In Dobo, select people would be responsible for communicating with the Ambon team, typically via SMS text messages, the cheapest option. If a voice call was necessary, the caller in Dobo would place a missed call to the recipient in Ambon, who would immediately call back, thereby placing the phone charges where they could best be afforded. Rudi and Maichel asked the Aruese to relay any news of the David vs. Goliath battle as it unfolded: What was the company doing? How were the people resisting? How was the government responding? The pair gave local activists a crash course in citizen journalism, advising them to stick to the facts.
Photos and videos were the most reliable way to make a splash online, but even a single sentence sent via SMS could be developed into a social media post. These fragments could be built into a narrative of abuse of power and indigenous resistance that might spark a public backlash and pressure officials. Tapping their networks from Indonesia to the U. A trickle of photos grew into a steady stream from places like the Netherlands, home to a large Malukan diaspora; universities such as Harvard and Oxford; and the Javan cities of Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya, home to large student populations.
The Ambon campaigners also produced their own images. The music video was prefaced with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi and interspersed with footage of the Dobo protests. In early October , the SaveAruIslands Twitter account posted its first tweets: call for poetry submissions, a report that Menara was moving heavy equipment into Aru, an announcement that AMAN, the indigenous rights advocacy group, would visit Aru. In just a few short weeks, word of the movement had spread beyond Maluku. Young people in Ambon were making political art, while Aruese continued to demonstrate in Dobo.
The campaign had started well. But Jacky knew that if they were going to stop Menara, they would need to do more than post online. The previous Maluku governor, a retired military general named Karel Ralahalu, had formally recommended that the minister of forestry sign off on the project. The minister, Zulkifli Hasan, had already issued a string of decrees indicating his intent to approve the final permits for 19 of the 28 blocks in the plantation.
If he signed those permits, it would remove the last obstacle to Menara unleashing its bulldozers. The state could not immediately be turned against the project, but perhaps other institutions could. If Jacky could harness the groundswell of online support and concentrate it on the main public institutions in Maluku, they in turn might pressure the government to halt the project. He began lobbying the Protestant Church of Maluku, trying to convince its governing body to declare its opposition to the plantation. At the same time, he started working on Pattimura University, the largest school in Ambon.
It would greatly benefit the movement if the academics could instead provide impartial, critical analysis of the risks posed by the plantation, and help the public understand the tradeoffs it would entail.
Rags to riches
The pastor intended to galvanise the academics by appealing to a powerful emotion: shame. At the meeting, Jacky brought more than 50 academics up to speed on what the Aruese were fighting for, some kilometres across the Banda Sea. Then he launched an attack on their pride. First, he displayed photos of students and professors from around the world holding up SaveAru placards, even bringing in a giant tarpaulin banner, several meters tall and wide, in which dozens of photos had been combined into one composite image.
Then he switched on a projector to reveal that the meeting was being live-tweeted, with messages of support coming in real time.
As Jacky spoke, he kept an eye on Abraham Tulalessy, an agriculture professor seated at the head table. Though the company had gotten some way through the permit process without completing an EIA, it had since tried to fix this problem, belatedly hiring consultants to carry out the assessment. Abraham was a member of the commission that would analyse the results and decide whether the province should sign off on the project. The process, as Abraham saw it, had become dangerously tainted; Theddy Tengko had mired it in a fog of illegality by signing permits that should have been preceded by an EIA.
The project would affect the majority of the more than 80, people living across Aru. Some academics on the commission had already raised concerns. Another had said it had no clear plan for managing water pollution.
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But in the end, whatever opposition there was had been expressed in a closed forum. Abraham was typically outspoken on environmental issues, but there was no record he had ever raised concerns about Menara. Now, as he sat at the front of the room, other academics began to denounce the project. One stood up and said the biological sovereignty of Maluku was under threat.
