Nagasaribu Indigenous Community Receives Customary Forest Decree (Part-3)

A Winding Journey

Rebuilding the Organisation

After the new board was elected in November 2020, for the first time after a long dynamic, the community held a general meeting and invited KSPPM. I, who was present at the meeting, was touched because there had not been a general meeting like this for a long time. Everyone who spoke showed their emotions. During the meeting, the community agreed to continue the pending struggle.

After the rally, KSPPM resumed regular visits and live-ins in Nagasaribu as before. But there was a slight change in the approach chosen. Live-in staff are no longer in the caretaker’s house. All the houses of Nagasaribu residents must be visited and live there. Monthly discussions also resumed, both in the village and in the sopo. The customary territory tenure programme also resumed.

The atmosphere in the village was gradually normalised, although there were still two camps that were pro-contra to the company. However, the atmosphere suddenly heated up again when the people who opposed the company planted corn in their customary territory. Rejection actions were carried out by the company and the pro-company community. There was almost a clash between the community and the company and the pro-company community. However, security personnel present at the location managed to break it up. The night after the incident, the community held a general meeting under a tent. They encouraged each other and agreed that their enemy was the company, not the people of Nagasaribu. Since that incident, their sense of solidarity has grown stronger.

A month after the Nagasaribu incident, in May 2021, the Natumingka indigenous community, who happened to be their neighbours, also experienced the same violence from PT TPL. As a form of solidarity, the Nagasaribu community visited Natumingka to provide moral support.

The series of violence committed by PT TPL against the Tano Batak indigenous people in several places led to spontaneous aspirations and calls for PT TPL to be immediately closed. The community consolidated to form the TPL Close Movement Alliance which was declared in Natinggir on 10 June 2021. The Nagasaribu indigenous people were present at the consolidation and Jonris was elected as the organiser of the TPL Closure Movement Alliance. This consolidation of all indigenous peoples in Natinggir further increased the enthusiasm and commitment of the Nagasaribu Indigenous community. The younger generation also began to be active in every activity, both in the community and in the TPL Closing Movement Alliance.

As the Alliance Movement to Close TPL strengthened in all corners of the village, KLHK finally issued a policy regarding an integrated team for verification of indigenous peoples and customary forests. The purpose of verification is to resolve agrarian conflicts in Tano Batak. Of the 20 (twenty) communities to be verified, Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan is one of them. During the verification preparation, I saw first-hand the seriousness of the community in preparing everything that the team might need. Even before the team arrived, they continued to discuss both with KSPPM and among themselves.

After the verification process was completed, in November 2021, the Motion to Close TPL Alliance took action with representatives of the Tano Batak indigenous community in Jakarta, urging the President and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to immediately close PT.TPL and return customary territories to the Tano Batak indigenous community. The Nagasaribu indigenous community dispatched 4 (four) representatives. The community participated in collecting money for their needs while in Jakarta. Not only that, people who live in the village work together in the rice fields of families who leave for Jakarta. At that time it happened to be planting season.

Getting the Customary Forest Decree

After a very busy and exhausting activity during 2021, in early 2022, the community received encouraging news. The Taput Regency Government invited the community to the Dinas house to receive the Regent’s Decree on the Recognition of the Indigenous Peoples and customary territories of Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan along with 2 (two) other communities. The Nagasaribu indigenous people were delighted to hear the announcement. They never stopped expressing their gratitude and thanks.

A week after the meeting with the Regent of Taput, the community held a joint Bona Taon (New Year) event, as well as thanksgiving for the signing of the Regent’s Decree. During the Bona Taon event, tears and emotion were on the faces of the community members present. Delima Silalahi, Director of KSPPM, who was present at the event said, “If in the near future the customary forest decree has not been given, then KSPPM together with the community will immediately go to Jakarta to pick it up”. The community was getting excited and happy to hear it.

