Stories of Mentawai Indigenous Women, How are Their Land Rights?

%When IKN Comes, Indigenous People Are Worried That Traditions Will Disappear%

At the beginning of July, I stopped by Malancan Village, Mentawai. From the pier, we used several motorbikes to go through the stone road. Stop at a resident’s house and walk to Pelangi’s house. This is a wooden stilt house with an open verandah and has three bedrooms and a large kitchen at the back. Pelangi, not her real name, and her mother welcomed us warmly.

He was initially more silent. This lively girl has difficulty speaking and has been deaf since birth. She often participates in church activities and loves to dance. When his parents go to the fields, Pelangi just stays at home or plays with his friends. However, he is often ridiculed because of his physical limitations.

Rainbow’s days changed after that. The bad stigma against her condition is added to another stigma. Those bad days started when a cousin of hers came to the house and tarnished Pelangi. many times. Pelangi’s scream was useless because only silence came out of her throat. No one knew until the belly of the woman who often cleaned the house and helped her parents grow. Her parents wondered.

Pelangi’s mother cried and asked who did it. Finally, Pelangi opened her voice. The silence that had been depressing was finally released. The rapist was summoned and underwent a customary trial. The perpetrators are subject to tulo or customary fines. Huge fines were imposed on his family, especially since they were still one family.

Fines such as a chainsaw for cutting a tree, 15 boards, several pigs, and all of them add up to tens of millions.

The girl’s body in her teens was still shaking because the perpetrator was still on the loose. Every time there is a family gathering, the perpetrator is present.

“Now they say they have calmed down a bit because the perpetrator is married,” said Pelangi’s mother, translating what her son meant.

Her mother’s voice was almost covered by the heavy rain from one of the Mentawai villages. Electricity and signals are special items there. At least it can color the silence of Pelangi.

Rainbow is now 25 years old. Every morning until evening he works in the fields about two kilometers from the house. He participates in planting and harvesting long beans, corn, chilies, taro, and bananas. The plants are for daily consumption and some are sold to buy their children’s school needs.

He said the land belonged to his father. If he wanted to open land he had to ask his father’s permission. All matters concerning the land are the authority of men. Through his mother, Pelangi said that he would just ride the farm and follow where his parents farmed.

It’s sad, sometimes the crops are stolen or damaged by the neighbors’ children. Pelangi complained to the children’s parents. He was even made fun of and called crazy. Not infrequently received threats.

The bad stigma is now also befalling his son. The neighbors bullied the child and said the mother was mad or sometimes kicked out. Just like Pelangi, who was stigmatized as a madman and a naughty girl.

Pelangi just wants to raise her child well and tries not to listen to the bad things the neighbors say. He accompanied his parents to the fields every day. Sometimes he invites his son to avoid the incident that also happened to him.

Pelangi doesn’t go to school and doesn’t want to go to school. He is afraid that more will get a bad stigma.

Besides Pelangi, there is also Elma Saloga. His legs were incomplete from birth. He walks on his hands. Even so, he can cut hair. Every day he plants food in the neighborhood around the house. Because Elma’s women also don’t get customary land.

Elma had received assistance from members of the Mentawai Islands council in the form of an electric trimmer. The tool was useless because Elma’s house electricity could not accommodate the electric shaver.

In addition, many residents also do not want to pay for haircuts. Then several residents borrowed Elma’s tools. He still lends.

“Sometimes I eat bananas grown in the yard or sago from my family,” he said when Mongabay and other journalists talked to him.

Because Elma is a woman, she also does not get rights over her customary land. Whether the customary land is still owned by the tribe or has been sold does not affect Elma. He won’t get any part.

Nanda Saleleubaja, smiling to welcome us to her hut. My hair has turned white. He doesn’t know how old he is because it’s hard to ask the old men in Mentawai for the numbers. Her husband was long dead.

“It’s been more than 10 Christmases,” he said in Mentawai.

His children are already married and have children. Even so, she decided to live alone in the hut where she and her husband used to tend the fields.

According to customary rules, the hut belonged to the male family or was passed down to the sons of Nanda. Because he has a son, he can still live there with the permission of the male family. However, not all fields can be used. Only the hut, a few meters back, left, right, and a fairly large front yard.

