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Uncontacted Tribe Confronts Developers in Dramatic Video

Uncontacted Tribe Indonesia
Members of the tribe confront a bulldozer. Credit: Survival International

Members of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa tribe in Indonesia have been filmed recently confronting developers who tear up their forest.

Logging and mining operations on the Indonesian island are now penetrating the rainforest of uncontacted Hongana Manyawa people.

The footage was recently shot by a worker who was part of a team logging the land ahead of it being mined for nickel. Two Hongana Manyawa men cautiously approach the digger from afar, waving their weapons to express that their presence is not welcome. In response, the bulldozer drivers rev up their engines, causing the men to flee.

“It’s particularly shocking because we didn’t know that that part of the forest had been penetrated already by the companies. It’s happening much faster than we anticipated,” Callum Russell, Asia Research and Advocacy Officer at Survival International, told IFLScience.

The uncontacted tribe “People of the Forest”

The Hongana Manyawa are an uncontacted tribe whose name means “People of the Forest” in their language. There are an estimated 300 to 500 uncontacted members of the tribe, as well as 3,000 Hongana Manyawa people who were contacted in the 1980s and maintain some contact with the wider world.

They live on Halmahera, an Indonesian island that just so happens to be sitting on one of the world’s largest reserves of nickel. In recent years, the demand for nickel has skyrocketed due to its use in electric car batteries, bringing this once-quiet island to the attention of international mining corporations.

Weda Bay Nickel, a company partly owned by French mining company Eramet, started mining operations on the island in 2019, and they have significant plans to ramp up their efforts in the decades to come, IFLScience reports.

“Eramet – if you can imagine such an oxymoronic thing – sees themselves the Greta Thunberg of mining companies. They think they’re the good guys who are mining for electric car batteries,” Russell explained.

“The German chemical company BASF is looking to partner with them in Halmahera to do a big smelting project. Basically, they’re going to make the nickel into a grade that can be used for electric car batteries. Again, it’s this greenwashing stuff,” he added speaking to the publication.

“It’s a deep irony that these people literally call themselves Hongana Manyawa – ‘People of the Forest’ – and yet they’re the ones being destroyed in the name of the green transition,” continued Russell.

Weda Bay Nickel has argued that their mining concessions are nowhere near the lands inhabited by uncontacted people. However, Survival International claims they have leaked internal documents showing that the company commissioned anthropologists who warned about the presence of uncontacted Hongana Manyawa people in and around the area.

Destruction of the surrounding environment isn’t the only problem facing the Hongana Manyawa. Their isolation from the wider world means they have little to no immunity to the common diseases we regularly come across in the industrialized world, meaning their population could easily be decimated by an infection, IFLScience reports.

With outsiders increasingly encroaching on their land, they run the very real risk of exposing the Hongana Manyawa to fatal disease outbreaks.

Related: The Last and Most Isolated Stone Age Tribe in the World

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