MALAGUFUK Ecotourism Village, Makbon District, Sorong Regency, Southwest Papua Province, is a world-class destination for bird watching activities. In the Klaso Forest, a variety of endemic birds to West Papua can be observed, including the lesser bird-of-paradise, northern cassowary, twelve-wired bird-of-paradise, king bird-of-paradise, red-breasted paradise-kingfisher, magnificent riflebird, and others.

The period from August to December is the busiest time for Malagufuk Village to receive guests, coinciding with the birds’ mating season. The majority of our guests are environmental photographers, particularly those interested in birds and rainforest fauna. We also welcome researchers and tourists who are interested in diving in Raja Ampat.

Malagufuk Village is economically viable while remaining part of a sustainable forest ecosystem. The Gelek Kalami Malagufuk and Gelek Magablo communities are the primary occupants of this village. Both communities are part of the Moi Tribe, a larger clan community. In the Moi language, the clan is referred to as “gelek.” In their daily lives, they prioritize the stewardship of the land, the protection of customary forests, and a sustainable approach to utilizing natural resources.

Opyor Kalami, a member of the younger generation and one of Malagufuk’s bird-watching guides, expressed his hope that the forest would be looked after as well as possible, even after his generation dies. My life principle is to prioritize the protection of the forest and nature in general, as I believe that this will ensure the long-term sustainability of our environment. By adhering to this principle, we can develop and stand alone with our beliefs, without much influence from outsiders.

The achievements of the indigenous people in Malagufuk Village were not the result of one night’s work. The tenacity and unity of the village head and his residents have been consistent since the 1990s. They network with other civil society groups, as well as NGOs such as the Bentala Rakyat Heritage Foundation.

Sustainable Living Challenge
In their efforts to live sustainably in harmony with nature, Gelek Kalami Malagufuk and Gelek Malak Kalawilis Pasa face various significant challenges. To cite a few examples, there is the relentless expansion of legal and illegal forest logging, a significant increase in oil palm plantations, and the emergence of extractive businesses in the Southwest Papua region.

In March 2024, the Southwest Papua Provincial Government granted approval for investors to construct a nickel smelter and steel manufacturing plant in the Sorong Special Economic Zone (KEK). If this plan is realized, Malagufuk Village, Klaso Forest, and its rich biodiversity will be at risk of being lost.

Another challenge currently facing the Malak Kalawilis Pasa clan is… It is imperative that these clan communities maintain a constant state of vigilance to protect their customary lands and forests. They face various parties who are extensions of logging companies, who often enter their customary territories without permission.

The Papua Deforestation Monitoring Report for the January-February 2024 period, published by the Bentala Rakyat Heritage Foundation, indicates that the area of deforestation will reach 25,457 hectares in 2023. This figure represents a significant increase from 2022, with 20,780 hectares affected.

Indigenous peoples have been directly affected by deforestation and the exclusion from forests and customary lands that have become their living space. The situation is further compounded by the increasingly difficult and distant search for food sources, decreasing water quality, vulnerability in managing sago as the main food source, and the potential for drought and crop failure in their gardens. These challenges will result in a range of health issues, poor nutrition, and social and economic difficulties.

The residents of Malalilis Village are among those experiencing the challenges of living in an enclave within the PT palm oil plantation HGU area. Henrison Inti Persada. The majority of residents in this village are Moi people. The residents of Malalilis Village live in houses constructed by the government for those employed in oil palm plantations.

Mr. Yeheskiel Malak and his family, members of the Gelek Malak community, reside in one of the houses in the area. He and his wife had previously been employed in the plantation. Both individuals were subsequently made redundant. They occasionally visit Malalilis to oversee the banana plantation they manage on the company’s vacant land.

“The workers here rely on mobile vegetable and fish sellers for their livelihoods. Access to water is also a significant challenge. “To meet their clean water needs, they must purchase gallons of water,” said Yeheskiel. His gaze was dreamy. “If their salary is not received on time, they are forced to borrow money to purchase vegetables, fish, basic necessities, and water.” In such instances, sellers liaise with plantation supervisors to request that debt repayments be deducted directly from the worker’s salary. “If this occurs, the workers’ lives will remain in debt.”

Together Congratulations
The Malagufuk people believe that other Papuan people should be able to determine how to live with dignity on customary land. One such example is Gelek Malak Kalawilis Pasa, a clan community that inhabits forests and customary lands in the Sayosa Village area, Sayosa District, Sorong Regency.

Gelek Malak has been residing on his customary land and in the surrounding forests for approximately one year. This clan community was the first to obtain a decree (SK) from the Sorong Regency Government regarding the recognition and protection of the Moi Tribe customary law community, including the Gelek Malak customary land rights, which have been completely mapped.

Franky Samperante, Executive Director of the Bentala Rakyat Heritage Foundation, confirmed the initiatives of indigenous peoples such as those carried out in Malagufuk. He stated, “In the context of human rights, the state has an obligation to promote the basic rights of the people, including respecting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.” It is the state’s responsibility to respect the choices and economic patterns of indigenous peoples. This includes the protection of the economic resources and living areas that indigenous peoples own from various threats and extractive economic pressures.

Gelek Malak is fully aware that they cannot survive alone. They are requesting that other Gelek, particularly those in close proximity, demonstrate a similar dedication to safeguarding customary land. The Gelek Gilik, Klaili, Sayosa, Klasibin, Kalalu, and Gelek Doo groups are among them. Gelek Malak remains optimistic that other Gelek brothers will remain steadfast in their commitment to resisting investor pressure.

The continued existence of forests is essential for the survival of humanity. We have the freedom to utilize all sources of food and medicine in the forest. If we were to sell our land, for example, we currently hold one billion, the proceeds could be exhausted in a single month. However, if we retain our land, we can continue to live off it as and when we need to. If we use it excessively, we feel as though we are losing out. “That’s what differentiates us from companies,” emphasized Korneles Malak, one of the Gelek traditional elders.

The territory of the Malak Kalawilis Pasa clan includes a route that is also passed by endemic birds. Currently, they are developing various strategies to manage their customary land in accordance with the rules and traditions handed down from their ancestors.

Live with dignity
The way Malagufuk Village develops ecotourism can serve as an inspiration for other clan communities in Papua. The indigenous people in Malagufuk are able to sustain themselves by capitalizing on the natural resources available to them, in accordance with their respect for customary lands and forests.

The prioritization of forest protection enables the traditional community in Malagufuk to meet their living needs. [sources/photo special]