Pekik Burung Kedasi di Tepi Kahayan

Born in Ponorogo, East Java, on October 21, 1977, widely-published author Han Gagas is an alumnus of the Faculty of Geodesy at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. His short stories have appeared in mass media such as Horison, Kompas, Tempo, Republika, and Suara Merdeka. His novel Orang-orang Gila was published by Buku Mojok in 2018. In June 2021, Interlude Publishers published his latest work, Sepasang Mata Gagak di Yerusalem, a short story collection. Balada Sepasang Kekasih Gila was the winner of the 2020 Falcon Script Hunt competition, and Falcon Pictures has signed to turn the novel into a movie. Gagas’s travel journal, titled Adzan di Israel, will be published by Ivory Publishers at the end of 2021.

Han Gagas currently lives in Solo, Central Java. Aside from working on his own writing, he also manages an online publication Nongkrong.co He can be reached at han.gagas@gmail.com

 

 

Pekik Burung Kedasi di Tepi Kahayan

 

Setelah berkuliah selama lima tahun di Yogyakarta, Mawinei baru bisa pulang kampung ke desanya yang terletak jauh di pedalaman Kalimantan Tengah. Dia menyimpan kerinduan yang amat sangat pada keluarga dan kawan-kawan masa kecilnya yang mengajaknya berkumpul kembali.

Kerinduan yang begitu kuat membuatnya rela menempuh perjalanan panjang dengan bis kota dari Yogyakarta ke Surabaya, kemudian naik kapal laut sehari semalam ke Pelabuhan Sampit, di Kalimantan Tengah. Dari sini, dia menempuh jalur darat dengan bis kota ke Palangkaraya dan berlanjut ke kampungnya yang terletak di Kabupaten Gunung Mas di tepi Sungai Kahayan. Di kendaraan, dia mendengar para penumpang sedang membicarakan pembukaan Asian Games 2018 di Jakarta yang dibuka Presiden Jokowi dengan meriah saat dia masih di kapal laut semalam.

Semua orang menyambut kedatangan Mawinei sebagai satu-satunya perempuan yang jadi sarjana di kampung ini. Mawinei diharapkan bisa mengangkat mutu kehidupan orang tuanya, juga kaum di desanya sebagai keturunan Dayak Ngaju. Rumah betang, rumah panjang Dayak, dihiasi janur dan ramai didatangi banyak orang, termasuk Danum, Simpei, dan Ekot. Mereka adalah anak tetangga dan teman main Mawinei sejak anak-anak.

Berbagai makanan tersaji. Masakan kesukaan yang diharapkan Mawinei juga ada. Kandas sarai, sambal serai yang dicampur dengan ikan baung bakar, menjadi pelepas kerinduannya akan kelezatan masakan Dayak yang khas. Mawinei mendekati Danum yang berkumpul dengan Simpei dan Ekot. Mereka makan bersama sambil bersendau gurau. Bapak-bapak mengobrol dan tertawa terbahak-bahak sembari minum baram, minuman keras yang terbuat dari peragian air beras dan singkong. Baram dalam botol dituangkan dalam gelas-gelas kecil yang beredar dari satu tangan pria ke tangan pria lain. Semua terlihat bergembira, makan bersama.

Namun, Mawinei merasa ada yang lain, ada sesuatu yang tengah terjadi, yang belum dia ketahui. Dalam kegembiraan orang-orang itu, Mawinei merasakan ada kegelisahan yang samar yang coba disembunyikan. Sejak kecil, Mawinei seperti memiliki kepekaan menduga kecemasan.

Benar pula, sehari setelah Mawinei tiba di kampungnya, ketakutan menyeruak tiba-tiba di pagi buta, saat Mina, Bibi, Sanja berteriak minta tolong. “Tolong! Hanjak, Hanjak berak darah!”

Kabut pagi berangsur menghilang berganti dengan terang tanah. Orang-orang berdatangan. Tampak Mina Sanja kebingungan, wajahnya dibasahi air mata.

Balian, bapa dukun, segera dipanggil. Lelaki tua itu datang dengan raut muka tenang. Dia duduk dan mulai menyandah, menerawang untuk melihat sebab penyakit. Dia melanjutkannya dengan upacara sangiang, pengobatan dengan bantuan roh leluhur. Tubuh kurus balian terlihat bergetar seperti kerasukan roh. Setelah kembali tersadar, dia berbicara dengan pembantu utamanya dalam urusan perdukunan. Lelaki itu segera berlari mengajak para tetangga masuk hutan, mendongkel beberapa tanaman untuk diambil akar dan dedaunannya.

Daun dan akar rumput bulu ditumbuk, lalu dibalurkan di pusar Hanjak. Ada pula yang menyeduh dedaunan itu, dan air saringannya diminumkan ke Hanjak. Akar halalang dan bopot turut pula ditumbuk dan diseduh dengan air panas, kemudian diminumkan. Ketiga jenis tanaman ini diyakini sebagai obat sakit perut dan muntaberak, serta dapat mengatasi pendarahan.

Sehari kemudian, anehnya, keadaan Hanjak memburuk. Mina Sanja bingung bukan kepalang. Walau muntahberaknya berhenti, suhu tubuh Hanjak masih panas sekali. Biasanya, setelah diobati balian, orang sakit jadi sembuh. Namun kali ini keadaan tidak berubah jadi baik. Seperti ada keganjilan yang terjadi.

