BIAK, a southern island in Indonesia inhabited by the members of the Abrauw clan. They have lived on the island for over 15 generations. They depend on the island’s natural resources for a living. Their land on Biak island is everything to them. But now they fear they are going to lose everything, as Indonesia plans to make the island a hub to pursue its longstanding quest to join the space race.
Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, last you approached SpaceX’s founder, Elon on the idea of launching rockets from Indonesia. Mr. Musk has made no public comment regarding this yet. Though the Indonesian government hasn’t mentioned a site, they have tried again and again to promote Biak as a potential rocket launching site.
The Indonesian government claims to have accrued 250 acres of land on the island years ago and had plans to build a spaceport there since 2017. But the Clan leaders disagreed with this and claimed that those lands are ancestral and belong to them. They say that the project would drive them out of their homes.
Indonesia has been criticized before for starting new projects without having regard for the ecosystem. And this project is no different. Building a spaceport in Biak poses a threat to the island’s thousand-year-old natural ecosystem. The island is home to some of the world’s most endangered animals: Javan Rhino and bewaen deer being two of them. A tribe leader expressed his concern regarding this “Buiding a spaceport would mean cutting trees in a protected forest, disturbing the habitat of endangered birds and evicting the Abrauw .”
“The position of the Indigenous people is clear: We reject the plan,” said Apolos Sroyer, chief of the Biak Customary Council, an assembly of clan chiefs. “We don’t want to lose our farms because of this spaceport. We don’t eat satellites. We eat taro, and fish from the sea. That is our way of life for generations. Tell Elon Musk that’s our stance.”
The Abrauw clan is one of the 360 tribes living on the Biak island. The island can be compared to the size of Maui. Most of these people live in the village of Warbon , a mile and a half away from the proposed spaceport site. The abrauws main livelihood is fishing and forging. They sometimes cultivate on the rainforest land. The rainforest trees are sacred to the clan members, So even if a spaceport is built the trees would be off-limit, as well as the beach where they fish.
These lands and trees are very sacred to the Abrauw clan, It marks the origin of the clan.“For Papuans, land is identity,” said Marthen Abrauw, the clan chief, as he sat in the shade of the sacred tree on a recent afternoon. “We will lose our identity, and no other clan will accept us on their land. Where will our children and grandchildren go?”Some people have found jobs in other parts of Indonesia, But the clan still has 90 members.
The Governments stance
The Indonesian officials say Biak, just 70 miles south of the Equator and facing the Pacific, would be ideal for launching rockets. “This is our wealth,” said Biak’s regent, Herry Ario Naap, who is pushing for the spaceport. “Other regions may have oil or gold. We are given a strategic geographical location.”
Mr. Joko bolstered Indonesia’s space program by increasing its budget and placing it under the new National Research and Innovation Agency. Laksana Tri Handoko, the agency chairman, who personally inspected the Biak site last month, said that the island remained a viable choice but that building the large spaceport he envisioned would require 10 times as much land. Controversy over the Biak site could prompt him to select an alternate location, such as Morotai island, about 550 miles northwest of Biak.
The space agency said that it had previously bought 250 acres of land in the Biak but the clan leaders deny such claims, saying the men who sold the land had no right to sell it in the first place. The space agency also said that biak would create new jobs and thus lead to economic development in the region. This would be beneficial to the tribes. But the tribe leaders weren’t to keen on the topic.“They say the spaceport project will create jobs, but there is no space expert in our clan and in our villages,” a clan leader said. “What they mean is three years of cutting down trees, removing roots and digging foundations. After that, there will be a feast to say goodbye to us and then only those with an access card can enter the area.”