The Other Side of the Story About Papua: Alex Waisimon and Papua Forest Rescue Efforts

In recent times, the issue of Papua has returned to the public. Through the momentum of the death of George Floyd, an American citizen of African descent. The hashtag #Blacklivematters is considered to raise awareness to stop racism against black people, including what happens to Indigenous Papuans. For anyone who is following the current developments in Papua, of course these events are considered not to be independent.

Perhaps the siege of the Papuan student dormitory in Surabaya in 2019 which then led to demonstrations by Indigenous Papuans (OAP) was one of the peaks. But that can’t be said to be the core of the problem. There are more complex and recurring problems starting from the beginning of integration, exacerbated during the New Order era and until the current Jokowi regime has not been completed. Furthermore, LIPI’s research results in 2009, entitled Papua Road Map: Negotiating the Past, Improving the Present and Securing the Future, are quite comprehensive documents discussing problems in Papua [1].

In this paper, the author will not discuss the problems that are currently busy again. For the author, it is very clear that LIPI stated in the recommendations of the results of its study on problems in Papua. It remains for the government to choose whether to consider recommendations or ignore them. The author realizes that there are things that are also important to raise to the public regarding the story of the struggle of Indigenous Papuans (OAP) who are defending their living space because they have been undermined by massive logging activities and attacked by oil palm plantation concessions. Yes, the story about Mr. Alex Waisimon and his efforts to save Papua’s forests.

The nightmare really happened. Not long ago, around the end of 2018, we met at his place at Rephang Muaif. Pak Alex shared that the forest around where he lived was under great pressure from loggers and plans for oil palm plantations. Despite the great pressure, Mr. Alex remains optimistic about the efforts he is making to save the environment around where he lives. One of his many hopes, he is eager to show especially to the government that there is the work of the country’s children, namely Orang Asli Papua (OAP) who are able to manage the forest and its environment so that it remains sustainable while also producing economic value without destroying the forest or bringing capital with its space-greedy investment.

Alex Waisimon figure with teary eyes in an interview (Photo: Forest Watch Indonesia 2018)

Getting to know Alex Waisimon

Who does not know Alex Waisimon, a 61 year old man from Nimbokrang Papua who speaks Javanese fluently. At the beginning of our meeting, he confidently opened the chat using Javanese with his distinctive accent. There have been many media reports about Mr. Alex Waisimon and his activities, and the world has even started to look at him. National and international awards have been won by Mr. Alex, starting from the Kalpataru award in 2017 from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to receiving the title of ASEAN biodiversity hero from the Asean Center for Biodiversity (ACB).

The current figure of Mr. Alex Waisimon, of course, cannot escape the various efforts he has gone through during his lifetime. From when he was young he migrated to Java to study (but did not finish) until he had to work as a tour guide and joined the International Labor Organization (ILO) which later drove him around the world. Not surprisingly, besides being fluent in local Papuan and even Javanese languages, he is very fluent in English. That is what then becomes his capital to return to his village and build a village by creating an ecotourism site.

The idea is in the form of ecotourism

Mr. Alex Waisimon’s concern about the condition of his hometown brought him back to his hometown in Papua, to be precise, in Yenggu Village, Nimbokrang District, Jayapura. In addition, he has committed to fulfill the promise given by his father, to go home and build a village. At that time around 2014, Mr. Alex returned to his hometown after nearly 30 years of wandering outside Papua.

Antenna Bird of Paradise show 12 (Twelve Wire Bird of Paradise) at the Birdwatching Isyo Hill location (Photo: Forest Watch Indonesia 2018)

Apart from that, Pak Alex also expressed his concern for the government which is always not taking sides with the community, especially the Orang Asli Papua (OAP). The government prefers to pave the way for capital entrepreneurs so that many things are not properly done, but they (the government) do such as opening oil palm plantations and cutting timber. However, it is not certain that the Papuan people need and understand this. They (Papuans) seem to have been cheated, because they (Papuans) have depleted forest products but they are still poor and have nothing.

Starting from this, Mr. Alex came up with an idea to save the local forest. The idea was raised in the form of ecotourism. The ecotourism path was chosen because it wanted to make an economic alternative to OAP so that there was no need to sell the forest to timber binders (entrepreneurs) [2].

Pak Alex realizes that indigenous Papuans (OAP) do not have anything, do not have the competence to do business, both in managing the shop economy and other fields. Pak Alex also emphasized that they are not left behind, but they don’t have it all. The characteristics of the community are that they are still subsistence (hunting and gathering) so that the forest is the dependence of the Papuan people (OAP) and they have been living from the forest for generations. It can be said that the forest has become a living space for Papuans.

Birdwatching ecotourism is an option because of the potential for the area around the Grime Valley which is inhabited by various types of birds. Since the 90s, this area (a location for birdwatching) has become a destination for expeditors looking for the existence of a crescent-shaped bird of paradise (Sicklebill bird of paradise). Furthermore, the background support is Pak Alex who has a lot of experience working in the tourism sector when he has long traveled.

