By Ahmad Fathan Aniq malimbu-lombok-island-indonesia.jpg

Some days ago, I read Iwan Mucipto’s paper on tourist industries in Lombok. The paper itself is entitled “Development for Whom? The Tourism Industry in Lombok, Indonesia” which was presented by Mucipto in the Ninth INFID Conference, “Good Governance in Regional Development” in Paris 1994. I found this paper in a bulk material about Lombok in the KITLV library. The paper is so impressive. When I was reading it, I felt myself flying back to my island and found many places with their atmospheres like what Mucipto described. He described many interesting tourism destinations in Lombok Island. However, what I found is not the beautiful scene of these places nevertheless terrible stories about unfortunate societies living in those places. Besides smiles and cheerfulness of the tourists visiting the places, there are weeping and sorrow of local inhabitants. Here, I want to briefly share my reading on Mucipto’s paper.

Lombok, which is located precisely east of Bali, is well known for its natural beauty. There are many interesting tourist destinations which can be found on this small island. Beaches, waterfalls, mountains and Segara Anak Lake are among the most popular destinations that have invited many foreigners to come to Lombok which in turn has become a big source of income for the local government, the West Nusa Tenggara Province. However, this advantage is not always beneficial to local people. It barely makes significant positive changes within society. For its poverty, some say that Nusa Tenggara Barat really stands for Nusa Sengsara Barat (Heavy Sorrow). Below some examples of how in the name of tourism, local people did not get any beneficial from their own land.



The Senggigi beach was the first area in Lombok to be developed for tourism. The UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme) recommendation to develop Lombok’s tourism sector has long been kept secret among investors and government agencies. Knowing this recommendation, many investors and government officers rushed to purchase land in the area which has driven prices up tremendously. In order to acquire the land from the local people at cheap prices, investors together with the government ask villagers to sell it or threaten to confiscate it.

Approximately two decades ago, the Senggigi area was a well-known fishing area and a fish market. As Senggigi has now been developed as a resort area, many villagers have been forced to move further inland. This forced relocation has had a huge effect on the local-people-economic life since they had to change their occupations and they had no experience in those new occupations. New hotels around the beach also do not absorb many local people as their worker either in building the hotels or in operating them. Most of the employees originated from Java, Bali and foreign countries. It is difficult to prove that the Senggigi community is realizing any benefit from the development of the tourist industry in their area.

Gili Terawangan, Gili Meno, Gili Air

gili-lombok-indonesia.jpg These three Gilis are located in the Tanjung Resort Zone. Up to 1979, Gili Terawangan could not be inhabited due to a thick mangrove forest and various pests like mosquitoes and rats. In 1976, a corporation got a permit to open the area up for coconut plantation and then they recruited labors from Lombok. However, the pests destroyed all of the harvest and the company abandoned the plantation and its employees on the Gili. The labors continued their substistence life through plowing, fishing, an herding small livestock.

In 1985, a German tourist spent a night on the island. He then wrote a travel guide mentioning Gili Terawangan as an ideal tourist destination, noted for its gentle and hospitable local people. Ever since, thousands of German tourist have visited this Gili and the local people started to build small-scale tourist industries. Gradually, their quality of life improved as more and more people came to stay in the Gili and the locals became absorbed into the tourist economy.

However, in 1991, the previous corporation returned to the island and reclaimed their former plantation land which they had abandoned years earlier. They demanded that the locals demolished their bungalows on the grounds that the land is government-owned. The local government supported this claim and requested that the people relocate elsewhere.

The people in Gili Terawangan insisted that they had been utilizing the land for more than two years and had acquired land certificates a long time ago. They claimed that under the law they were eligible to utilize the land as long as they had been utilizing it continuously for at least two years.

In the Lombok New Order era, if someone talked about opening a business in the tourist sector, we would often hear the following remarks: “I know the former General X” or “I was asked by the son of General X to join a business”, or “I will introduce you to Mr. X who is a former high-ranking government officer from department of Y”. There was a strong belief that without proper “backing”, a given enterprise would not have the assurance that their business would still be in operation once a stronger, more well-connected businessman enter into the game.

Meanwhile, in the case of Gili Meno, collusion among bureaucrats and investors is even clearer. Here, from its hamlet leader to its district leader took parts in sacrificing the local people regarding land matters.

