The Forest Belonging to Injros Women
The mangrove forest where residents of Enggros village obtain food is a precious location reserved exclusively for women. Construction activities of the rowing venue for next year’s National Games in Papua are considered as contributing environmental damage around the forest area.
THE mangrove forest has long been an inseparable part of the lives of people in Enggros village, Abepura District, Papua. They have been taking care of the vast forest for generations. Residents of Enggros even consider the mangrove forest as a highly respected location reserved exclusively for women.
Resident of Enggros named the tight bond between the mangrove forest and women as Tonotwiyat. Tonot means forest, while wiyat is an invitation for fellow women to come over to the mangrove forest to look for shellfish. For Enggros women, the mangrove forest eventually became a place for sharing. An elder woman of Enggros, Adriana Youwe Marauje, said that the lives women in Youtefa Bay are closely associated with the forest. It is common for them to seek shellfish, fish, and bia nor or snails hiding in the shrub and mud of the mangrove forest. “Whenever a local festivity is held, the women would be preparing food,” said the elder who is usually called Mama Ani.
Also known as Injros village, Enggros was split from a larger village that also included Tobati and Kayu Pulo. Injros itself means the second village, having separated from Tobati following a tsunami disaster in the 1930s. Enggros measures 4.7 square kilometers wide, making up around 3 percent of the area of Abepura District. Data from the Jayapura City Statistics Agency show that, as of 2018, Enggros was inhabited by 104 families.
The mangrove forest is a long-time source of natural food for the residents of Enggros. The women there own special access to the forest and act as its guardians. By tradition, men are forbidden from entering or clearing the mangrove forest.
This prohibition for men is also related to the women’s activities when looking for food. During the season when the sea is quiet, the women would row their outrigger boats to enter the forest, looking for fish, shellfish, and also bia nor. “When searching for bia or snails, we would get into the mangrove mud unclothed,” said Mama Ani in July.
Then, amid their hunt for fish, shellfish, and snails in the mud, the women would tell each other stories about their lives and experiences. “We would share the secrets of our families,” said the 65-year-old woman.
The men of the village have understood that the forest belongs to the women and is not to be disturbed. Those who dare to trespass it will receive sanctions. Here in this forest, the women pour their heart out. “The forest is exclusively reserved for women, allowing us place to vent our problems,” said Mama Ani.
The mangrove forest around Enggros-Tobati villages, Jayapura, Papua, in August./ Jubi/Tempo/Engel Wally
Women could spend up to two hours away from their village to look for shellfish, crabs, and sea cucumbers. They use nets and bamboo fishing gear to hunt for crabs in the Youtefa Bay. Then, they row their boat to the mangrove forest in search for additional food. Some are used for consumption, while the rest goes for sale. Aside from food, they also collect mangrove branches for use as firewood.
This tradition of guarding the “Women’s Forest” brought Enggros to win third place in a competition in Jakarta in 2016, held to commemorate the Independence Day of Indonesia. Prior to that, they became champion in their province. “We won because this forest is natural, and we are the only ones to have a Women’s Forest,” said Enggros village chief, Origenes Merauje.
Lately, though, the forest where Injros women look for fish and shellfish comes under the threat of environmental damage. Parts of it have been cleared away, afflicted by the constructions of road infrastructure and rowing venue meant for the National Games (PON), which will be held in Papua next year. They also cause damage to the habitat of fish and shellfish. Once abundant in the mangrove forest, food is now becoming harder to come by for the women of Enggros. Before pollution came to the sea and forest, they used to obtain numerous catch of fish and shellfish. This is the source of food commonly served during feasts in the village.
Mama Ani found herself wishing that the construction of the rowing venue could be adapted to nature. That kind of facility, in her mind, should be built using stilts or by utilizing wooden bridges. “Instead of clearing the forest by dumping corals, or cutting down the trees,” she said. Another elder of Enggros, Mama Bertha Sani, said that changes to the environment have discouraged women from engaging in their tradition of searching for food in the mangrove forest. Fish, snails, and shellfish are harder to find. Some women took to the seas instead, digging sand and turning over seaweed to collect shellfish.
Their participation in the tradition of guarding the Women’s Forest in Injros village has lessened. Women prefer looking for shellfish in the sea instead of getting into the mud of the mangrove forest, which is now littered with garbage. Dumping of corals around the mangrove forest has also disturbed the habitat of fish and shellfish.
Mama Berta told that there are currently 10 women around 60 years of age who still maintain the tradition of searching for shellfish in the Women’s Forest. “Perhaps it is easier to look for them in the sea,” said the 60-year-old woman. She remembers the time when shellfish were plenty. Mama Bertha used to be able to gather some 100 kilograms of shellfish. Now she could only fill half of her bucket. She sells them on the side of Holtekamp-Hamadi roads in Jayapura for Rp50,000 per kilogram. “I could only get enough amount for sale after two days of search,” said Mama Bertha. “They are very exhausting to collect. Now there are many people dumping coral and garbage, the shellfish dwindles.”
Papuan women’s activist and anthropologist, Dominggas Nari, said that only around 10 women are left to carry the tradition of searching for food in the mangrove forest. The University of Indonesia graduate said Adriana Youwe is the oldest woman in Enggros village who still goes in and out of the mangrove forest to look for shellfish.
Adriana Youwe said she does not want to see the mangrove forest cleared away. The women in her village were never informed of the construction projects, including the 2021 National Games’ rowing venue, that would change their mangrove forest. Together with her village folks, Adriana is protesting against the construction for violating local customs.
Port Numbay and Nafri Village Customary Chief, George Awi, criticizes the changes made to nature, particularly the damage done to the environment of the mangrove forest. The forest that has been providing food to village residents. “That is the Women’s Forest,” he said.