The land of West Papua offers numerous beautiful natural spots for the most adventurous visitors to explore. However, there is a location where not everybody can visit, especially men. A mangrove forest next to Youtefa Bay is referred as “hutan perempuan” (the forest of women). It has become a natural refuge for local women and a place where they can gather resources.
Activities in West Papua’s Women Forest
Tonotwiyat, the original name of the forest of women, is situated near Enggros Village. This West Papuan forest is close to Jayapura, the capital city, separated only by the water of Youtefa Bay. With the size of around eight hectares, this forest is a habitat of various animal and plant species, including those considered foods by locals.
Tonotwiyat is considered similar to para-para, which is the name of structure men in the village used for gathering. In this forest, women are free to talk, discuss, joke around, humor each other, and even gossip or trade information between them. Considering the limited space for women in some rural areas in West Papua, Tonotwiyat became a natural refuge for the women of Enggros.
Because men are forbidden to enter, women in this forest are free to do activities without clothing, which is convenient since most of them either use boats or swim in the shallow water.
Thriving Mangrove Life and Natural Food Sources
Like in many rural areas in West Papua, people in Enggros depend on natural food sources to complement their daily meals. The Enggros women use their time to gather foods from Tonotwiyat. The typical foods they get include fish, crabs, shrimps, and clams. This forest is the habitat for a type of clam called bia noor, which are quite big and favorite foods for many villagers.
Bia is special because you can cook it with various methods, but the most favorites are boiling or simmering in a spiced broth. Enggros villages also use the water from boiling bia as a part of traditional medicines. However, according to local women, there are more than 100 types of clams in this forest aside from bia, and they sell some of them at the market.
Finally, the mangrove trees and surrounding vegetations are also important sources of everyday life. Enggros women collect wood from the trees, which can grow as tall as seven meters high. They use the wood for cooking, making boats, and building houses or other structures in the village. They also look for plants that they can use for traditional medicines, fishnet preserve, and coloring agent.
Diverse Ecosystem and Protected Species in Tonotwiyat
How precious is this mangrove forest for the surrounding environment and indigenous communities? In 1976, the Indonesian government declared areas surrounding Youtefa Bay, including Enggros, as a nature reservation area. At least 15 species of mangroves become homes of 10 species of birds, four species of fish, five species of crabs, and numerous clams.
Indigenous West Papuan communities around this forest have their own words to call various species. When it comes to fish, for example, they have anar for red snapper, romant for milkfish, and rindin for rabbitfish. For crabs, they have hos-hos (red crab), yabruki (green crab), and hrook (black crab).
What about the clams that are so precious for local communities? Aside from the famous bia, they have various types such as hwandek, ree, twuad, hwatari, and wenggop rimesi. Since they live in the best habitats for their characteristics, these clams tend to be larger than the typical farm clams you see in the market.
Despite being a protected area, indigenous population has never been a threat for Tonotwiyat. Women usually visit the forest for a few hours in the morning since no one can enter it at night. Men who enter will be fined using a system called manik-manik, which consists of beads with high financial worth among locals. Also, people can only enter the forest with a small rowboat, even if they use a motorized boat to reach the edge of the forest.
Tonotwiyat and Forest Protection Efforts
Despite being one of the most unique forests in West Papua, Tonotwiyat is not free of problems. Currently, locals show great concern about the condition of the mangrove forest, especially trashes that are carried by water from areas like Hamadi, Abepura, and Entrop. They come with mud and the rising water during rainy season.
Tourism and development also threaten the condition of water in Tonotwiyat. Currently, locals and activists are trying to save the forest by using indigenous community conversation, where indigenous populations apply local customs and give their voices in conversation plans. This way, locals can keep the forest clean and their lifestyle intact.
Tonotwoyat mangrove forest is one of the most interesting nature spots in West Papua. Despite the challenges and threats, the forest and local customs surrounding it definitely have important roles in preserving the nature and elements of the indigenous lifestyle.