Every day the woman wearing the colorful necklace raises chickens and grows taro, areca nut, coconut, and other plants. Occasionally a vegetable seller would come to his place. Sometimes Nanda had no money and would trade with a vegetable seller. For example, if he needs spices or rice, he will exchange it with taro or other ingredients.

While the chicken to eat together. Chicken should not be eaten alone as it is believed to get sick if you do.

Nanda’s eyesight is still good during the day. He has a headlamp if he has to work at night. He uses a small oil lamp for lighting in the house. If his vision starts to blur or he’s too tired he’ll take a break.

When night came, Nanda would light his oil lamp and get under the mosquito net. Occasionally he visits his children and grandchildren. Even so, he prefers to stay in the cottage alone. He is also happy that there is now a road between villages in front of his yard. The area is getting busier, not as quiet as it was a few years ago.

“It’s not fair,” said Kemeria Tasiripoula, a member of the Village Consultative Council in Muntei Village when asked about this condition. Gradually he talked about this matter to his village administrator. One of them is in the Musrenbang or village or hamlet development planning meetings.

There is a family meeting which in the local language is called the Pararuk Keluarga. In this Paruruk, it is discussed how the property status or position of the wife is left by her husband. Kemeria said that there has been tolerance in her village, for example when there are children, their mothers have reasons to take care of their children.

In addition, in the public space, women are not allowed to speak in the Musrenbang. According to him, the room was not opened specifically to discuss women’s issues. “If given the opportunity, they can actively talk and know what these women are worried about,” said Kemeria.

Because he was not used to speaking in public, Theondorus, the village secretary, said that he would set up a special women’s forum. The hope is that they will be more flexible in expressing their aspirations in the Musrenbang.

Power relations in Mentawai forest management 

Because of that, said Tarida, men are more active in the forest and control and have rights over land transfers. While women have the nature to protect men spiritually. “When a man goes to the forest, he has taboos which are to protect the safety of the men in the forest. For example, you are not allowed to split bamboo because your husband can be hit by a tree and the like in the forest,” she said.

So the concept is that men work and women communicate with spirits to maintain balance. “His role is extraordinary. But times have changed, the management of natural resources has changed and is not what it used to be. Mentawai people have also been invited by the government to move to more open areas. It should have changed there,” he said.

In terms of managing land resources, women have space to manage around the house, in swamps, and work on the edges of the forest. In addition, the women’s autonomous space area is the river. In the tributaries, they look for fish.

“Times change. The forest is not considered as dark as it used to be. Especially now that there are agroforestry concepts and all kinds of things,” he said.

This change does not accompany the role of women in property rights. Now forest management together. Men cut and women tend and plant.

“This is not reconstructed back. How has everything changed, technology has existed, but women are still considered a group that is unable to manage forests and then control the resources in them.”

The forest, she said, is still considered a dark world for women, meanwhile, many women have worked there.

The concept of women as balancers and must be protected becomes ironic when her husband dies or divorces. Women get nothing from what they do.

According to Tarida, in ancient times when they married women were given a dowry such as trees, land, livestock, and much more that would be managed by men. That is, when there is a divorce or death, the dowry will be a guarantee for the woman. “Because forests and land are considered very masculine, again men also manage and all. The woman will be returned to her father’s family.”

For land, if the person who died did not have male offspring, someone from his father’s lineage would be sought. “So there are people who have to remarry because they have no place to live,” he said.

He said 82% of the land in Mentawai is state forest. For indigenous peoples, all the land that used to be under Pariaman Regency is their Ulayat.

Tarida said that YCMM has conducted several initiatives to reduce women’s vulnerabilities. Like Mentawai women have started to be able to buy their land and this can be an inheritance for their children, both boys and girls. Unlike the ancestral land, only down to the male lineage.

These two institutions through the Estungkara 2022 program encourage gender equality and justice, social inclusion, economic development, and building the capacity of civil society organizations. The expected impact is for women who have multiple layers of vulnerability to be able to speak in public spaces where initially there were only men.

Tarida is pushing for a draft local regulation on empowering women and children. YCMM brought this vulnerable woman together with the Acting District Head, the Chairperson of the DPRD, and the Social and Health Service. Also, helping with population administration so that they are included in the recipients of assistance such as village cash direct assistance.

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