COVID-19 Op-ed

Reflecting on the Situation of Indigenous Women of Dayak Benawan in Indonesia

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Nikodemus
Niko
Ph.D. Student at the Department of Sociology,
Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Padjadjaran, in
Indonesia. He specializes in gender, human rights, and LGBT studies, and is
currently undertaking a research project on women and poverty among the
indigenous people of Dayak
Benawan.

In Indonesia, like elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic affects
not only public health, economics and politics but also sociocultural and
food security issues. In fact, indigenous people still haven’t gained any
public attention for the way they skilfully maintain food security in their
local communities. In this article, I try to explore how Dayak Benawan
indigenous women manage food and have become the guardian of domestic food
security at the time of this
pandemic.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo was
planning to make Kalimantan a food bowl with the food estate program (Bayu,
2020). This means that the Dayak tribe in Kalimantan would be displaced
because of their traditional ways of land management. This program
potentially waylays indigenous people whose lives still depend on nature. It
is expected that about 300,000 hectares will be coopted by Project Food
Estate, as it is formally known (Setiawan, 2020).

The Dayak Benawan Tribe is one of
the Dayak sub-tribe that settled in Cowet village, Sanggau Regency, West
Kalimantan, Indonesia. Dayak Benawan people are scattered in several
kampongs, including Pejalu village. Because they still manage nature through
local traditions they are under threat by the
program.

Dayak Benawan people still allow part of the forest to be used
as fields. In fact farming and tree plantations are the main livelihood for
the farmer (kume’k) and the Rubber squeegee
(motong’k). Since the twentieth century, the community of
Dayak Benawan has set aside forests that cannot be used as agricultural
fields, to preserve the woods for the next generation.

In the current pandemic situation, it is expected that the
Dayak Benawan can survive. This is because Dayak Benawan women have close
ties with nature (Tong, 1998) as they are the food gathers and keepers in
their families.

The Dayak people believe that the
forest is a dwelling house and living space and must be guarded and
nourished. For them, nature is like a breath of life for their families.
Therefore, Dayak Benawan women manage not only the household but also the
environment and forest.

In household and day-to-day life,
the Dayak Benawan community relies heavily on nature. Managing forests/nature
and making use of their resources produces food, crafts, and monetary
revenue. Their family food needs can be provided by vegetables, side dishes,
and rice/rice. Plants are obtained from forests, rubber plantations, and farm
grounds. While the side dishes are obtained from finding fish in the stream
and hunting squirrels and mice in the woods.

During
the COVID-19 pandemic, Dayak Benawan women were not anxious when looking for
vegetables in the forest because they did not interact with people outside
their community, thus avoiding the possibility of contracting and spreading
the virus. In fact, their typical family activity for the day includes
farming and finding food in the woods. Women as family food keepers store
food that they have gathered from the forest. Through their activities they
thus have an essential role in preserving the
forests.

References:

Tong, R., P. (1998).
Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction (Second
Edition)
. USA: Westview Press.

Setiawan, Riyan. (2020). Di Balik
Jokowi Minta Program Cetak Sawah usai Gusur Lahan Rakyat. Available at: https://tirto.id/di-balik-jokowi-minta-program-cetak-sawah-usai-gusur-lahan-rakyat-fhs5
(accessed 16 July 2020).

Bayu, Dimas Jarot. (2020).
Antisipasi Krisis Pangan, Jokowi Perintahkan Pembukaan Sawah Baru. Available
at: https://katadata.co.id/berita/2020/04/28/antisipasi-krisis-pangan-jokowi-perintahkan-pembukaan-sawah-baru
(Accessed 16 July 2020).

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