In Indonesia, women farmers crush cement mining and production factories

Cement companies are looking to expand both mining and production on Kendeng Mountain, in central Java, Indonesia. Kendeng Mountain is located in a karst, or limestone, mountain range. It is also rich agricultural land. Women farmers in the area have protested, organized, militated, with great success, but the corporations keep coming back. Sometimes, women mobilize with the great movement of marches. Sometimes, women mobilize by concentrating all the energy into staying perfectly, and immovably, still. The Nine Kartinis of Kendeng, nine fierce women farmers, have opted for the latter. They planted their feet in cement, let the cement harden, and refused to move. Sometimes, women on the move are women being absolutely, perfectly, loudly, hilariously, outrageously still.

This battle has been going on since at least last year, but for the Kartinis of Kendeng, who hail from the Samin community of Central Java, it’s another chapter in a centuries’ long struggle. From the earliest struggles to today, Samin women have organized to preserve and promote the integrity of the Earth, the land, and the peoples who work and live with the land. In the latest iteration of that struggle, women have named themselves after Raden Adjeng Kartini, a leading Indonesian feminist freedom fighter who lived from 1870 to 1904. R.A. Kartini was born in Java during the Dutch colonial occupation, and worked for independence, women’s emancipation and girls’ education. The Samin community, also known as Sedulur Sikep, also began during the Dutch colonial era. The founder, Samin Surosentiko, advocated non-violent resistance to colonialism. This resistance took the form of non-violent civil disobedience. People refused to build roads, pay taxes or participate in forced-labor. Refusal as resistance, from R.A. Kartini to the Samin community to today’s Nine Kartinis of Kendeng, and what better way to refuse than to plant one’s feet into blocks of cement and refuse to move?

That’s what nine women did last year. The cement factory has been `in process’ since 2014. Women have led the opposition. Last April, “nine middle-aged women cast their legs in concrete during 36-hour protest against the cement plant outside the presidential palace in Jakarta”. In October, they led 300 farmers in a long march to protest a new government decision to reinstate the legality of the cement factory. They’re still on the move.

At last April’s protest, Sukinah, the spokeswoman for the Kartinis of Kendeng, explained that the protest was as much educational as immediately political, “We want to give a message for the younger generation, to show that nature is not only seen as a source of wealth, but also something that has to be preserved.” More recently, she added, “I will fight to my last drop of blood because our ancestors fought for this land for hundreds of years, and that’s why we now can enjoy the water and the fruits from this land. We won’t allow it to disappear like that.”

In their struggle, the Kartinis of Kendeng link arms with Aleta Baum, who, in the Indonesian part of the island of Timor, organized indigenous women’s weaving circles that crushed the marble mining companies. The Kartinis of Kendeng also link arms with Mavis Staples and all those women engaged in Black Liberation struggles and labor struggles across the United States. In Indonesia, women farmers planted their feet in cement, and off in the impossibly intimate distance, one can hear, “… Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters, we shall not be moved.”


(Photo Credit: Jakarta Globe / Komnas Perempuan) (Video Credit: Film First / YouTube)



Indigenous women’s weaving circles crush marble mining companies

Mama Aleta Baun is a Molo indigenous woman living in the Indonesian part of the island of Timor. Aleta Baun lives in the shadow, and light, of Mutis Mountain, which is the source of all of the rivers on the island. For Timor, Mutis Mountain is the source of life.

In the 1980s, the local government illegally issued permits to marble mining companies to mine on Mutis Mountain. In 1996, the companies started clearing trees and rocks on the mountain. Aleta Baun saw this and went into action.

First, she formed an alliance with three other women. They went door-to-door, village-to-village. The distances between houses and, even more, villages were great. Baun and the three other women persevered. Their message was simple, direct and profound: “We regard the earth as our human body: stone is our bone; water is our blood; land is our flesh; and forest is our hair. If one of them is taken, we are paralyzed.”

For the Molo people, that paralysis would be a form of death. Baun had an additional message for the women: “We also emphasized to women that the forest provides the dyes for our weaving, which is a very important part of our lives. That inspired us to showcase our weaving in the form of a peaceful protest starting in 2006.”

Baun organized a weaving occupation of the mining camps. Over 100 women showed up, formed a circle in the mining quarry, sat down and silently wove traditional textiles. They sat and wove, silently, for over a year: “When we began our protest, women realized that they could do more — take a stand and be heard. Women are also the recognized landowners in the Molo culture, and this reawakened in those women who hadn’t been actively speaking out a desire to protect their land.”

The assault on the forest targeted women. Women are the ones who go into the forest and emerge with food, medicine, dye, sustenance. The marble mining companies had touched the women and struck a rock.

For four years, the women organized weaving occupations, and for four years the Molo men took on all the domestic work in their communities. This was a women-led full community campaign. In 2010, the marble mining companies packed up their tools and left.

From Aleta Baun’s perspective, the heart of the struggle was popular re-education: “The protest is part of the re-education of the people.” Now, Mama Aleta Baun is busy organizing Molo women and men to map the forestlands for themselves, and then to lay proper legal claim to all that is their land, their dignity.

Have you heard about Mama Aleta Baun and the weaving occupation? It’s a story worth repeating.

(Photo credit: Goldman Environmental Prize)