The Veil of the Nagari: Recognizing Malalo
On the 31st of March, the community of Malalo Tigo Jurai gathered in a hot room on the second floor of their Wali Nagari’s office. They were there to present to their district government what would be one of the most important proposal in terms of indigenous land rights recognition to date; the true recognition of the Nagari.
New Names, Old Structures
The traditional community of Malalo Tigo Jurai have for the last three years attempted to claim their right to the surrounding indigenous forests they’ve been living in. They’ve collected the necessary data demanded by Pemendagri, including a verification of the traditional community’s historical ties to the land, a definitive mapping of the forest border, and a written record of their indigenous law. On that hot summer day, the community was to present their finding and ask the representatives of the District Government to sign a MoU stating that they would commit to hasten the enshrining of Malalo Tigo Jurai’s land right over their indigenous forest into the district law. But, as everybody in the community understood, the government representatives have been known to be reluctant and slow in taking action. Anxiously sitting in their seats, they waited.
The reason why this particular proposal was important is because, if passed, this would set the first ever precedence of a traditional community in West Sumatera to have successfully claimed their land in accordance to the Supreme Court Order No. 35/2012, and with that, it would be the reestablishment of the first ever, real, Nagari. Now it is true that the Nagari system have been recognized by West Sumatera officials, but as said by Rahmadi, a senior member of the NGO Qbar that have closely assisted the community of Malalo Tigo Jurai through this advocacy, “the current Nagari is simply a farce to traditional societies. The Nagari that’s recognized today is simply an acknowledgement of the Nagari as an administrative unit, not as a socio-cultural unit. The district government thinks they’ve done so much to give back the land to the rightful people but all they’ve done is simply wrapped a veil on an old unchanged structure.” This understanding is what misses many people when they read about Nagari; that current Nagari system, isn’t really a Nagari at all.
Order No. 35/2012: Peeling the Veil
Prior to Order No. 35/2012 an indigenous forest is defined is “a state forest that is located within indigenous territory.” This definition entails the meaning that indigenous forests are in fact forests that are still rightfully owned by states. Meaning that, with this, the state can still single-handedly determine the function of these forests. Whether that be for the Nagari or for the companies that wants to extract its resources, indigenous communities living and depending on the area would have no right to disagree. The Nagaris that are currently acknowledged by the West Sumatera Government was created on this basis; they might be able to use the land today, but they’d never have a choice if the district government suddenly says otherwise tomorrow; they might be named Nagari, but they never really have the authority of one.
With Order No.35, the definition of an indigenous forest is changed to “a forest that is located within indigenous territory.” Here, the word state is taken away and thus with it, the state’s ownership to the forest. A Nagari established under this Supreme Court Order would entail a Nagari that have the right to truly manage and have a say in regards to their surrounding forest; a Nagari that’s able to determine the order and function of their forest themselves, a Nagari that would be able to determine where they can plant what, a Nagari that’s able to reap co-benefits from the many crops that they have cultivated in the forest area for years. A recognition under Order No. 35/2012 would entail a Nagari that actually have authority. A Nagari that’s able to protect and manifest the socio-cultural rights of its indigenous communities towards their surrounding forests. A true Nagari.
This, is what Rahmadi was referring to. The Nagari acknowledged by the West Sumatera government today is simply a recognition of a name, not a recognition of an authority. The name Nagari is given as a veil to please indigenous communities that have historical resonance with the concept, while subtly covering an old power-structure that is still left unchanged. With Order No. 35/2012, indigenous communities now would have a chance to change this old power-structure and demand not only the acknowledgement of the Nagari as a name of an administrative unit, but the acknowledgement of the Nagari as a socio-culturally functioning authority. They would now have the chance to peel back the veil of the Nagari.
Recognizing the Land, Recognizing the People
The clock strikes 11 when the government officials came. Dressed neatly in a suit and tie attire, the officials went straight across the room to greet the chief. The room’s mumbling gradually grew quiet, and the meeting started. Opening the event, Chief Sari of the traditional community of Malalo Tigo Jurai stood up to give his speech. “Land, as all Minangkabau communities know, is a vital necessity for indigenous communities. Its importance not only lies in the fact that indigenous communities depend on these lands for their survival, but also, and more importantly, because these indigenous communities depend on these land for their identity,” he said. “Without owning the land,” Datuk Sari continued, “We would not own own our identity. We would be stripped of our title as indigenous. We would simply be people of no culture.” As the saying goes, “Tak ado ulayat tak ado adat,” he says.
For many of the member communities of Malalo Tigo Jurai, these words resonate deeply in their bones, for their identity is tied with this land; their ancestors lived and died in these forests, and their wisdom and lives are supported by these forests. Yet for the government officials in the front, it appears that these words were simply another formality they need to bear through before they could say what they need to say. The room hushed as Datuk Sari finished his last words. The people started to grab the nearest piece of paper and fanned their sunburnt necks, their shirts dampen in humid Malalo air. The officials stretched their collars loose and adjusted their ties slightly, their ties just bearable with the occasional Malalo breeze. “Tak ado ulayat tak ado adat,” Datuk Sari said, “Tak ado ulayat tak ado adat.”
Anxiously sitting in their seats, they all waited.