Udara memang terasa lebih menyengat kulit, dan angin seperti jarang berembus. Alam seperti berubah, tidak seperti biasanya. Langit sepenuhnya biru, tidak ada awan bergerombol sedikit pun. Burung kedasih yang dipercayai penduduk sebagai penanda keburukan dan kematian bercokol di pucuk pohon meranti, berbunyi nyaring, suaranya seperti memekik-mekik.

Paras wajah Hanjak tampak pucat dan bibirnya membiru. Tubuhnya kejang-kejang hebat, matanya terbelalak, dadanya tersengal-sengal seperti orang yang kehabisan napas. Tanpa siapapun duga, Hanjak mengembuskan napas terakhir.

Mina Sanja hanya mampu menangis.

***

Sehari setelah Hanjak dimakamkan, Danum datang berkunjung Mawinei. Mawinei tersenyum sumringah. Mereka kawan karib selama bersekolah di SD Bukit Tunggal, dan telah lama tidak berakrab-akraban lagi. Sebelum pergi kuliah, Mawinei juga bersekolah SMA di Palangkaraya., Karena jaraknya jauh, dia kos di sana, sedangkan Danum tetap tinggal di desa. Orang tuanya tidak memiliki biaya untuk menyekolahkannya tinggi-tinggi. Untuk sekian tahun, kedua dara ini pun tidak bisa bertemu karena terpisahkan jarak.

Narai kabar, apa kabar?” kata Danum dengan hati senang, senyumnya merekah lebar. Dia memeluk erat Mawinei yang balas memeluknya dengan hangat.

Kabar bahalap, en ikau kenampi, kabarku baik, dan kamu? Mawinei memegang kedua bahu Danum, lalu melangkah mundur dan menatap temannya dengan saksama.

Danum tersenyum lebar. Sambil memegang lengan Mawinei, dia berkata, “Kabarkuh bahalap.”

Mereka melepas pelukan, dan duduk bersebelahan di kursi serambi.

“Udara terasa panas ya…” kata Mawinei sambil mengipas-ngipaskan jemarinya ke muka.

“Iya.” Danum terlihat sedih. Dia menarik napas panjang lalu berkata, “awalnya aku kira cuaca yang panas ini membawa penyakit pada warga. Namun, setelah apa yang terjadi pada Hanjak, kemarin, aku yakin semua ini karena Sungai Kahayan yang kotor.”

“Kahayan kotor?” tanya Mawinei sambil menatap sepasang mata Danum yang resah.

“Kau belum tahu, sungai yang kita sering main dulu, kini sangat kotor, airnya bikin gatal-gatal. Tambang-tambang itu buang limbah ke sungai.”

“Tambang?” tanya Mawinei tidak mengerti.

Danum mengangguk mantap.

Benar pula, Mawinei melihat sebagian besar anak yang bermain gundu kakinya busik, korengan.

“Kau sarjana ilmu lingkungan kan, kau bisa teliti air sungai nanti,” kata Danum. Mawinei mengangguk sambil tersenyum.

***

Mawinei dan Danum melangkah melewati kebun durian dan rotan milik Bapa Dukun. Setelah melewati pohon cempedak yang buahnya sering mereka nikmati semasa kecil, mereka tiba di setapak penuh rerumputan. Tampak beberapa huma di lereng bukit terlihat kehijauan penuh kebun sayur yang subur.

Langkah mereka tiba di bibir sungai, dan terkejutlah Mawinei ketika melihat sungai. “Wah, airnya coklat!” teriaknya.

“Sudah tak jernih seperti dulu, padahal lima tahun lalu masih jernih. Katanya karena lahan gambut di hulu sana yang bikin coklat,” kata Danum dengan muka yang sedih.

“Bukan, dulu sungai ini jernih, aneh, sekarang seperti berlumpur,” selidik Mawinei sambil menatap pinggiran sungai.

“Kau masih ingat kan, dulu masa kita kecil, juga kadang minum air sungai ini, tanpa pakai direbus, perut juga tak sakit.” Suara Danum bergetar. Dia mengarahkan pandangannya jauh mengikuti alur sungai yang seperti lumpur cair dengan garis-garis berkilauan di permukaannya.

Mawinei mengangguk. Ingatannya merawang ke waktu masa sekolah dasarnya. Bersama Simpei, Ekot, dan anak-anak lain, mereka sering bermain di situ saat sungai mendangkal. Air sangat jernih dan surut meninggalkan pinggiran yang landai, berpasir agak putih ⸺ tidak berlumpur seperti ini. Mereka asyik bermain pengantin-pengantinan. Danum jadi pasangannya Simpei. Ekot jadi penghulu, dipasangi jenggot dari sabut kelapa di dagunya dengan cara dilem dengan pulut. Si penghulu duduk di gundukan pasir yang dibentuk seperti singgasana. Mawinei jadi saksi pernikahan, ditambah seorang anak lain. Beberapa anak menonton sambil cekikikan.

Hujan yang sebelumnya gerimis, tiba-tiba berubah deras dalam waktu cepat. Upacara perkawinan anak-anak itu langsung buyar. Mereka berlarian cepat untuk kembali ke betang, tetapi jalan setapak sungguh licin membuat sebagian bocah terjatuh dengan bokong kesakitan. Mereka yang tidak jatuh, menertawainya. Sesampainya di rumah, semua anak dimarahi orang tuanya masing-masing. Pagi buta saat berangkat sekolah, sebagian memperlihatkan pahanya yang memerah bekas cubitan ibunya.

