Moving back to my ancestral lands of Papua

Mitra BUMMA’s team and partners at Isyo Hill’s Ecotourism. (MITRA BUMMA)

Story by Naomi Waisimon, Mitra BUMMA’s Papua Project Manager

Hi! I’m Naomi Waisimon, Mitra BUMMA’s Papuan Project Manager and a member of the Namblong tribe. My mother is Javanese and my father Papuan. For my first 23 years, I lived in Bali, a small island with a big city, so forests and biodiversity were far from my imagination. I never thought that a community could collectively own and manage a forest until the day I arrived in my father’s lands of Papua. I’ve been here ever since.

All the stories that I heard as a child about Papua, its forests, biodiversity, and Indigenous Peoples suddenly became very real. How Indigenous Peoples interact with nature and the special attachment they have to their land, water, air, trees, animals and other humans amazed me, but I also fear the loss of this way of being due to threats of deforestation, lack of management, and economic pressures. Over a quarter of our 53,000 hectares (~99,000 football fields) are under palm oil concessions.

I am one of many young people, the next generation of the Namblong tribe, who has had the opportunity to know, learn, and understand about tribal concepts and how indigenous people live from elders. I’m also one of the many other relatives and friends who are carrying out the movement to return to the village to develop, save the remaining forests, take back what should be ours, and work together to manage it.

My journey to the Indigenous Rights movement

It all started with an invitation from my father, Alex Waisimon, avid environmentalist and conservationist, to see and get to know Papua. In 2018, I visited Papua for the first time and saw the vast expanse of Sentani Lake, the splendor of Cyclop Mountains, the beauty of the Grime Valley, and the pride of the indigenous people of the Namblong. I am constantly amazed by beauty of Papuan nature, where every corner is enchanting. It brings me pleasure just by looking at it.

In 2020, I decided to stay longer in Papua to help develop forest ecotourism in Rhepang Muaib village through a family business named Isyo Hill’s Ecotourism, which provides birdwatching expeditions for Papua’s 750 bird species, manufactures traditional noken bags, and hosts community events. Living closely with the indigenous people of Namblong deepened my understanding of what the forests and the biodiversity mean to indigenous people. It is the source of water, food, knowledge, medicine, of life.

The journey regarding conservation and customary forests still feels new to me. I have a lot to learn, but seeing many in my community who have lost access to the resources they once owned fuels my urgency and drive to secure ownership, control and management of our lands and resources.

Our tribe’s partnership with Mitra BUMMA

BUMMA is the answer and solution to the current climate crisis and our fight for self-determination. BUMMA will be a real breakthrough for indigenous peoples. This company will be collectively run, managed, led, and owned by indigenous peoples. More than that, BUMMA preserves the living spaces of indigenous peoples. Doesn’t this sound great and very exciting for us all!? Indigenous Peoples should not be regarded as an object or beneficiary for some project. We have the capability and willingness to build our own businesses with our own assets and develop our communities and economies in the way that we envision. The younger generation in Papua, especially Namblong, are already thinking about how to manage our lands in a way that future generations can also enjoy them. I see this as my duty as the next generation of the Namblong Tribe. I’m glad I can do my part to support the work of preserving Namblong land and ways of being.

Please visit Mitra BUMMA website to donate online now. Financial donations of any size help fund our mission.

Naomi Wasimon

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