The Jakarta Post
Maluku, in the eastern part of the archipelago, regularly makes headlines in Indonesia ' for reasons that are bad as often as they are good.
For example, there was a recent foiled attempt to smuggle 24 of Maluku's indigenous sulphur-crested cockatoos. The birds were found stuffed into plastic water bottles at the port in Surabaya, East Java, about to be sold on the black market. About half had already died.
Another recent shocking revelation on the exploitation of Maluku's rich natural resources was the exposure of an allegedly illegal fisheries-and-slavery operation in Benjina, Aru Islands, that was owned by non-local business.
Fish caught from the waters of Benjina were allegedly sent to Thailand to supply Western restaurants.
'Illegal fishing in Maluku's waters has been going on for decades and it's impossible the authorities have had no knowledge about this,' Engelina Pattiasina, the founder and director of the Archipelago Solidarity Foundation NGO said. 'Thousands of tons of fish have been taken away daily from our waters.'
While Maluku is the nation's fourth poorest province, according to the 2013 National Economic and Social Survey; the poverty rate for Aru Islands hovers around 27 percent.
The NGO recently released a documentary titled Kabaressi (Valiant). Made by an all-Maluku team of young filmmakers led by director Chris Pelamonia, the work traces the environment exploitation of the island.
Kabaressi tells the story of Thomas Matulessy, better known as Pattimura ' the man on the Rp 1,000 banknote and the National Hero from Ambon who fought against Dutch colonialism in early 19th century.
According to the documentary, the vast resources of Maluku, especially cloves and nutmeg, were brought to Europe by Arab, Persian, Indian and Chinese traders.
The spice trade changed the local culture, bringing new religions and new lifestyles to the region ' as well as European invaders.
Today, mining companies are vying over gold deposits on Buru Island, as well as oil and gas-rich concessions in Masela and Babar Selaru Islands.
'The exploitation of Maluku's resources is a never-ending story. We have everything that people want here, but Maluku's people have never been the masters of their own home,' Engelina said. 'We need protection from the potential environmental damage and biodiversity loss.'
She said that she hoped that the one-hour documentary would be screened at various film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival, the Berlinale and the Rotterdam Film Festival.
'This is a movement to attract international support to save Maluku. Our first step is to get on the UNESCO World Heritage Site for all the right reasons,' Engelina said.
'We are the only Melanesian subculture in the country and we hold a unique history that has changed the face of the modern world with the spice trade, not to mention its biological wealth,' she added.
A screening on May 12, ' Pattimura Day ' was followed by a heated discussion on the future of Maluku.
The speakers at the discussion, which was themed 'Save Maluku', were former Pattimura University rector Mus Huliselan, incumbent deputy rector Nus Saptenno, National REDD+ Agency deputy of operations William Sabandar and Tempo journalist Bina Bektiati.
With Kompas journalist Tri Agung Kristanto as moderator, the topics discussed included conservation of the indigenous Maleo bird to energy sustainability to maritime development to Maluku's waters.
The participants, which also included politicians and scholars from other eastern provinces, such as East and West Nusa Tenggara and Papua, shared similar concerns on the need for special autonomy to develop the province.
Amir Hamzah from the Forum of Struggle for Maluku's People suggested that a referendum be held to determine the future of the province.
Engeline agreed. 'We need asymmetric autonomy to manage Maluku waters,' she said. 'With special autonomy, Maluku could grow fast and become the axis of world maritime culture.
Sabandar, however, suggested that people in Maluku reach agreement on their priority list for development.
'No matter what kind of autonomy might work well with Maluku, it's more important to have people in Maluku share the same vision on development and work together to achieve it. It's something you can do right now without having to wait for the central government to do something about it.'