Mawinei tersenyum-senyum saat mengingat kejadian itu.

Danum menepuk bahu Mawinei, menyadarkannya dari lamunan.

“Seperti ada bau, tercemar ini,” kata Mawinei setelah mendekatkan tangkupan air di tangan ke hidungnya. Air sungai tampak berminyak, ada cairan tertentu yang tidak menyatu dengan air. Angin berembus kencang. Rambut Mawinei yang sepinggang sebagian berterbangan, menutupi parasnya yang tampak prihatin. Tangannya segera merapikan rambutnya kembali. Dia berkata, “Aku ingin lihat tambang yang kau katakan. Mari kita pergi ke sana.”

“Jangan, jauh di hulu,” kata Danum mencegah, sebelum lanjut, “harus naik perahu. Besok saja sambil ajak Ekot dan Simpei.”

***

Besok paginya, sesudah subuh, Mawinei telah bersama Danum. Simpei dan Ekot juga sudah bergabung. Mereka berempat berkumpul di jalan masuk dermaga kecil di pinggir sungai. Lanting-lanting mulai terlihat. Rumah-rumah yang berdiri di atas sungai itu mengandalkan tiang-tiang kayu ulin yang kokoh, serta didirikan di atas gelondongan kayu dan ditambatkan pada pohon atau tonggak-tonggak yang ditanam di daratan tepi sungai. Beberapa perahu tertambat di pokok-pokok kayu atau tiang-tiang beton. Beberapa lentera di perahu dan di lanting-lanting yang belum dimatikan, masih berpendar syahdu.

Mawinei bersama teman-temannya berniat berangkat pagi-pagi agar waktu lebih panjang karena berharap bisa kembali ke rumah sebelum gelap malam. Gelapnya subuh menuju pagi tidak membuat mereka takut, justru merasa segar.

Mereka berjalan mendekati pinggir sungai, menyusuri dermaga kecil dengan papan-papan kayu dari ulin sebagai jembatan yang menghubungkan perahu dan kapal. Gelaran air sungai yang sebelumnya gelap mulai berkilauan oleh sinar matahari pagi. Ufuk timur berwarna kuning terang. Cahaya matahari yang lembut, membuat orang-orang tampak bersemangat di pagi hari itu.

Seorang bapak mendekati Ekot, dan berbicara tentang harga, sambil menunjuk beberapa perahu ketinting yang tertambat di tepi sungai. Ekot menyanggupi. Mereka menyewa perahu khas Kalimantan yang bisa menampung empat sampai sepuluh orang itu untuk menyusuri sungai hingga sejauh mungkin ke hulu.

Air muka Mawinei tampak sangat gembira, sudah lama dia tidak menyusuri sungai dengan perahu ketinting.

Danum juga terlihat senang saat masuk perahu.

“Kau masih ingat nggak, dulu sering renang di situ,” tunjuk Ekot ke sungai belakang lanting-lanting.

“Iya, tentu, di situ kan?” tunjuk Simpei ke lanting paling besar di antara lanting-lanting lain.

“Oh ya, betul.” Wajah Ekot jadi cerah, tampak gembira membicarakan masa anak-anak yang bahagia.

“Tapi kau takut jumpalitan, payah, kau hanya berani terjun, hahaha,” ejek Simpei.

“Ya lompatanlah,” balas Ekot.

“Iya tapi jumpalitan takut, wekwekwek.” Simpei memukul lengan Ekot membuatnya mengaduh sakit.

Namun, sedetik kemudian Ekot tidak lagi meringis kesakitan, tapi nyengir cengengesan.

“Iya, ngaku kalah, tapi siapa yang berani renang menyeberang, ayo siapa?” ledeknya. Dan Simpei pun terpaksa mengangguk sambil menunjuk Ekot. Memang Ekot anak paling berani berenang menyeberang sungai walaupun arusnya deras. Anak-anak lain takut keterbawa arus. Mereka hanya berenang sepanjang tepian.

Mereka, sebagaimana anak-anak Kalimantan lain di tepi Sungai Kahayan, tidak perlu belajar renang pada siapa pun. Kehidupan nenek moyang mereka tidak pernah jauh dari kehidupan sungai. Sejak bayi, mereka sudah dimandikan di sungai. Oleh ibu, tubuh mereka diapung-apungkan di air, sehingga secara alami sejak kecil sudah pandai mengapung. Makin beranjak besar, biasanya sepulang sekolah pada siang jelang sore hari, saat masih terik, mereka akan terjun ke sungai, berenang sepuasnya, dengan gaya apa pun yang mereka bisa lakukan. Ada gaya katak, lumba-lumba, bebas, macam-macamlah, yang penting bisa berenang dan tidak tenggelam. Sesekali mereka juga membawa bola untuk permainan, lempar sana lempar sini, diperebutkan.

Juru mudi perahu duduk paling belakang mengendalikan perahu dengan mesinnya, terkadang menggeser tungkai mesin ke kiri dan ke kanan mengikuti jalur sungai.

Ekot duduk paling depan, disusul Simpei, Mawinei, dan Danum.

Suara mesin menderu, menyibak air, menciptakan arus dan mendorong perahu melaju kencang. Zaman dulu, perahu didayung dengan bilah kayu ulin yang liat dan kuat. Kini alat yang canggih telah memudahkan manusia untuk bisa cepat sampai tujuan.