Box. The story of the beginning of Mr. Alex Waisimon’s return to his hometown
At the beginning of his return to the village, Pak Alex tried to invite his family and siblings to stop cutting down forests. However, his idea received a negative response. Pak Alex was even kicked out and was considered by his own family to have gone mad. So that his arrival at that time only lasted 4 months in the village, he was not strong and returned to Denpasar Bali. Because it had become a commitment, Pak Alex decided to return to Jayapura but not to his hometown, but to the village next to where his brother-in-law lived, namely Rephang Muaif. Pak Alex’s struggle to build birdwatching ecotourism and encourage people to conserve the forest started from being considered a madman by his own family. According to his narrative, he deliberately hid behind a madman to secure himself, so that what he did was never taken seriously by people. Until one and a half years Mr. Alex hiding behind a madman. Of course, during that one and a half year journey, he had done a lot, such as collecting wood from the forest to make buildings, exploring bird watching points, and studying with an expert

Stone Rain Starts Turning Gold

After going through difficult times where he had to hide as a madman, Mr. Alex finally enjoyed the fruits of the hard work he had put into building Birdwatching Ecotourism. In 2015, Mr. Alex already has a tourist spot called Isyo Hill Birdwatching. Now, the place has become very famous. Every year nearly more than hundreds of people [3] consisting of tourists, researchers, photographers and students from various countries in the world come to see endemic birds in their place. Finally, the birdwatching isyo hill ecotourism area is being proposed as a tourist destination on a national scale by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism.

From the start, only a small building measuring 3×4 meters is where he lives, now slowly he has built facilities after facilities to support his tourism activities. At Isyo Hill Birdwatching, accommodation facilities are available in the form of cottages (lodging huts). Finally, there are about three cottage buildings and one large hall. In total there are about 18 rooms with a capacity of two people per room. Apart from accommodation, tourist facilities have also been built. Several bird watching sites have stood 15-20 meter high observation towers. The plan to create a nature school is also gradually being worked on. The last condition, the nature school building is under construction.

Mr. Alex’s mission to save the forest around where he lives is starting to get a bright spot. In 2018, the Isyo Hill Birdwatching ecotourism area was designated as a customary forest by the Regent of Jayapura through the Decree of the Regent of Jayapura Number 188.4 / 150 of 2018. The designated area is 19,000 hectares in the name of the Yawadatum customary law community. According to him, using the customary forest scheme to save forests is considered a sufficient way in accordance with the characteristics of OAP.

In addition, a study by WWF Indonesia revealed that in the birdwatching location Isyo hills and its surroundings there are 78 bird families. A total of 64 species with certain conservation and 49 species limited distribution only in New Guinea. There are at least four types of paradise found in Nimbokrang. This area is also included in the criteria as an important bird area (DPB). This means that the Nimbokrang area and its surroundings should be in the spotlight as a conservation priority area. But in reality, the existence of these endemic birds is being threatened due to forest function conversion [4].

It is no longer a threat to endemic birds, but more than that the living space for indigenous Papuans is being threatened

The condition of the forest in Grime Valley, Nimbokrang District and its surroundings has indeed been damaged. Massive logging occurs openly and is carried out by timber entrepreneurs with / without the consent of the forest owner (Orang Asli Papua). In addition, investment in the oil palm plantation industry covering an area of 32,000 hectares will put greater pressure on forests in Nimbokrang and its surroundings. In the end, this will add to the ecological damage and greater losses to the biodiversity and livelihoods of indigenous Papuans.

Impact of logging activities in birdwatching areas (Photo: Forest Watch Indonesia 2018)

Learning from many similar cases in other locations, the expansion of oil palm plantations by Kapital, which ignores local socio-ecological conditions has created conflicts and socio-ecological crises in local communities [5]. For this case, there are at least two arguments that support this;

First, the conversion of forest land to oil palm plantations will eliminate biodiversity, especially the habitat of endemic birds. Where, the location of the planned oil palm concession includes spots for Papua endemic birds which are usually used by Mr. Alex Waisimon to take tourists to observe. So that indirectly the presence of the concession will eliminate the community’s economic resources that come from local initiatives (birdwatching ecotourism).

Second, more than that, the living space and sources of livelihood for indigenous Papuans are threatened with destruction and loss. The relationship between indigenous Papuans and agrarian sources, especially land and forests, has a very strong attachment. For Papuans, land has been considered as mother because it has historical value and provides a source of livelihood for them (water, food and shelter). Which then has taken root into a culture in the community. This connection is manifested in the behavior of community life activities that are still subsistence in style as well as local traditions in managing their local natural resources. So that when forests are destroyed and converted to function through massive logging or clearing for plantations, the livelihoods of indigenous Papuans are damaged. Even worse, the cultural and spiritual attachments between the Papuan people and their land have been lost.

In short, the author would like to convey that the efforts made by Mr. Alex Waisimon in making community economic alternatives and saving forests through birdwatching ecotourism are very important to be supported. Furthermore, through his work, he can change the stigma regarding Papua which until now has always been considered bad. Lastly and repeatedly, Mr. Alex Waisimon wants to show in particular to the government that there is the work of the country’s children, namely Orang Asli Papua (OAP) who are able to manage forests and their environment so that they are sustainable while also producing economic value without destroying the forest. The hope is simple, seeing his place (Isyo Hill) can be an example for the children of any nation, regardless of their ethnicity.


Aziz Fardhani Jaya

[1] Muridan S. Widjojo. 2009. Papua Road Map: Negotiating the Past, Improving the Present and Securing the Future. LIPI: Jakarta

[2] Kondisi terakhir sekitar tahun 2018, banyak OAP yang menggadaikan hutannya untuk ditebangi oleh para penebang kayu demi mendapatkan sejumlah uang tunai

[3] Jumlah kunjungan wisatawan ekowisata Bird watching Isyo Hill 2014-2018 dalam Dokumen presentasi Alex Waisimon dalam acara ICBE pada Maret 2018 di Manokwari, Papua Barat



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