Knowledge Session: Who is Mama Yosepha?

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Yosepha Alo­mang (Mama Yosepha) is an indi­gen­ous woman from the Indone­sian province of Iri­an Jaya (West Pap­ua), one of the most bio­lo­gic­ally diverse places on the plan­et. She is phys­ic­ally small, but she has bravely stood up to power­ful interest groups in defense of her people’s right to their land. Yosepha lived with her fam­ily in Tsinga vil­lage, Tem­bagapura, Mim­i­ka, a hill­side area, until the mid-1950s, when a loc­al church that provided health and edu­ca­tion in the remote areas of Pap­ua encour­aged them to move near the south coast. As a little girl, Yosepha went to ele­ment­ary school, but she dropped out in the fourth grade after the death of her par­ents. She recalls her first encoun­ter with Free­port McMor­an, the world’s biggest gold mine, loc­ated in Timi­ka. It was in 1967. She was 17, too young to under­stand what was going on. But when she thinks about it now, she says:

“They took our land. They didn’t even ask our per­mis­sion. I was just a young girl. I remem­ber my father gave them the land.” — Yosepha Alo­mang

The naïve Amung­me people did not know that that it would be the begin­ning of dec­ades of suf­fer­ing as their once pristine nat­ur­al envir­on­ment would slowly deteri­or­ate. She vividly recalls the day Free­port came.

“One day, a group of men came to our house. They talked with my par­ents. I hardly remem­ber their con­ver­sa­tion. They were warn­ing my father to fol­low the company’s request. They said if we wanted to eat well, we had to make sure that they could eat well also.” — Yosepha Alo­mang

About a dozen men and sev­er­al tri­bal lead­ers agreed to deal with the com­pany and left their land, but many refused. Those who refused faced arrest and tor­ture by the state appar­at­us, but many were killed or chased away to live in the forests. Yosepha says of the state and non-state act­ors:

“They came and killed our people.” At that time nobody cared about the fate of the Amungmes. “I don’t under­stand why the Indone­sian gov­ern­ment could be so harsh.” — Yosepha Alo­mang

Human rights viol­a­tions are rampant in Timi­ka and Yosepha has been detained sev­er­al times for protest­ing either again­st the min­ing com­pany or the mil­it­ary that backs it up.

She was pro­posed to the Nobel Peace Price 2005. She was awar­ded the Gold­man Envir­on­ment­al Prize in 2001, for her efforts on organ­iz­ing her com­munity to res­ist the min­ing com­pany Freeport-McMoRan’s min­ing prac­tices over three dec­ades that have des­troyed rain­forests, pol­luted rivers, and dis­placed com­munit­ies. Her resolve has been tested for dec­ades.

In the early 1970s, she was detained for organ­iz­ing her tribe to protest again­st what the unfair occu­pa­tion of their land. A part of the land mined by Free­port is a hill that the tribes’ ancest­ors con­sider to be sac­red. Free­port cut into it to mine cop­per, caus­ing irre­par­able dam­age and years of pain and suf­fer­ing.

“Many women were raped and fam­il­ies lost their loved ones,” Yosepha reports. “I was protest­ing these crimes. I went to jail sev­er­al times. Once I was detained for a month in a con­tain­er van by the mil­it­ary. Gen­er­al Sutris­no released me when he vis­ited Pap­ua for a mis­sion. I just can’t sit still see­ing oppres­sion again­st my people.” — Yosepha Alo­mang

Yosepha and her group kept up their protests and even sued the com­pany in court for des­troy­ing their land. She believed that this way she could motiv­ate many oth­er people to act. And she was vin­dic­ated. In 1976, a big riot occurred in a Free­port site in Tem­bagapura, a min­ing town. The pro­test­ers burned down a fact­ory. The mêlée served as a wakeup call for the gov­ern­ment, which finally began to real­ize that some­thing was wrong. At the time, Yosepha had already become “pub­lic enemy num­ber one” to those who were dis­turbed by her act­iv­ism.

She recalls that one night, she and her hus­band were dragged out of bed by sol­diers.

“We were tor­tured like anim­als, beaten up and degraded with vile lan­guage“ — Yosepha Alo­mang

She was quoted as say­ing in a report on human rights viol­a­tions in Timi­ka pre­pared by Jayapura bish­op Monsignior Her­man, OFM. For two weeks, Yose­fa and her hus­band, Markus Kwa­lik, were detained in a room fill with human feces. Tor­tures and oth­er degrad­ing treat­ment failed to bring her down.

mama Yosepha arrested She con­tin­ued to organ­ize women to protest again­st the large-scale min­ing that had ruined their cul­ture, envir­on­ment and health. She organ­ized a group of moth­ers for human rights. These inform­al groups met reg­u­larly. Down the road, the groups organ­ized into a net­work called Yaha­mak, an NGO. Yosepha is reluct­ant to talk about polit­ics. She does not regard what she is doing for her tribe in Timi­ka as polit­ic­al work. She would rather talk about freedom.

“Many people speak of freedom. But what is freedom for Pap­uans? Freedom is when people are edu­cated, when people are free from pover­ty and suf­fer­ings. That’s freedom in our lan­guage.” — Yosepha Alo­mang

Read more about the struggle of our indi­gen­ous sis­ters and broth­ers, vis­it: Free West Pap­ua Cam­paign

Sign the peti­tion to demand West Pap­ua access to human rights inspect­ors!

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Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra

Edit­or / Research­er at No Bounds
Gata is a music and arts lov­er, stud­ied anthro­po­logy, art man­age­ment and media pro­duc­tion ded­ic­at­ing most of her time to cre­at­ive pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.
Gata Malandra

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About Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra
Gata is a music and arts lover, studied anthropology, art management and media production dedicating most of her time to creative projects produced by No Bounds.

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