By Julius Lawalata, WRI Indonesia's Field Officer.
“Revisiting participation for women in Gajah Bertalut.”
On September 15, 2017, shortly after Isya prayers, 10 women perfected the contours of the Earth's surface on a three-dimensional (3D) mock-up made from used cardboard and flour. That day they had pressed dozens of sheets of dough the size of a tray, then pasted them in layers on the pile of cardboard puzzles they had made the day before. The working team consisting of mothers and teenagers had completed a mock-up of the Gajah Bertalut area in Riau, Sumatra. It would be used as a prop for the One Village Map Initiative (ITUPEDE) for the planning of forest management areas by indigenous peoples in the country. These women were rubber farmers who made a work plan over four days with facilitation by WRI Indonesia.
Muiz and Dwiki managed to hang a projector on the ceiling of the house. The projector beam was perpendicular to the floor, showing a map of the existing condition of the Gajah Bertalut territory at a scale of 1:10,000 on the wet 3D mock-up surface. The mock-up immediately proved useful as an effective medium of visual information. The lines and colors were placed above the curves and contours, indicating that the projector's position matched with the mock-up. While occasionally pointing at certain features or areas in the 3D mock-up, the women offered and confirmed certain information, according to their personal knowledge. Everyone was a source of information in this forum. The day before, Astri took advantage of this momentum to further explore the horizons of Gajah Bertalut's women regarding power and household resource management. The exchange of experiences and information took place in a relaxed, open, respectful, and intimate situation surrounding the wet mock-up.
The results of the 3D mockup were tested using a projector. Photo by Julius Lawalata
People started arriving, consisting of young and old people, including the Alliance of Indigenous People (AMAN) and the Caliph of Batu Sanggan. All men. Unbelievable! That was their expression when they first saw the three-dimensional mock-up. From the words of salutation and praise conveyed by the men, I assumed that the role of Gajah Bertalut women in public affairs had long been neglected. Both the men and the women did not realize the ability of women to contribute. After their early compliments, the men slowly took over the meeting room. They sat around the 3D mock-up and had a discussion. The teenage girls exited first, then one by one, the other girls left the room. Most went home. Some of them turned to the kitchen, including Astri, and prepared coffee. The 10 girls would return the following day to color the mock-up, the final stage of making a 3D map of the land of Gajah Bertalut.
The story above is a demonstration of the social relations between men and women in Gajah Bertalut. An elder confirmed that, "women have their own place in public spaces and are allowed to express their opinions. There are no customary rules that limit it." But why do women need to leave the dialogue space when men are involved? If this is the social reality, how can ITUPEDE include women?
The Gajah Bertalut men took over the meeting room, looking at the almost finished 3D mockup. Photo by Julius Lawalata
First, Women's (Past) Strength.
Customary norms in the Gajah Bertalut community stipulate that genealogy, tribal unity, and tribal leaders are based on maternal lineage. In the case of the first two, women are confirmed as holders of economic rights passed down the generations to daughters. In the case of the third, men become political leaders by rights passed down the generations to nephews. In other words, traditionally, women were the center of economic power and the source of society's political power in the Minang tribes of West Sumatra and Riau Province. When making decisions or discussing the futures of nieces and nephews, Bundo Kanduang (the eldest woman, who acts as the head of a Minang family) and Mamak Suku (the eldest man in the family, who acts as the head of the tribe) had equal authority in deliberations at the Rumah Gadang (the traditional Minang tribe house). Such was the structure of the early tribal organizations that placed women in public affairs according to the customary norms that they lived.
Second, the Exile of Women.
A process of cultural inculturation over centuries in the Kampar region provided nutrition and incubation for the growth of patriarchal seeds. Later, the establishment of political power with the nation-state placed men in unique positions and made way for the exile of women from public spaces. In the history of Gajah Bertalut is a trace of information about how women were exiled from the crowded world by at least two modern powers. The first exile occurred through a reshuffle of the tribal organizational structures among the Malin (religious leaders), Mamak (respected elders) and Dubalang (customary law enforcement) during the reign of the Islamic Kingdom in Kampar Kiri. Where Mamak and Dubalang represent indigenous groups, the position of Malin, in particular, played a key role, as they represented religious groups and the state. In other words, the formation of four Malin in each tribe symbolized the enactment of customs based on or supported by Islamic religious law. This directly impacted the alienation of women in their own homes. The second exile occurred in the era of independent Indonesia, especially during the New Order era, through the policy of sharing village power through the construction of the "tali bapilin tigo". This was the philosophy that good governance was based on strong collaboration between customary elders, government, and religious leaders, supported by the community.
