by PT Balam Energi had met with the local government to inform them of their readiness to enter.
He asked the company to socialize before starting activities. Based on Law Number 22/2021, oil and gas companies cannot operate in public facilities such as cultural areas, customary areas, and customary lands, community lands, without obtaining special permission from those who use these areas.
Devry Setyadi, Seismic Operation Supervisor of Balam Energy Ltd, said that Balam Energi obtained a permit from the central government to manage the Seram block, namely in Central Maluku and Eastern Seram.
For East Seram and Central Maluku, the search for data on potential oil and gas and seismic resources has been at sea since 2020. The total length of the seismic track is about 200 km in Central Maluku and 120 km in East Seram.
In 2022, Balam will explore East Seram, precisely in Gunung Bati, Kian Darat District, and Kilmuri District.
For the Bati people, however, the Bati mountains and forests must be maintained as their sacred places.
“We live with nature, no modifications or modernization is needed, we just live with our nature. We are satisfied and enjoy, comfortable and happy living with our nature,” said Zainudin.