Sungai membentang lebar kecoklatan. Gelaran airnya beriak-riak. Beberapa perahu melintas berlawanan arah. Di antaranya seorang nelayan dengan jala di perahunya, tampak hendak menjaring ikan di sungai.

Di bantaran kedua sisi sungai, tumbuh pepohonan lebat. Rimbunan bambu, serta pohon buah-buahan macam pisang, nangka, durian, karamunting, dan jambu monyet juga banyak tumbuh.

Tanah Kalimantan yang bergambut merupakan lahan subur untuk pohon-pohon buah semacam itu. Sungai besar ini mengalir sepanjang enam ratus kilometer dari Pegunungan Muller atau Pegunungan Raya yang membelah Palangkaraya, Kabupaten Pulang Pisau, dan Kabupaten Gunung Mas di Kalimantan Tengah, sampai akhirnya bermuara di Laut Jawa.

Simpei mengeluarkan rokoknya, mengambilnya sebatang. Korek api digeretnya, lalu ujung rokok itu disentuhkannya pada api. Simpei mengisap dalam-dalam rokoknya, lalu memberikan bungkusan rokok beserta koreknya kepada Ekot.

Ekot menolak halus.

Wajah Simpei tampak nikmat setelah mengisap rokok sembari menikmati empasan angin di atas perahu yang melaju.

Pohon loa, yang kokoh dan besar, sesekali terlihat di tepi sungai menjadi tameng agar pinggiran sungai tidak tergerus. Buah-buahnya yang merah disukai monyet, tupai, dan burung.,

Perahu makin menjauhi permukiman. Lanting-lanting sudah tidak kelihatan. Sesekali terdengar bunyi burung-burung dan pekik bekantan dari hutan. Pinggir-pinggir sungai masih ditumbuhi pepohonan dan rimbunan hutan karamunting.

Mereka menyusuri sungai di bawah jembatan dan makin melaju menuju hulu. Wajah pinggir-pinggir sungai mulai berbeda. Daratan pinggir sungai banyak terbuka lebar oleh kegiatan masyarakat. Air terlihat makin coklat dan berbuih.

“Orang-orang sukanya ikut-ikutan, karena harga karet mahal, semua pada nanam karet, hutan pada ditebangi untuk diganti kebun karet. Kini orang-orang pada keblinger menanam sawit, kalau sawit milik rakyat tak seberapa, tapi kalau milik perusahaan sampai ribuan hektar, pohon-pohon hutan habis ditebangi,” keluh Ekot.

“Harga karet sudah lama turun, orang-orang tak mau menyadap getah karet lagi, sekarang lihat, kerjaan masyarakat cari emas,” tunjuk Simpei.

Di daratan terlihat kegiatan masyarakat menambang emas. Tanah-tanah di pinggir sungai telah rusak, tidak ada kehijaun tanaman sama sekali. Tanah berlumpur coklat menciptakan air berbuih yang kotor. Daratan jadi becek, penuh kubangan air coklat. Alat tambang, sebuah kotak yang menyambung panjang dan lurus untuk “menangkap” emas, menjulur hingga ke sungai.

Gubuk-gubuk penambang berserakan di dekat mesin diesel. Dan selang-selang besar menggelontorkan air ke bawah. Tanah-tanah bagian atas sungai tergerus dengan kocoran air yang disemburkan oleh selang-selang raksasa, membuat daratan pinggir sungai longsor dan langsung terjun ke sungai, tak hanya menciptakan kerusakan sungai tapi juga pendangkalan.

Bahkan sebagian alat-alat tambang itu berdiri di atas sungai, berlandaskan kayu-kayu ulin seperti rumah-rumah lanting. Pipa-pipa membentang ke sana-sini, mencurahkan air kotor, menggempur tanah, dan membuang segala lumpur langsung ke sungai.

Sungai tidak hanya berlumpur, tetapi juga bercampur dengan minyak tumpahan solar sisa mesin diesel. Kilau-kilau minyak di permukaan air sungai memendar berwarna kebiruan tersapu cahaya matahari, mengilat-ngilat berbentuk bundaran-bundaran yang kemudian hanyut menjauh. Mesin terus menderu, tanpa henti, menggaruk tanah dasar sungai yang diyakini ada bijih-bijih emas. Kilau-kilau minyak itu bercampur dengan merkuri yang sangat berbahaya bagi lingkungan hidup. Dengan memanfaatkan sifat merkuri yang berupa air raksa sebagai pelarut, nantinya emas akan dengan sendirinya terpisahkan dari bebatuan lainnya.

“Berarti karena tambang-tambang ini yang bikin perut anak-anak sakit, pada gatal-gatal semua, karena merkuri,” kata Mawinei.

Danum mengangguk mantap.

Perahu mereka berjalan pelan. Ekot mengeluarkan kameranya, dan sesekali dengan diam-diam memotret kegiatan tambang emas itu. Beberapa penambang tampak waspada saat perahu mereka agak dekat.

“Kini hal sama terulang, bukan Belanda atau Jepang yang kita lawan, tapi keserakahan manusia merusak alam, dan yang paling menyedihkan mereka sebangsa dengan kita,” kata Ekot sedih.

“Anugerah Tuhan sesungguhnya tak pernah sepadan dengan uang,” tambah Mawinei.