In the Gili Air case, the land take-over went smoothly as the village leaders were under threat by the investors to mediate the sale of the villagers’ land. It could safely be concluded that in the case of Gili Terawangan and Gili Air, a Bupati and even a Governor cannot adequately protect citizens’ rights, In other words, power became a loose cannon. It was not used to maintain societal interest instead of investors’ interest.


Kuta and Sekaroh

The Kuta beach, located in the south coast of Lombok, was declared a restricted area in 1989, and BPN (State Land Agency) was instructed not to issue any ownership certificates in the area. However, as many as 200 hectares was eventually authorized to the Lombok Tourist Development Corporation (LTDC). This corporation is a joint venture between PT. Rajawali and Pemda (the local government) that has split shares of 65% and 35% respectively. The LTDC planned to construct the tourist resort “Putri Nyale” on the site.

Residents of the area were informed that they would have to move and would receive some compensation. This resulted in unrest and social conflict. Despite their refusal to move, the villagers were forced to leave their lands without adequate compensation resettlement.

Another aspect being jeopardized by tourist development in Kuta is the cultural aspect. There is a tradition of Sasak or/and Wetu Telu community in Lombok to gather in the Seger beach at the full moon in February. At the determined time, all the customary leaders gather on the beach to look for the swarms of Nyale (worms). Through Nyale, local people believe that they can predict whether or not they will have a successful harvest and whether or not they will find their perfect mate in life (a matchmaking ceremony).

This ceremony is a ritual key for Lombok society which is held as an annual jamboree. For investors this ritual ceremony has been translated into a commodity. The location of the ceremony has been fenced off, forcing the locals to walk around the swamp and squeeze among cars and motorcycles of tourists from the cities to access the site. The local government has also interfered as the Governor himself has Instructed that Bau Nyale should be conducted during the weekends in order to persuade more tourists to come. In response, the villagers eventually relocated the ceremony to a more isolated area in Sekaroh. Unfortunately, however, investors are now looking for land in Sekaroh for the tourist industry.

The Tupat War in Lingsar

Cultural abuse and selling local cultural assets can also be found in Lingsar. Here, the tourist industry is eagerly promoting the Lingsar temple and the Tupat War ceremony as “tourist objects”. A stage for tourists was erected around the temple and guides from the city lead tourists to the place. The Tupat War is practiced among the Balinese and followers of Wetu Telu (the indigenous community of Lombok) to celebrate peacefulness between these two societies. The ceremony symbolically means that they no longer throw spears at each other but throw blessings instead, which is tupat (a traditional Indonesian dish made of rice cake, boiled in a rhombus-shaped packet of plaited young coconut leaves).

Investors have constructed platforms for tourists to watch the ceremony. They have definitely not been invited, but the platforms enable them to witness the cultural events free. Tourists make no financial contribution whatsoever to the locals and all of the tourist dollars go to the travel agents.


Tanak Awu International Airport

In addition to what were mentioned by Mucipto, it is also noteworthy to talk about Tanak Awu case in which people were sacrificed by the government. In order to increase the amount of tourism on this island, the local government has a plan to build a new international airport in the centre of the island. With the international airport, foreigners who want to go to Lombok are able to go immediately to the island without transiting first in other Indonesian airports. The recent airport, Selaparang, is considered inadequate for this purpose. Therefore, the government looked for another piece of land, namely Tanak Awu, in which to build the new airport.tanak-awu.gif

The conflict between the government and the owners of the land started in 1995 when the state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura 1 expropriated 850 hectares of fertile land by an administrative act. Since then, the local leaders have oppressed the peasants. Most of the Tanak Awu villagers are poor peasants. They have been living in the area for generations. However, the project continues.

This one-sided decision made the peasants angry. They did not want to leave their land. Although the local police had notified them to leave the fields, they kept on planting rice and other plants. Finally, the conflict could not be hindered. The peak of the conflict was on 18 September 2005, when the local police fired more than 700 peasants who gathered to commemorate Indonesia’s National Peasants’ Day. Many people were wounded and hospitalized. Some other people were arrested.

It is too ironic that the governments on the one hand try to be very friendly to foreigners by enabling them totally nice trips, but on the other hand they become very unfriendly to their own society. The Tanak Awu case is another example of how the poor hardly benefit from their natural resources. In this respect the resources were exploited for tourism. Building a new international airport, which sacrifices the poor, is not the only way to increase the number of tourists coming to the island. For me, many other things can be done for this purpose such as promoting the island through the media and cutting many illegal taxes which burden tourists. To build a good image is better than to build a new airport.

Leiden, 24 December 2007