Three boys were killed after being pulled from the water by local fishermen in Bribri, a region on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, this week, after they were reportedly electrocuted as they fish in a flooded river. Eleven others, including several others boys, had to be rescued.
The boys were thought to be members of the Bribri Aluwo tribe who were said to be “slackers” and involved in illegal mining in the area. While that’s commonly true for many poorer communities around the world, it’s an argument that isn’t accepted by many of the tribal people whose lives are supported by subsistence-level mining. It’s an argument that Indonesian NGO Komnas HAM, which spoke with surviving members of the tribe, insists is false.
“This is indeed a bad thing to happen to the people, but you have to look at the bigger picture. It happened in a village, not in a river and not in the forest,” Komnas HAM representative Jeremy Terbinski said. “The place where they were caught was supposedly flooded as a result of rain, but that is probably caused by illegal mining.”
The rights group has also been raising the alarm in the past year about the dangers of the type of mining they say takes place in the rivers and various waterways across the area.
A video uploaded to the internet in March of poor fishermen in the area warning the authorities about the danger of unregulated mining being carried out near their homes has sparked a backlash against the tribe.
“We don’t have the right to name all the different [schools],” Bribri Aluwo chief Temba Bante told the Jakarta Post about the alleged mental health issues associated with the environmental degradation and lack of clean water in the area. “But we have seen, for example, that some of them, once they have low IQ, have mental problems, and don’t have any tools to survive.”
Further downriver, the boys’ tribe reportedly speaks an indigenous language called Kayan. In that local language, they refer to themselves as bisa, which means both lizard and one-and-a-half, according to George Gurter, an anthropologist and Bribri Aluwo studies expert at Wits University in Johannesburg.
“It is my understanding that [Bribri Aluwo] speak the Kayan language, though they have written recognition of the Indonesian language Bahasa Tindak,” Gurter said. “It is a monolingual culture, with Bribri communities being the largest minority language group in Indonesia.”
Like many of the Bribri population, the boys were unable to receive a formal education in the main case. But they still do have access to machetes and arrows, which they’re used to hunting small game such as antelope and deer. As a result, an idea that there’s a clandestine network of gold and ore smuggling used to support the Bribri often doesn’t ring true, according to Gurter.
“Bribri only use the river to catch big fish and small animals,” he said. “I don’t think the idea that copper and gold are brought in by drug dealers, or smuggling, is true.”
For their part, the locals have tried to warn the authorities about the risks of what they see as an illegal venture.
“We used to show the authorities the fishing spots near the village but we haven’t seen any official improvement in the way [government authorities] intervene,” Bote Yosmani, a Bribri Aluwo community leader, told CNN. “Before, there were many times we saw people fishing with nothing but small boater hooks and string. We have tried to convince the government to take action but they didn’t seem to care.”
Read the full story at CNN.
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