Perahu terus melaju, dan Mawinei tampak makin prihatin melihat begitu banyak tambang bertebaran di pinggir-pinggir sungai. Sekelompok orang menjalankan alat yang berbeda dengan sebelumnya yang mereka lihat, ditambah kapal keruk dan pompa air. Alat itu makin besar daya rusaknya dalam menggerus bibir sungai, menciptakan lumpur dan endapan-endapan kotor yang jauh lebih banyak. Di sepanjang bantaran sungai, terdapat banyak lubang menganga berisi lumpur.

“Besok aku akan menemui Idris, kawanku di LSM. Kita tak bisa biarkan ini terus terjadi,” kata Ekot.

“Kalian belum tahu yang terjadi di hutan sana,” Simpei menunjuk ke ladang gundul di perbukitan samping kanan dari sungai dan lanjut, “itu tambang batubara yang jauh lebih besar membuat hutan gundul. Tak hanya itu, juga kebun sawit milik perusahaan,” tambah Simpei.

“Iya itu juga. Beberapa anak mati tenggelam saat bermain di bekas galian tambang yang dibiarkan terbengkalai,” sahut Ekot dengan wajah meredam amarah.

“Yang jadi danau itu?” tanya Simpei.

Ekot mengangguk.

“Kita tak bisa biarkan semua kejahatan ini terus berlangsung!” teriak Mawinei

***

Beberapa hari kemudian, Idris, Ekot, dan Mawinei menemui pegawai pemerintah daerah yang bertugas mengurusi bagian pertambangan. Danum dan Simpei terpaksa menunggu di luar karena hanya dibatasi tiga orang yang bisa masuk ruangan petugas. Mereka sebelumnya telah mengambil contoh air sungai dan Mawinei menelitinya di makmal di Kota Kuala Kurun. Hasilnya menunjukkan terjadi pencemaran air sungai yang sangat tinggi.

“Sebagian besar tak berizin,” kata pegawai itu.

“Kami tak bisa melarang karena mesin tambang mereka berdiri di atas tanah hak mereka. Punya surat izin tanah juga,” tambahnya.

“Iya Pak, tapi akibatnya terjadi pencemaran lingkungan, dampaknya ke kita semua, kepentingan bersama atas sungai itu terganggu,” kata Idris keras.

“Masalahnya, alasan mereka itu untuk mata pencaharian, untuk cari nafkah. Kalau dihentikan, apa kalian mau ngasih mereka pekerjaan, ngasih mereka makan?” sahut bapak itu tidak mau kalah.

“Ya tetap harus ditertibkan, Pak. Bukan masalah orang cari nafkah, tapi tambang itu pakai merkuri, Pak, itu yang berbahaya,” jawab Ekot tegas.

“Jangan sampai ada yang kehilangan nyawa, Pak,” Mawinei ikut tambah kata, wajahnya tampak geram. “Banyak yang sakit perut, mencret,” katanya dengan gusar.

Mawinei menyerahkan berkas keluhan warga di kampungnya yang sudah ditandatangani banyak orang.

Ekot menyerahkan berbagai foto dan bukti rekaman kegiatan tambang itu.

Idris menyerahkan hasil penelitian air sungai dari makmal.

“Iya kalian tunggu saja, kami akan segera bertindak.” kata petugas yang mulai mengerti kerisauan anak-anak muda itu setelah melihat bukti-bukti yang lengkap.

***

Sebulan setelah pertemuan itu, tambang-tambang tidak berizin dihentikan. Bahan merkuri disita. Namun, banyak tambang lain yang masih berjalan. Suatu perusahaan tambang yang mendapat dukungan kekuasaan yang sangat besar mengajukan para pengacara untuk melawan laporan LSM yang dipimpin Idris. Para pegawai pemerintah daerah itu pun tidak mampu bertindak lebih jauh lagi.

“Setidaknya kita telah berjuang, pencemaran air sungai ini telah berkurang,” kata Mawinei mencoba sedikit menenangkan Idris yang masih tidak terima.

Danum mendesah, matanya menerawang gelisah.

Simpei menghisap rokoknya dalam-dalam.

“Tambang-tambang besar, terutama batubara, sulit dihentikan karena menghasilkan pendapatan yang besar bagi pemerintah,” kata Ekot dengan wajah masam.

“Jadi, perjuangan kita masih panjang, kawan,” kata Mawinei yang disambut anggukan kawan-kawannya.

“Iya dan jangan mudah menyerah!” seru Danum tegas.

 

*****

 

Crying Cuckoos over the Kahayan

In 2005, Umar Thamrin received a Fulbright grant and a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Graduate Fellowship for his graduate studies in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies with the designated emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Before returning to Indonesia in 2017, he received a one-year appointment as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.

Back in his home country, Umar became disturbed by several social conditions he encountered there, and is saddened that the common people have remained marginalized while society ignores the lessons of its history. These conditions have prompted him to think, to remember, and to write. He is currently teaching linguistics at Alauddin State Islamic University.

Umar can be reached at: umar2x.umar@gmail.com

 

 

Crying Cuckoos over the Kahayan

 

Mawinei had just finished her studies in Yogyakarta and, after five years away from home, she yearned to return to her remote village in Central Kalimantan. She felt a deep longing for family and childhood friends who were urging her to come home.