In addition, marriage law significantly weakens women because they are not considered the head of the family and have various obligations. The Rumah Gadang, the smallest organizational unit, was replaced with the concept of a hamlet and neighborhood unit (“RT”). This shows how the political role of indigenous women represented by Bundo Kanduang is not part of the modern government system or legal provisions since the enactment of the nation-state (the Kingdom of Islam Kampar Kiri and the Republic of Indonesia). Over time, the dynamics of community growth and new values of law and social decency have been used to justify the view that women are not worthy of being involved in public affairs and men are superior. Men are free to access every aspect of people's lives, and women need to behave as described at the beginning of this paper. In all its features, Bundo Kanduang do not appear in the stories and reviews of the history of Gajah Bertalut village. Rather, the alliance of the Chaniago, Malay, Domo Ulak, and Domo Mudiak tribes in establishing the nagari (customary village) is viewed as an alliance of four penghulu (male customary leaders), not a coalition of four Bundo Kanduang (women). They traditionally control the Rumah Gadang in the country. There is a hegemony that the history of tribal unity is the history of men. At the same time, women's positions and roles are limited and apply only at home, only related to domestic affairs. The formal position of Bundo Kanduang is being replaced by the wives of Datuk Pucuak (the highest leader of the nagari). They have no clear role, because women's activities are focused on the PKK organization, which is established by the national government under the Ministry of Home Affairs and controlled by the wife of the village head (wali). The disappearance of the Rumah Gadang, a symbol of civilization and a special space for indigenous women in many countries, indicates that the strategic position and role of women has disappeared from the community's awareness, knowledge, and collective needs, including in Gajah Bertalut.
The Gajah Bertalut women completed the 3D mockup by drawing a map on the mockup. Photo by Julius Lawalata
Third, Women and Poverty.
The average household is in debt. The lack of income generated from their own land (where they mostly grow rubber) and scarcity of forest resources to be harvested (wood, jernang resin, birds, and agarwood) in the nagari territory make it more difficult for households to meet the minimum basic needs of each person. The sale of rubber latex is the only direct source of income for women, as they do not access forest resources. On the other hand, the basic household needs and monthly business capital are indebted to the landlady on the condition that they sell their products at a predetermined price later. This practice of trade is undertaken by the people along the Subayang River, including Gajah Bertalut. Unfortunately, the selling price of 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of raw rubber is three times less than the price of 1 kilogram of rice, and has been for the last three years, and there is no minimum price benchmark. The landlady has developed these economic relations over the years; the community even has its own indicators to measure the amount of debt a person/household owes. For example, it is common knowledge among mothers that a high level of education is directly proportional to the amount of debt burden recorded in the landlady's book. In poor households, there is only the obligation of each member to provide for the whole family, including women and minors. The role of women as household breadwinners outside the home is not taboo in Gajah Bertalut. Some women are agricultural laborers on rubber plantations owned by the landlady or certain families, with a profit-sharing system.
Women and the 3D Mock-up
The history described above is a general depiction of how women's political positions and roles were systemically disabled, isolated, and erased from the collective memory of the Gajah Bertalut community. Currently, women and their interests are far from the orbit of conversation in the public sphere, both body and soul, as actors and values. If the village hall represents public space, then the position and role of women is behind the building; they prepare food and drink for the deliberation’s participants. Women's names and signatures are rarely recorded in the attendance list for a village meeting/consultation. This is seen as ordinary and not viewed as a problem, even by women. This pattern of relations is regarded as a social truth that every individual must uphold. As a member of a clan, each person is a pillar of support and guardian of that group’s values, rules and beliefs.
Consequently, national strategic decisions rest entirely with men. They are strongly influenced by village elites who control representative institutions, such as Ninik Mamak (male siblings of Bundo Kanduang) and the Badan Pembangunan Desa, or Village Development Agency, a government organization responsible for hosting village meetings to formulate the village development plan.
The village elite is filled by the elderly and tribal leaders. There are also inequalities due to differences in economic class (rich-poor) and social status (position). This inequality is obvious in public forums and community meetings, where young people can only hear the directions and decisions of their parents/leaders, poor farmers can only agree with the words of the landlady (tokeh) and women are not seen.
ITUPEDE confronts the socio-political realities of the Gajah Bertalut nagari. It is necessary to find ways and approaches to hear and understand the interests of women's groups in public affairs. Economic factors, as described here, are the only reason and current opportunity for ITUPEDE to find space for women to play a role and contribute. This social propriety is then synergized with program strategies and approaches in facilitating updating data and information on the state of Gajah Bertalut.
In addition to maps and data, ITUPEDE includes 3D mock-ups as a medium of information and teaching aid in critical discussions related to regional/village planning. Let’s suppose collecting basic village data (regional surveys) is dominated by men. In this case, making 3D mock-ups can be allocated as a special way for women to be involved in ITUPEDE activities. Each participant received compensation for their work, acknowledging the role of women as household breadwinners. It is undeniable that the 1:10,000 scale 3D mock-up of the indigenous territory of Gajah Bertalut has become the signature mark of the women's group in this community. In its simplest form, making 3D mock-ups has become a guide and a starting point for ITUPEDE in developing further strategies and approaches that allow women's groups to be directly involved in public affairs in the village.