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Tom Beanal's Speech at Loyola University in New Orleans

Project Underground
May 19th, 1997


On May 23, 1996, Mr. Tom Beanal, leader of the Amungme Tribal Council and principal in a $6 billion suit against Freeport-McMoRan, spoke at Loyola University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

Mr. Beanal is the head of LEMASA (the Amungme Tribal Council), a former legislative government council member, the head of the Lorentz Foundation, and a member of the Presidium of WALHI, the leading Indonesian environmental organization.

Mr. Beanal's presentation was sponsored by several Loyola organizations, including the Blueprint for Social Justice and the Loyola Green Club, and various community organizations, including the Delta Greens, the Sierra Club and Freeport Watch.

The following is an unofficial translation of his talk, which was given in Bahasa Indonesian:

Before I begin, I would like to thank Mr. Martin (Regan) for bringing me here to speak. I would also like to thank those people who prepared this meeting and the students who met me at the airport.

I welcome you all here tonight. Actually, I rarely speak before such a large audience, but on this occasion, I would like to talk about the feelings of my people.

To the Amungme people in particular and to the people of Irian Jaya as a whole, nature and man are one. Everything that has a use has a value greater than that ascribed to it by man. This is shown in our traditions. We hold planting festivals. This is because food is important for man.

When the earth was first created, it is believed that the Amungme people occupied land which was still swamp. The story goes that there was a mother with four children, two boys and two girls. They lived in the middle of the swamp where there was a dry land.

One day the dry season came. There was famine and many people died. This also affected the mother and her four children. They began to suffer from hunger, when the food they had stored was used up.

The mother said to her children, "Instead of all of us dying, it is better if just I die." She ordered her children to kill her. She asked them to cut off her head and throw it to the north. She asked for her body to be cut into two, with the right side being thrown to the east and the left side to the west. Her feet were to be thrown towards the river so that they would be brought south by the current. Her children carried out this task with heavy hearts.

After they had done what their mother had asked, the four children fell asleep. When they awoke, they were surprised to see a mountain in the north, where they had thrown their mother's head. In the east and west there grew a great garden with all kinds of things to eat. In the south as well, there was a broad expanse of land.

This story tells us that if the mountains and nature are harmed, our mother is hurt as well. The mountain we see as our mother is sacred. It is where the souls of men go when they die. We keep this place holy and worship it in our traditional ceremonies.

The Amungme live on the land thought to reach from the mother's neck to her navel. This is the place closest to her. It is near her milk, and is where the people can lean on and be protected by her shoulder. It is where children can sleep in her lap.

We also consider the area of the mother's feet, meaning the coastal plain, a sacred place. We can look for food here and hunt but we must then return to our home. This is the feeling of the Amungme, that the land is our mother.

But modern, clever people, came into the area. And what happened as a result? It began with the coming of Catholic missionaries. They brought Amungme out of the area and settled them near our mother's feet which we had always thought of as a holy place. Many people died there in what is now called Akimuga. The places we left such as Waa, Arwa and Tsinga began to be taken over by big companies like Freeport. They began by making a base camp then suddenly built up the area without saying one word to us.

All of the places which were once just camps are now big towns. Our question now is, what about the indigenous people?

These companies have taken over and occupied our land. Even the sacred mountains we think of as our mother have been arbitrarily torn up by them and they have not felt the least bit guilty.

We have not been silent. We protest and are angry. But we have been arrested, beaten and put into containers. It is also said that, with our own country's soldiers acting as go-betweens, we have been tortured, even killed. Many of us have also been accused of being OPM separatists. Our environment has been ruined and our forests and rivers polluted by waste. The sago forests which serve as our primary food source have become dry, making it hard for us to find food.

The animals we have hunted in the past have disappeared so we no longer know where to hunt. Our settlements are covered with so much sand that our people have been scattered apart. One moves here, one moves there. Our water is contaminated by chemicals so we can no longer drink it. The land in the higher elevations has disappeared because it has been piled high with huge rocks. Gold and copper have been taken by Freeport for the past 30 years, but what have we gotten in return? Only insults, torture, arrests, killings, forced evictions from our land, impoverishment and alienation from our own culture. We have become strangers in our own land and this has been going on for the past 30 years!

We have continued to seek justice, but have met with failure many times. But now Martin has come forward and said "I can fight for justice." So we have come here to ask for it.

I think this is all I have to say for now. If there are questions I will try to answer them.


Question and Answers:

I see that the military is there to protect the company that brings profit to the state, and I would also like to raise this problem in Indonesia itself, in my own country. But I worry, because my country receives 10 percent [from the company] that I will not get the justice I seek. I am afraid that the state is actually not on the side of justice.

I was born in a valley near Tsinga and Waa. It is near Tembagapura, an area controlled by Freeport. My village has been part of the Freeport area. I can speak for Tsinga and also for Waa. The mountains are being levelled, which in my language is called "Yang sego omo sego."

Not just in Irian Jaya, but in every group there are always people who think of making their own country. Formally though, we are part of the Republic of Indonesia. What is important for me is for the people to prosper no matter what the country is. We want to develop ourselves, not just be developed."