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Story Publication logo December 7, 2022

Imprisoned for Farming on Their Ancestral Land: The Grief of Indigenous Peoples in North Sumatra by a Pulp Giant (bahasa Indonesia)

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This story excerpt was translated from bahasa Indonesia. To read the original story in full, visit Project Multatuli. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.



Mangitua Ambarita leads the 'Mombang Boru Sipitu Sundut' ritual, one of the annual rituals of the Sihaporas Indigenous community in Simalungun Regency, North Sumatra. Mangitua was jailed for one year and two months after being reported by PT TPL in 2004 on charges of managing land without permission on his ancestral land. Image by Tonggo Simangunsong/Project Multatuli. Indonesia, 2022.

For nearly four decades, dozens of Indigenous communities have been in conflict with PT Toba Pulp Lestari. Indigenous lands were confiscated, economic resources from the forest were lost, and dozens of people were criminalized.

Rusliana Marbun, an Indigenous farmer from Matio Village, Toba Regency, recounts the trauma of being criminalized while defending her rice fields. She was accused of maltreatment, which landed her in jail for three months.

One day in July 2015, dozens of Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) workers cleared land with heavy equipment in an area adjacent to the customary land of Matio Village. Whether intentional or not, the activity caused a pile of soil to bury Rusliana's rice field.

Rusliana rushed to her rice field. She asked the workers to stop and repair her damaged rice field.

"Just because of that, you're angry," said a TPL public relations staffer, Bahara Sibuea, as quoted by Rusliana.

Parlindungan Siagian, Rusliana's husband who was there at the time, also urged the same thing. However, the 58-year-old couple was told that the community had no right to stop the company's activities. Rusliana said the TPL workers seemed to deliberately provoke her emotions.

"But my husband did not want to be provoked to hit," she said.


Image by Tonggo Simangunsong/Project Multatuli. Indonesia, 2022.

Image by Tonggo Simangunsong/Project Multatuli. Indonesia, 2022.

Image by Tonggo Simangunsong/Project Multatuli. Indonesia, 2022.

Image by Tonggo Simangunsong/Project Multatuli. Indonesia, 2022.

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