Indonesian Indigenous Studies

On the Reclamation in South Sulawesi: Reformulating the Relationality of Human and Nature

Zulfikarni Bakri

Following recent news on social media, the flooding that struck South Sulawesi on 13 February 2023 and the heavy rainfall for seven days was the worst flood within the last 20 years.  Interestingly, the mayor of Makassar responded ridiculously to those who assume that the flood is just a ‘puddle’ brought on by the siltation of all rivers and canals in Makassar. It demonstrated the government’s inability to discern the cause and effect of their poor environmental management there, which modifies the construction of infrastructure, such as the enormous land reclamation along the Makassar coast. In this case, the reclamation significantly affects the marine ecosystems as well as the life of the people around there.

This essay is my reflection as a native of South Sulawesi on the annual flood that affects Makassar. I emphasize that this phenomenon or symptom of an ecological crisis must be reconsidered, re-examined, and followed up on in order to prevent worse long-term damage. Therefore, I employ the indigenous religion paradigm to address the aforementioned ecology crises due to the reclamation. This paradigm is important because it explains the proximity in the relationship between humans and nature which is contrary to the world religion paradigm that focuses more on a hierarchical system—seeing humans and nature as subjects and objects. In addition, according to Bagir et al. (2021) in Varieties of Religion and Ecology, religion is somewhat responsible for the ecological problem, especially the world religion paradigm.  Thus, the indigenous religion paradigm as an alternative framework is useful to observe multiple viewpoints on nature, including the intersubjectivity in the relationship between humans and nature.

Reclamation in the Guise of Religious Tourism

The coast of Makassar has been extensively targeted for reclamation since 2003. Aspan (2017) argues that this has caused coral reef damage that exceeds 60 percent. Nevertheless, in 2016 the construction of CPI (Center Point of Indonesia) which covers 157 hectares above the sea is still underway. This development gives substantial advantages to corporations and also the government as it issues licenses. In addition, the government’s involvement in the reclamation and destruction of the underwater ecosystem is strong evidence that they are less concerned about endangering the environment in South Sulawesi. Moreover, Law No. 32/2009 on environmental protection and management (PPLH) is not considered.

One of the buildings with wonderful structures is currently the luxurious icon which is the heart of Makassar city and a religious tourism building (mosque) that stands firmly with 99 domes in the Center Point of Indonesia (CPI) area. The claim of religious tourism to the mosque as an idea that focuses on raising one’s level of spirituality by visiting religious places becomes a new trend. On the other hand, this claim also transforms the social, economic, and cultural aspects of the local people. Unfortunately, this religious-based development actually strengthens the power of the majority population (muslims) in South Sulawesi.

In relation to this fact, I suggest that this mosque also demonstrates the use of religion as a means of quelling the protest of people. It refers to the indignation of coastal residents who must be relocated, neglected, and lose their homes and fishing areas as their source of income, traditions, and identity as fishers. In response to this, WALHI (Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia) strongly argues that this mosque is a symbol of eviction as well as environmental degradation along the coast. As I write this essay, the reclamation protest is still ongoing on a neighboring island such as Lae-lae Island.

The concept of religious tourism of the 99 Dome Mosque only portrays the relationship between humans and God, while subordinating nature’s position. It is contrary to the concept offered by the indigenous people, for example, the Ammatoan community in South Sulawesi. In the indigenous religion paradigm, the concept that is endorsed is more in the form of ecotourism. This ecotourism concept is intimately linked to environmental and cultural preservation. Ammatoan community, for instance, presents hutan adat (customary forest) as not only an object but also a space with sacred values. The sustainability of their local community, culture, and religion depends heavily on the forest which is fundamental for their livelihood. In other words, it is important to instill ecological concern in visitors who want to visit religious tourism sites.

Reformulating Human and Nature Relations

The influence of world religions provides a view of the relationship between humans (culture) and nature with a cosmological hierarchy that views subject-object relations. Religion plays a big role in compartmentalizing the relationship between the supernatural (God), culture (human), and nature. Similar to Bruno Latour and Lynn White’s notions in connecting the development of modernity that is more inclined to the power of technology over nature. Both see that ecological crisis is a product of the way of thinking of modern society that compartmentalizes nature separately from humans. In the multi-aspects approach, Latour focuses on the interaction between nature and humans within the anthropological perspective through the use of the representation of human-nonhuman hybrids. However, since the concept of inter-relationality is ignored in the modern ways of thinking, he asserts the need of revisiting the position of agents, roles, and power relations through the lens of political ecology.

White considers the trend of the ecological catastrophe to be heavily impacted by Christianity. The advancements of science and technology in the early modern age mostly apply the framework of Christian theology. In reality, mere contemporary science and technological advancements are incapable to resolve the ecological crisis but rather lead to more catastrophic outcomes. Furthermore, White stresses that, in reaction to the present ecological catastrophe, it is important to determine which religious community is targeted, discover a new religion, or re-evaluate the existing religion. Therefore, these two offers from Latour and White are used in this essay to understand the ecological crisis in Makassar which is not only about the destruction of the marine ecosystem and exploitation of natural resources but also about the violation of the rights of local people in regard to the multiple aspects mentioned above, including religion.  

Indigenous Religion in Seeing Relationality

Contrary to the world religion paradigm which views nature as distinct from humans, the indigenous religion paradigm is more ethical, seeing the interaction of humans and nature forms a circle of interconnectedness. Quoting Shawn Wilson (1966), he explains:

“Indigenous peoples and their traditions and customs, they are shaped by the environment, the land, their relationship; their spiritual, emotional and physical relationship to that land. It speaks to them; it gives them their responsibility for stewardship.”

This highlights the responsible relationship that indigenous people have with their environment, reducing the likelihood that they will harm their own territory.

Responding to the ecological disaster occurring in Makassar, local people there can actually borrow the values from the Ammatoan community with their indigenous perspective. The fact that Ammatoan people consider the land as a ‘mother’, causes them to highly respect, admire, cherish, and protect the ‘mother’ for the land provides all necessities of life. Therefore, as indigenous people, they practice intersubjectivity values to interact with nature. Like the ecotourism promoted by the Ammatoan, this concept can provide an alternative to counter the problematic concept of religious tourism in 99 Dome Mosque.

In conclusion, referring to relationality in the teachings of the Ammatoan oral tradition, they voice out “Punna nitabbangi kajua ri boronga Ang’ngurangi bosi, appatanrei tumbusu,” which roughly translated: cutting down trees in the forest will decrease the rainfall, and dry the springs. This indicates that the ecological crisis is caused by the way humans define nature in their lives. Consequently, all activities that damage nature will affect the human life cycle as nature has its own way of responding to human actions.

Zulfikarni Bakri is a graduate student in the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS), Graduate School, Universitas Gadjah Mada

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