The historic moment arrived on 3 February 2022, exactly a week after the New Year’s celebration in Nagasaribu. Along with President Joko Widodo’s visit to the Lake Toba Region to inaugurate several National Strategic Projects, there was news that the President would also give the Nagasaribu Community Customary Forest Decree along with 6 (six) other communities. Sure enough on 3 February 2022, Community leader Jonris Simanjutak was summoned to Bakkara to meet President Joko Widodo, and receive the Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan Community Customary Forest Decree.

Before heading to Bakkara, Jonris was traditionally dispatched by Nagasaribu elders, then escorted to Siborong-borong. After returning from Bakkara, Jonris was also waited for by around 30 community members at Sopo Siborong-borong. The emotion and excitement was evident on all of their faces.

Arriving at the village, Jonris was welcomed by the Nagasaribu community by giving Boras sipir ni tondi (a type of ritual for the Batak people, so that they are always protected by the almighty). Next, he was paraded into the house of one of the elders and ended by eating itak gurgur (a typical Batak food made from rice) while showing the Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan Customary Forest Decree.

Personal Learning and Reflection

The struggle of the Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan indigenous community for approximately 6 (six) years with all its dynamics has given many lessons. As a KSPPM staff involved in organising from the beginning, I learned a lot from Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan’s journey to obtaining the Customary Forest Decree.

The dynamics that occurred in the Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan community in 2020 cannot be separated from the organising strategy carried out by KSPPM for 4 years there. From the beginning, we did not conduct actor mapping of traditional leaders in Nagasaribu who have a strong influence on the social order of indigenous peoples in Nagasaribu. The power they already had before became even stronger when they were elected as organisers of the struggle.

In addition, since its introduction until the assistance of structural cases of indigenous peoples in Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan in 2020, KSPPM has not succeeded in building new cadres who are able to balance indigenous leaders. As a result, when several leaders chose to partner with PT TPL, KSPPM struggled to find alternative leaders who could organise the community.

Another thing is the pattern of visits and live-in conducted by KSPPM for 4 years in Nagasaribu, which is always in the house of the management or traditional leaders. We don’t quite understand the gap in understanding between the administrators and the general public. The evidence is that when a handful of people choose to partner with the company, the rest of the community follow suit because they do not understand the consequences.

Finally, we also learnt from the struggle of the Nagasaibu Onan Harbangan indigenous community that indigenous peoples are not immune to conflict. However, the Nagasaribu indigenous community was able to resolve the conflict in a customary manner. It is possible that other people may not agree with the decisions they make. Finally, 17 (seventeen) family heads who had partnered with the company were given customary sanctions. According to the Nagasaribu indigenous community, they prefer this step rather than losing their ancestral property.


PT TPL in the Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan customary territory not only seized land and damaged the environment, but also damaged the order of the Nagasaribu indigenous people. The horizontal conflict that occurred in the Nagasaribu indigenous community was inseparable from PT.TPL’s intervention. Apart from Nagasaribu, there are still many other areas that experience similar social impacts due to the presence of PT TPL.

The success of the Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan indigenous community in obtaining the Customary Forest Decree in February 2022 was unexpected, considering that their struggle had only been going on for 6 (six) years. Compared to the struggles of indigenous peoples in other regions, what the Nagasaribu community has done may not be much.

It is undeniable that an important factor behind the speed with which the Nagasaribu indigenous community obtained the customary forest decree is the functioning and complete customary apparatus, in addition to of course a strong organisation. As mentioned by Op. Gres, there are rarely any criminal or civil cases in Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan that reach the police. The people of Nagasaribu are still subject to adat and this is rare to find in Tano Batak.

Until now, KSPPM as a companion continues to strive for the Nagasaribu indigenous people to reunite without two (2) pro-contra camps. This opportunity is increasingly open because their conflict with the company has also been resolved. But KSPPM as an outsider must certainly be careful, not to override the customary norms that exist in Nagasaribu. But as friends who have been together for 6 (six) years, KSPPM believes that one day there will be a moment for them to reunite as when they started the struggle in the past.**

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