Her intense nostalgia made her decide to take the long, arduous journey home. She took a bus from Yogyakarta to the port city Surabaya, then a ship overnight from Surabaya to Sampit Harbor in Central Kalimantan. After arriving the following day, she took a bus from the harbor to the Palangkaraya bus station, where she transferred to another bus to her village in the Gunung Mas Regency, on the banks of the Kahayan River. On the bus, Mawinei listened to the passengers talking about the spectacular opening of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta that had taken place while she was crossing the Java Sea. They said President Jokowi had delivered the welcoming speech.

At her village, everyone welcomed Mawinei’s return. She was the only woman there with a bachelor’s degree. The villagers — descendants of Borneo’s indigenous Dayak Ngaju tribe — hoped that with her education, Mawinei could improve the lives of not only her parents, but also of the entire community. The betang, a traditional Dayak longhouse now used as a village center, was decorated with janur — young, still-yellow coconut leaves — and crowded with people. Danum, Simpei, and Ekot, Mawinei’s childhood playmates, were there too.

Various traditional dishes were served. Grilled mystus fish, dressed with a lemongrass chili sauce, satisfied her longing for the special flavor of Dayak cuisine.

Mawinei excitedly joined Danum who sat with Simpei and Ekot. The four of them had a good time, sharing food and catching up.

The elders chatted and laughed loudly while passing tiny shot glasses of baram, liquor made from fermented rice water and cassava. Everyone ate and drank, while enjoying themselves.

But Mawinei sensed that something was amiss. She had been sensitive to other people’s feelings since she was a child, and now, amid this happy atmosphere, she felt a touch of anxiety lurking beneath the surface.

***

In the early morning after the reunion, fear gripped the village when people were awakened by Sanja’s screams. “Help! Hanjak is passing blood!” People came running to see what was happening. They found Sanja, crying and looking bewildered. Her five-year-old son lay listless on a cot.

A balian, shaman elder, was immediately called upon.

As the morning mist gradually lifted, the old man arrived with his assistant. They entered the room quietly and sat down. Leaning against the wall, the balian stood observing Hanjak to figure out the cause of the child’s bloody diarrhea. Next, he performed the traditional healing ritual, seeking help from the ancestral spirits. During the sangiang, the balian’s thin body trembled, and he appeared to be possessed by the supernatural. After he regained cognizance, the balian quietly spoke to his assistant, who rushed out from the room toward the small forest behind the house. Several men followed him.

They returned with a bag filled with special roots and leaves. Some neighbors ground the billygoat roots and leaves making a poultice to spread on Hanjak’s navel. Others brewed a tea from the spear grass and white jasmine roots for him to drink. The villagers believed that these three plants were natural remedies for treating gastric disorders.

The next morning, Hanjak looked worse. Sanja was baffled. Even though Hanjak had recovered from the diarrhea, he still had a high fever. This was unusual; the balian never failed to heal his patients.

Something else felt strange in the village. The weather had changed. The still air felt prickly. The cloudless sky was a stark blue. A plaintive cuckoo perched in the top of a shorea tree, shrieking. The ear-piercing noise frightened the villagers, who believed the bird to be a bearer of evil and death,.

By nightfall, Hanjak lay shivering, his eyes wide open in his pale face, gasping for breath. Mystified, the balian started to chant. A few moments later, Hanjak was dead. Sanja wailed inconsolably.

***

The day after Hanjak was buried, Danum went to visit Mawinei. Mawinei was happy to have some alone time with her best friend from elementary school days; they had been separated a long time. Mawinei had attended middle and high school in Palangkaraya, living in a boarding house nearby her school. She then had moved to Yogyakarta to attend college while Danum had stayed in the village. Her parents could not afford to provide her with a higher education. That distance had kept the two best friends from seeing each other all those years.

“How are you?” Danum grinned.

Mawinei grabbed Danum’s shoulders, then stepped back and took a good look at her friend. “Good, and you?”

“I’m good too.”

The two young women hugged each other tightly then took a seat on the porch chairs.

“It’s awfully hot, isn’t it?” Mawinei fanned her face with her hands.

“Yes, it’s abnormally hot.” Danum took a deep breath. “At first, I thought the unusually hot weather was causing villagers to get sick. But now, after what happened to Hanjak, I think we’re getting sick because the Kahayan River is so polluted.”

“The Kahayan is polluted?” Startled, Mawinei looked into Danum’s troubled eyes.

“The river we used to play in is now very dirty. The water makes you itch. The miners have been dumping their toxic waste into the river.”

“Miners?” Mawinei couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Danum nodded.

Mawinei thoughts turned to the children she had seen playing marbles. They all had scabs on their legs.

“You have a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences, right?” Danum smiled. “You can check the river water yourself.”

***

Their walk to the river, took Mawinei and Danum through a durian and rattan plantation owned by a shaman elder. They passed the cempedak trees, which reminded them of the sweet, creamy, durian-like fruit they had enjoyed as children, and arrived at a footpath overgrown by weedy grasses. The hillside was covered with a lush green of thriving vegetable gardens.

At the river’s edge, Mawinei halted, shocked. “Oh, my God, the water’s brown!”

“Five years ago, it was still clear,” Danum said sadly. “People say that the destruction of the peatland upstream is doing it.”

“I don’t think so,” Mawinei said, examining the riverbank. “The river water used to be crystal clear, and now it’s muddy. This is strange.”

“Do you remember how, when we were little, we sometimes drank the water straight from this river? And yet we didn’t get sick.” Danum looked at the river of her childhood, now a slimy stream of mud with sparkling oil lines on its surface.

