Our Visit to Kalimantan

Jan 15, 2015
Category: Other

Inés Oleaga and Monica Nakamura share their visit to Indonesia where the “The poor and the earth can wait no longer!”


When Sr. Rita Burley was our Superior General and visited us in East Timor, she talked about her interest in the foundation of our Institute in Indonesia not just on one occasion but several times.  More than ten years have passed since then, and finally we, the ACI community in East Timor, succeeded in making a trip to Indonesia to see the possibility of fulfilling the dream of Sr. Rita, which had already become ours as well.

After a thorough investigation of the needs of the Church in Indonesia, we discovered that West Kalimantan is the neediest province in regard to evangelization.  In particular, in the diocese of Ketapang the Catholic Church is facing many challenges due to the lack of priests and religious.

On 6th Oct., 2014 we flew to Pontianak, the capital of the Province of West Kalimantan.  From there we travelled by car, visiting the four parishes recommended by the bishop of the Diocese of Ketapang.  The final stop on our journey was the city of Ketapang where the diocesan office is located.

Along the route we took, we were completely astonished at the huge palm tree plantations which are stretched as far as the eye could see.  These are the notorious plantations which were established in the areas where there were invaluable rainforests.  According to Fr. Laurentius Sutadi, Vicar General of the Diocese of Ketapang, who accompanied us during our entire journey, as palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil, the demand is ever growing, especially in China and India.  He said that the Catholic Church is doing its best to convince the faithful not to sell their land to the companies, but often without success.  The Dayak are the indigenous people of Kalimantan, and the base of their life is the combination of slash-and-burn agriculture and small-scale rubber tree plantations.  However, the number of the Dayak people who give up their land and sell it to the trading companies is growing.  Thus their identity formed by human-forest symbiosis [shifting cultivation, agroforestry etc.] is in grave danger of being completely lost.  We cannot forget the words of one of the owners of a rubber tree plantation.  “We are helpless!  We can’t reject either the companies or the government which backs them when they come to ask for our land.”  Palm oil plantations not only cause drastic deforestation but also seriously affect water catchment.  One palm oil tree needs 20 liters of water every day.  The unsuitability of the terrain may also result in large-scale soil erosion, flooding and an increase in forest fires.

We had another great shock when we learned about the mining industry. Kalimantan has rich metal and mineral resources such as tin, copper, gold, silver, coal, and diamonds.  Kendawangan, where one of the four above-mentioned parishes is located, is facing a rapid and large-scale social change.  PT Well Harvest Winning Alumina Refinery, a joint venture among an Indonesian company and two Chinese companies, is being built.  It’s a smelting plant to process bauxite into aluminum, and in front of this factory, the company is constructing a new port to export the products to China and other countries.  The mining of bauxite affects agricultural products and threatens valuable remnant ecosystems of Kalimantan.  According to Bishop Pius Riana Prapdi, of the Diocese of Ketapang, who accompanied us during our trip in Kendawangan, there will be thousands of Chinese and Indonesians from other provinces working in this factory, and there are already many local Dayak people working in the construction site there, giving up their traditional sustainable lifestyle which guarantees the life of their descendants by leaving their land behind.

A crucial problem we found in all those 4 parishes is the low level of education.  In Sucaria the parish priest shared with us his deep concern about this.  “All the faithful of my parish have attended only primary school.  Some of them have not even graduated it because they dropped out after third or fourth grade.  How can those people cope with such a difficult situation as this rapid and destructive social change?  They desperately need proper education.  If you can start some kind of dormitory in Kendawangan, for instance, the families of my parish could send their children to junior or senior high schools there.  In that way you could also contribute to Catholic formation. As all the Catholic children currently study in state schools, they can easily become influenced by Islamic teachers.” 

Behind this situation there is a long history of discrimination toward the Dayak. During the Dutch colonial rule the Dayak people were converted from animism to Catholicism by the missionaries’ activities, including those in the schools and the hospitals, which were related to the colonial rule.  Politically they suffered from a double rule; one by the Dutch colonial administration and the other by Islamic Malay Sultans who were used by the Dutch in order to rule the Dayak indirectly. 

“The poor and the earth can wait no longer!”  This sentence from the Document of the General Chapter XIX continually echoed within our hearts all throughout our trip to Kalimantan.  Daily life in our modern society cannot do without soap, detergent, cooking oil, cosmetics and so on.  That’s why the demand for palm oil is becoming greater and greater.  Who can do without a cold soft-drink on a hot summer day?  That’s why the demand for aluminum is becoming greater and greater.

Before we visited this island, the cries of the people of Kalimantan and of its natural environment were things we knew about only through books and the mass media.  Now it is the cry of this and that Dayak person, and the cry of the vast land in Nanga Tayap, in Serengkah and in Sucaria.  How can we respond to these cries?  That is the question we have to take seriously if we want to continue our consecrated life in a meaningful way in today’s world where globalization and the destruction of the environment are raging out of control.

                                                       (Ines Oleaga, Monica Nakamura )


Explanation of the photos:

1)     Plantation of palm oil trees being extended, replacing rainforests

2)     Palm oil fruit bunches

3)     Construction site of Well Harvest Winning Alumina Refinery

4)     Traditional Dayak house

5)     Dayak women

6)     After a heated discussion on the life of the Dayak in Sucaria

7)     Bishop Pius Riana Prapdi, Fr. Laurentius Sutadi and Sr. Ines Oleaga 

 See the photos HERE


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