Benny Mawel, Jayapura – A Papuan bishop has warned people that selling their land for money risks not only their future but also their cultural identity.
Bishop John Philip Saklil of Timika in Papua said land is part of the cultural identity of indigenous Papuans and selling it means they are trading off their cultural heritage.
"I'm worried that future generations of Papuans will have nothing; losing their rights to the land and its treasures," Bishop Saklil said. "If you want to make money, stop moving to cities and remain in the villages to plant and cultivate the land," he said.
The bishop said he is afraid that if the congregation ignores his warning, Papuans will have no more land and will remain poor and destitute in their own country.
Wirya Supriyadi, coordinator of the Jayapura-based Papua People's Network – an organization that provides advocacy for people's economic, social and cultural rights – said that losing property rights is a real threat to Papuans. "It's a great concern that a large portion of land in Papua has been sold to developers," said Supriyadi.
He said that 441 mining and non-mining companies have already secured permits to operate in Papua and manage a concession area of about 29 million hectares from Papua's total landmass of more than 43 million hectares. "Almost half of Papuan land has been bought up by corporations in a dishonest, deceitful way," he told ucanews.com on July 3.
John Gobay, chairman of the Papuan Customary Council, called on fellow Papuans to heed Bishop Saklil's warning as part of a campaign "or else corporations will control the whole of Papua." "All communities must communally guard their land," he said.
He also called on the government to protect the rights of indigenous people, by creating a policy to prohibit people from selling their land, including sanctions for those breaching it.
"Without it, the bishop's call would be useless," he said, adding that the bishop's fear that Papuans will lose their ownership of land can become a reality one day if no action is taken.
Engelbertus P. Degey, head of Mapia Tengah district, agreed with the bishop, but asked the church to engage seriously with all parties.
"The church has a big influence. I hope Timika Diocese can be more focused in order that the 'Stop Land Selling campaign' will be more effective," said Degey on July 3.
He hoped the church would unite all communities, government and non-governmental organizations to support the campaign.