Mawinei nodded. She remembered playing there with Simpei, Ekot, and other children at low tide, when the clean, receded water left a sloping riverbank covered with white sand ⸺ not mud.

They had a lot of fun. She remembered the day they pretended to hold a wedding there, in the light rain. Danum was Simpei’s bride. Ekot, as the village priest, was given a beard made of coconut husk and attached to his chin with jackfruit tree sap. He officiated on a sand mound they had shaped like a throne. Mawinei and another child posed as witnesses, while other children watched them, giggling. The drizzle had suddenly turned into a heavy rain. The make-believe wedding was instantly forgotten, as everyone scurried to the betang. But the slippery footpath made some of them fall on their behinds. Those who did not fall laughed at the ones who did and held their butts with a painful grimace. When they arrived at the betang, the children were scolded by their parents, and the next day, on their way to school early in the morning, some showed the red pinch marks their mothers had left on their thighs.

Mawinei smiled remembering the incident. Danum tapped Mawinei’s shoulder, and woke her from the daydream.

Mawinei scooped up a handful of river water and brought it to her nose. “It stinks!” She scowled and sniffed again. “It is polluted.” The river water looked oily from waste liquids that did not mix with the water. The heavy wind blew Mawinei’s waist-length hair across her face. She quickly tied her hair back and said, “I want to see those mines you mentioned. Let’s go there.”

“We can’t go now,” Danum said. “It’s too far upstream. We have to take a boat. Let’s go tomorrow and ask Ekot and Simpei to come with us.”

***

The next morning, at daybreak, the four friends gathered at the entrance of the small pier by the river. They wanted to leave early so they would have plenty of time and still get home before dark. The dawn wind was refreshing.

Lantings lined the water’s edge. The traditional stilt houses were built with sturdy Kalimantan ironwood and floated atop pilings driven deep into the riverbed. Several boats, tied to wooden poles or concrete pillars, rocked in their moorings. Several lanterns still glimmered in the boats and stilt houses, casting a hazy light on the water’s surface.

Mawinei and her friends walked along the pier to the end of the ulin-planked bridge where the boats were moored. The eastern horizon turned a bright yellow. The river water sparkled when the morning light hit its surface. The soft morning light energized the workers.

A man approached Ekot and, pointing to several ketintings docked along the river, began negotiating a price. Ekot rented one of the dugout canoes, outfitted with an engine and outriggers, that could hold up to ten people to go as far as possible upstream.

Mawinei felt happy; it had been a long time since she had sailed on the river in a ketinting. Danum also looked happy when she boarded the boat.

The engine roared. It pushed the boat forward, splitting the water into wakes. In the old days, sturdy ironwood paddles rowed ketintings to their destination. Now, technology quickly transported people from one place to another.

The helmsman sat at the back of the boat, controlling the engine. He moved the rudder to the left and right as needed, adjusting to the river’s current.

Ekot sat at the front; Simpei sat behind him; then came Mawinei and Danum.

“Do you remember when we used to swim there?” Ekot pointed to the water behind the stilt houses.

“Sure, over there, right?” Simpei pointed at the biggest stilt house.

“Yeah, right!” Ekot’s face brightened while talking about their happy childhood days.

“But you were afraid to do a backflip ⸺ chicken!” Simpei teased. “You were only brave enough to jump.”

“At least I jumped!” Ekot retorted.

“Yeah, but still, you were too much of a scaredy-cat to do a flip.” Simpei slapped Ekot’s arm.

Ekot screamed theatrically, then grinned mischievously. “Okay, I admit defeat, but who dared to swim across the river? Come on, tell me, who?”

Simpei could only nod and point at Ekot, who was indeed the most courageous swimmer in the group. The others, too afraid of being swept away by the current, only swam along the riverbank.

Like other Kalimantan children who lived by the Kahayan River, the four friends needed no one to teach them how to swim. Their ancestors never lived far from the river. When they were babies, their mothers had bathed them in the river, laying them on their backs atop the water until they quickly learned to float naturally on their own. In elementary school the children usually went home at noon, the hottest part of the day.They would plunge into the river and swim as long as they wanted, using whatever style came naturally to them. Some swam like a frog, others like a dolphin — or anything else, as long as they remained afloat and kept from drowning. Sometimes they brought a ball to throw back and forth among them. The one who caught the ball would throw it randomly, and everyone one would race to catch it.

As the river widened, its rippling water grew browner. Several boats passed them, traveling in the opposite direction. On one, a fisherman was preparing to cast his net into the river.

Both sides of the riverbank were overgrown with small groves of bamboo, coconut, and fruit trees interspersed by patches of brush and flowering rose myrtles. The fruit trees — bananas, jackfruits, durians, cluster figs and cashews — thrived in the fertile soil of Kalimantan’s peatland.

The great Kahayan River river was six hundred kilometers long, spilling from its birthplace in the Muller Mountains; it divided Palangkaraya, ran through the Pulau Pisau dan Gunung Mas Regencies in Central Kalimantan, until it emptied into the Java Sea.

Simpei lit a cigarette and took a long drag. He offered the pack of cigarettes and lighter to Ekot, who politely refused. Simpei relaxed and enjoyed the cigarette and the breeze.

The cluster fig trees that grew on the riverbanks helped prevent erosion. Their red fruits were favored by monkeys, squirrels, and birds.

