The Role of Tradition of Ethnic Papua in Conserving the Natural Environment

Ethnic Papua

Papua region is famous for its abundant amount of natural resources, including forests and fisheries. The role of natural resources is pivotal for indigenous Papuans living both in and surrounding the areas. They depend on natural resources to survive and to make a living. Most Papuans make a living from fisheries, and most of them are fishermen.

This is supported by local wisdom and customs passed from generation to generation as local wisdom. The following are the five local customs that ethnic Papua—both in Papua and West Papua—have been holding for decades.

  1. Sasi Nggama

Ethnic Papua

Sasi Nggama is one of the fundamental traditions hold by ethnic Papua to protect natural resources. The ancestors realized that exploiting natural resources arbitrarily might bring negative impact on the livelihood of human beings. The tradition is so essential that it is included as a part of the formal law in customary rules since 2016.

Sasi Nggama is a customary ceremony consisting of regulating rules to protect a certain land or water area from being exploited during a certain period—temporary or permanent. In its implementation, it does not only regulate the relationship between humans and nature but also humans and other human beings. Sasi is an effort to maintain good manners, including a fair share of profit from exploiting natural resources.

Sasi umum (General Sasi) is carried out by all members of the community or village.

It is divided into five categories:

  • sasi air (water sasi), includes:
  • sasi laut (sea sasi) which covers coastal and sea area. This Sasi regulates prohibition on certain types of fish, shellfish, seaweed, sea cucumbers, and other sea products considered high in value.
  • sasi sungai (river sasi) which prohibits washing in the river, boat starting engines when crossing the river, and women and men taking a bath together.
  • sasi darat (land sasi), includes:
  • sasi hutan (forest sasi) which prohibits collecting and utilizing forest products.
  • sasi binatang (animal sasi) which prohibits hunting certain types of endangered animals.

During the stipulated period, any activity in the area must be put on hold. This is to provide an opportunity for natural resources—animal and/or vegetable sources—to restore, develop, and multiply to save them from extinction. There is no certain timing to apply Sasi, but it is usually applied in the decline of natural resources, usually once or twice in a year.

The subject of Sasi applies to everyone with no exception. Those who violate the custom will be given sanction: customary fines or social sanctions, such as being prohibited from joining the Sasi opening and harvest ceremony.

The Sasi ritual might vary from one area to another. Here’s the example of the Sasi implementation in Nawarum Island, West Papua.

Before Sasi starts, traditional and religious leaders, along with the members of the community, will discuss Sasi to restore the declining natural resources and make decisions. They announce Sasi using a woven janur (palm leaf) as a sign. It indicates that fishermen are prohibited from catching high-value marine creatures, such as teripang (sea cucumber), siput batu laga (turbo marmoratus), and lola (Trochus niloticus) for a certain period, usually 11 months in a year. The location, when Sasi starts, and when it ends are in the customary leader’s hand. Once Sasi ends, the area is open to be utilized.

When the Sasi sign is installed, the community has to monitor the growth and development of the ecosystem and anticipate any external threat.

The customary leader performs the ritual before going to the sea, telling the rules that must be followed. Usually, the rules to apply when it comes to conserving the sea are:

First, people are welcome to welcome sea products as much as possible using simple tools, such as fishing rods or kalawai—a traditional Papuan weapon. Second, using bombs, potassium, or any poison is prohibited. Third, marine activities are prohibited to support fish reproduction. The violator will get social sanctions in the form of being ostracized by the customary community and not permitted to go fishing until the customary leader lifts the sanction.

Sasi Nggama is also applied in other areas in the Papua region such as Raja Ampat. It has also been a tradition for people in Adijaya, Nasaulan, Namatota, Kambala, Kayumerah, and other villages in the area of Kaimana, especially for Koiwai tribes.

  1. Tiyatiki

Ethnic Papua

Tiyatiki is a traditional knowledge handed down by ethnic Papua by word of mouth to regulate, manage, utilize, and conserve marine and coastal resources. The beach and sea are the people of Papua’s source of life. Therefore, it must be respected and protected, conserving the best of natural resources for their future generations.

  1. Balobe

Ethnic Papua

Balobe is a tradition of collecting sea product at night when the moon is dark, using a wooden spear called kalawai. The edge of kalawai has a sharp three-edged iron to thrust the fish. The dark moon indicates that the fish is tame and will not swim far.

  1. Bemeti

Ethnic Papua

Bemeti is an activity of collecting sea products when the sea level is receding at night or at noon in coastal areas.

  1. Molo

Ethnic Papua

It is the tradition of catching fish by diving while wearing molo goggles, equipped with an arrow riffle made of wood with sharp ends.

Apparently, local wisdom and traditions play a big role in conserving natural resources, especially in Papua and West Papua regions. For those whose lives rely on nature, just like people of ethnic Papua, living hand in hand with nature is the key to a sustainable future.