By Gerson Merari Saleleubaja

Sulaiman’s cloths were wet when he alighted from the pompon, a motorized canoe, at Muara Siberut, a district town in South Siberut in Mentawai Island. He had just spent five hours on board the canoe, the main form of transportation in isolated South Siberut, drifting down the Sarereiket river to come from his village, Matotonan, deep inland.

Sulaiman Siritoitet (34) was one of the 12 participants of a three-day video making training for indigenous communities in Mentawai, and island off the coast of West Sumatra province, held by the Citra Mandiri Mentawai Foundation with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalist Project for Asia Pacific. It was held at the Uma Jaraik Sikerei studio in Muntei village, 26-28 May, 2021.

Sulaiman and several other participants, such as a group that came from Madobag village also upstream of Sarereeiket — Roberto Siritoitet (20), Martinus Marisaen (17), Martinus Neko Kunen (23), dan Lian Rizal (26) — had come to Muntei a day earlier so that they could be sure they do not arrive too late for the training.

Kosnadi Samaura (26), Ahmadi Sadodolu (26), and Norbertus Orly (29) as well as Klementina Ika Tasiripoula (20), the only female participant, also arrived in Muntei on the same day. Although their hamlet, Salappak in the upstream region of Silaoinan river, was still administratively part of Muntei village, it still took them three hours to drive on their motorcycle through the dirt road that had become muddy and slippery after heavy rains.

The training, the second in a series of five including one specifically for women, is aimed at providing its participants with the necessary skills to produce good videos and also sharpen their sensitivity to environmental problems affecting them, especially in managing natural resources and in applying local wisdom.

Participants are given training in taking pictures, interviewing resource persons and film editing techniques so that they can produce quality video content that are enjoyable to watch. They are also given field work practice.

To sharpen their sensitivity, participants are trained to be able to identify environmental issues or problems often faced by Mentawaians and translate them into film scripts that they would have to work on later, in their respective village.

They are expected to become citizen journalists who actively report on their regions, especially on environmental issues.

yufriza, project manager, citra mandiri mentawai foundation

 Yuafriza, better known as Ocha, believes that the most threatening environmental issues in the Siberut region besides perennial flooding and the damage to natural resources caused by the exploitation by companies, is the struggle the indigenous community face in getting recognition for their indigenous territory as their livelihood, especially in Siberut, is closely linked to their territory.

And as long as the ownership of these indigenous territories are not recognized by law, indigenous communities in Mentawai will continue to be vulnerable to the impacts of various exploitation permits, most of which were issued by the central government.

The lack of recognition is gradually undermining the living space of Mentawai people and its management. Most of the ground and forests in Mentawai are designated as state forests and exploitation permits have already been granted to most of them.

Another problem is the flood that comes following heavy rains, including in Matotonan, Sulaiman’s home village that is situated in the upstream region of the Sarereiket River.

For Sulaiman, however, floods are not the only problem. He worries that a Biomass-fueled power plant in the area that uses bamboo as the raw material for the environmentally friendly renewable energy, could prompt the conversion of people’s food-producing agricultural land into bamboo plantations.

Sulaiman, who has already produced several videos for his own personal YouTube channel, said that the training has been very helpful for him in producing better quality videos. Up until now, the videos he had produced had not been based on strong concepts and thus were not that effective in delivering the intended message.

“This training was interesting and has broadened my knowledge, I learned how to take shots, how to make scripts, and edit. I am very grateful to YCMM,” Sulaiman said.

Following the training, Sulaiman plans to expose the potentials and threats that come with the PLTBm in his village. He aims to mobilize his peers to jointly control development in his region so that it does not harm the environment or the people’s economy.

For Kosnadi Samaurau, the issue that he wants to tell people about in his video is the difficulties faced by people in his village to transport their crops to the local economic center because of the lack of infrastructure.

Kosnadi also wants to expose the perennial flooding that always hit his village when the rainy season comes. “The problem of flooding remains unsolved until this day and the impact is that people always suffer losses because their field, the sources of their livelihood and food, are damaged by the floods,” he said.

For Teofilus Samemek, who is also a YouTuber with 72,900 followers, the training gave him a lot of technical know-how, especially on how to take pictures and on lighting. Teofilus said he has uploaded 390 videos about the Mentawai indigenous people on his channel.

I have already produced a lot of videos, but they have a lot of weaknesses, especially regarding lighting. Many are the videos that I made that I was not satisfied with, and this training is motivating me again.

teofilus samemek, mentawai indigenous youth

Teofilus said he will continue to make videos about his community and the environmental conditions that surround them, with stronger messages.

Klementina Ika Tasiripoula, the only female participant said she was enthusiastic and happy to participate in the training, although all the knowledge provided was still new to her.

“I’m happy that even though everything is new to me, especially about the editing. I have a lot more to learn,” she said, adding that after the training she plans to promote Mentawi women’s stories, particularly their effort in maintaining their culture, including the local food.

Aidil Ichlas, the trainer, said that beside the technical knowledge in journalistic and documentary video skills such as image recording and editing, participants area also trained to strengthen their empathy for problems faced by indigenous communities and environmental destruction.

“Because these participants will become citizen journalist who will report on the environmental conditions around them, we try to deepen their empathy or concern for their environment so that the content they produce carries an environmental perspective and also has a human side,” said Aidil who currently works for BeritaSatu TV.

“They remain enthusiastic despite of their simple equipment, they are all high spirited, perhaps because this represents a new knowledge for them,” said Aidil, appreciating the spirit and enthusiasm shown by participants, who came from various far corners of Siberut to take part.

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