The boat moved farther and farther from civilization. The stilt houses were now out of sight. Above the noise of the motor, they caught the occasional birds chirping and monkeys squealing from the forest.

Cruising under a bridge, they continued upstream. Now the scenery changed. Large areas of vegetation had been cleared away for community activities. The river water turned darker and dirtier.

“People are quick to jump on the bandwagon,” Ekot complained. “As soon as the price of rubber skyrocketed, everyone started clearing land in the forest to plant rubber. Now everyone is clearing land to plant palm trees. Privately-owned palm tree orchards aren’t that large, but when big corporations build palm tree farms, they can stretch across thousands of hectares, and the forest trees are done.”

“The price of rubber dropped a long time ago,” Simpei added. “People don’t want to tap rubber anymore. Now people are mining gold. Just look at them!” Simpei pointed at a group panning gold along a destroyed section of the riverbank that was completely void of vegetation.

The sodden land was riddled with stagnant, grimy puddles. Long, narrow sluice boxes, used to separate gravel from gold, extended far into the river. Huts that housed the miners were scattered around the diesel engine. The forceful spray of water, gushing from giant hoses, had eroded the riverbanks. At those places, the river had become shallow.

Some of the mining equipment was installed directly over the river. Just like the lanting houses, they had been built on pilings made of ironwood. A maze of pipes gouged the earth, spewing toxic waste directly into the river.

The river was not only muddy, it was contaminated by diesel fuel spilling from the engine. Rainbows of glistening oil shimmered in the sunlight, swirling on the river’s surface as the current moved them.

Engines roared ceaselessly while tearing up the riverbed in search of gold ore. To separate gold ore from gravel, the miners used mercury. The elemental metal mixed with oil and sparkled dangerously on the water’s surface. The environment was under attack.

“Now it’s obvious,” Mawinei said. “These mines are causing the sickness in our village.”

Danum nodded.

Their boat slowed. Ekot took out his camera, and began capturing pictures of the gold-mining activities. Some miners looked at them suspiciously.

“History is repeating itself.” Ekot was clearly distressed. “But now, we’re not fighting the Netherlands or Japan. Instead, we’re fighting against human greed that is destroying our habitat. And the saddest thing is that the culprits are our own people.”

“God’s gifts are priceless.” Mawinei murmured.

The boat continued upstream, and Mawinei became increasingly alarmed at the ubiquitous gold panning along the riverbanks. They passed a group of people using a set of equipment different from what they had seen earlier. The powerful dredgers and giant water pumps caused even more destruction, turning the riverbank into one giant mudhole.

“Tomorrow, I’m going to see my friend Idris,” said Ekot. “He’s involved with a non-governmental organization that advocates for environmental issues. We can’t let this continue to happen,”

“Look!” Simpei shouted. “Look what’s happening, in the hills over there!” He pointed to a barren field on the hill to their right. “That large coal mine caused this deforestation. And they’re not the only vandals! Don’t forget the corporate-owned oil palm plantations.”

Ekot’s face flushed with anger. “Worse than that, some children drowned while playing in an abandoned mine pit.”

“The one that has become a lake?” asked Simpei.

Ekot nodded.

“We can’t let all these crimes continue!” Mawinei shouted.

***

A few days later, Idris, Ekot, and Mawinei met with the local government official assigned to deal with mining issues. Danum and Simpei had to wait outside because only three people were allowed in the official’s room. They had brought a water sample they had taken from the river, which Mawinei had examined in a laboratory in nearby Kuala Kurun, the capital of the Gunung Mas Regency. The test results showed an unacceptably elevated level of pollution.

“Most of them are unlicensed,” the official said of the gold miners. “We can’t restrict their activities because they’re using their equipment on their own property, and they have proof of ownership.”

“Regardless, sir, they are destroying the environment, and the pollution they’re causing is impacting all of us,” Idris said, irritated. “Our lives are centered around this river, which is now making us sick.”

“The problem is that gold mining is their livelihood.” The official became indignant. “If we stop them, will you give them jobs or provide food for their families?”

“You must do something, sir,” Ekot joined in. “It’s not about allowing them to keep their jobs and feed their families; it’s about not allowing them to use dangerous toxins like mercury in their operations.”

“Please don’t wait until we have fatalities, sir.” Mawinei added, obviously upset. “Many villagers are suffering — and dying — from strange illnesses.” She handed the official a piece of paper with signed complaints from people in her village.

Ekot gave him the photos he took that evidenced the destruction caused by the mining activities.

Idris presented the lab results from the river water tests.

As the official carefully read thorough the documentation, he frowned. He was holding sufficient evidence of a potentially deadly situation. He looked up slowly. “Please give us time,” he said. “We will take action. Immediately.”

***

A month after the meeting, the unlicensed mines were prohibited from continuing their operations. All materials that contained mercury was confiscated. Even so, many other mines still operated. A big mining company, with the backing of powerful people, retained lawyers to dispute the reports Idris had presented. This stymied the local government officials.

“At least we tried, and the pollution of this river has been reduced,” said Mawinei, trying to calm Idris who still couldn’t accept their setback.

Danum sighed and looked anxiously into the distance.

Simpei took a long drag on his cigarette.

“Big mining companies, especially coal companies, are nearly unstoppable because they generate huge revenue for the government,” said Ekot.

“So we still have a long way to go, my friend.” Mawinei ’s words were greeted by nods from her friends.

“Yes!” they cheered. “And we won’t give up easily!”

 

 

*****