Another declared they should consider taking legal action. A third said that if the academics had integrity, they would stand together against the Menara Group. The academics pledged to throw the weight of their authority behind the Save Aru campaign. They would scrutinise the legality of the permits and examine the social and environmental fallout if the project was to go ahead. Jacky had scored a coup. With a phalanx of academics behind it, the movement now had a scientific and legal backing that was rare for local communities facing down state-backed projects in Indonesia.
After the meeting, Costansius Kolatfeka, the environmental activist who had learned of the project early on, boarded a flight to Dobo, with the tarpaulin SaveAru banner stowed in his luggage. At Yos Sudarso Field, a park in Dobo named for an Indonesian military hero, the Aruese unfurled a large white cloth, pricked the tips of their fingers and signed their names in blood. The act was intended as a message for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, then entering his 10th and final year in office. The Aruese were prepared to defend their lands whatever the stakes.
It had the appearance of comprehensiveness; the assessors had collected a raft of data that made for a weighty document.
But it dealt with relatively inconsequential issues, like noise levels, while studiously ignoring the reality that the project would enact a wholesale transformation of life in the archipelago. Abraham Khouw, a marine biologist at Pattimura who also sat on the EIA commission, said Menara lacked respect for science.
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But sometimes politics is stronger. Though Tulalessy and Khouw opposed the project, the decision over whether to approve it would not be theirs alone.
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Meanwhile, many Aruese, especially those in the hinterlands, still knew next to nothing about the project. The company, to the extent that it had interacted with villagers, principally through its survey team, had promoted its own version of how the project would change their lives. They pledged to build infrastructure and fund scholarships for locals to attend foreign universities. Mika recognised the people of Aru had a right to know what was really coming.
If they decided they still wanted to take their chances, so be it. But he believed that if the vacuum of reliable information was replaced with fact, a greater number of people would rally to the cause. After signing their names in blood in Dobo, the protestors resolved to fan out across the archipelago and get the word out themselves. In all his years of organising, Jacky had never seen anything like what the Dobo activists were about to attempt.
Others lay on tiny islands. Fuel was expensive, so people typically got around on small passenger boats with outboard engines, which could take days to reach final destinations. The waters could be perilous. But they had no choice: physically traveling to these villages was the only way to properly inform them. The people waging protests in Dobo would return to their villages and deliver news of the project to their friends and relatives.
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There she gathered her extended family and told them what would happen, in her eyes, if Menara entered. Finally, when everyone reached consensus, they walked to the village border and performed a ritual, placing a sasi in the middle of the main road, a defiant signal saying no company was welcome. The challenge was to explain the ecology of Aru, and how its fragile ecosystems would be wrecked by the plantation.
Costansius Kolatfeka, the activist who had delivered the tarpaulin banner to Dobo, offered to stay on and serve as an expert-in-residence for the campaigners. He would remain in Aru for three months, traveling between Dobo and the interior with the volunteers. Villagers quickly grasped what life without the forest would mean. The forest acts as a thermal insulator, Costansius explained; if it was destroyed, Aru would become a much hotter place.
Like a giant sponge, the forest soaks up rainwater and maintains groundwater supplies; without it, Aru would dry up and become prone to catastrophic flooding. Costansius also provided a crash course in the functioning of a mega-plantation. The endless chemical inputs required to grow such a vast stretch of sugarcane, likely to be sprayed by helicopter, would seep into the rivers and sea, feeding algal blooms and creating oceanic dead zones.
The marine resources people had relied on for centuries would be obliterated. But clear-cutting the forest would result in disaster. One volunteer was Simon Kamsy, a year-old Aruese who worked on mangrove conservation in the archipelago. One villager later told a visiting anthropologist from a Dutch university that the film had opened his eyes to what lay in wait if the company got what it wanted.
The villagers had warily assisted them, but now they stood firmly against the project. The activists carried stacks of prepared rejection letters and invited everyone who opposed the plantation to sign. They took photos and videos of people writing their names to counter allegations that the signatures had been fabricated or forced.