Indonesia: New "catastrophic" footage shows uncontacted tribe near nickel mine

October 30, 2023

Uncontacted Hongana Manyawa warn logging company workers to stay out of their territory. © social media

Dramatic new video has emerged showing members of an uncontacted Indigenous tribe in Indonesia warning outsiders to stay away, just a few meters from bulldozers destroying their forest.

Campaigners have warned that it shows a human rights catastrophe is unfolding on Halmahera island, where logging and nickel mining operations are now penetrating the rainforest of uncontacted Hongana Manyawa people, risking their genocide.

Survival International’s Director Caroline Pearce said today: “Survival has been campaigning against this potential genocide since last year, and this video is unequivocal proof of what we’ve been saying – that the mining operations on Halmahera are now penetrating deep into the rainforest of the Hongana Manyawa.”

Vast areas of rainforest on Halmahera island are due to be logged and then mined for nickel. The Indonesian government plans for the country to become a major nickel producer for the electric car battery market. French, German, Indonesian and Chinese companies are all linked to mining in Halmahera.

Just a very small part of the destruction caused by the Weda Bay Nickel mine already to the Hongana Manyawa's land. © Weda Bay Nickel

In the video, two uncontacted Hongana Manyawa men make clear that they don’t want the outsiders to come any further. The bulldozer drivers then rev up their machines in response, apparently causing the men to flee.

​After watching the video, an Indigenous person from a neighboring tribe on Halmahera, who did not want to be named, said: "Please stop looting, ruining and destroying the forest which is the home of the Hongana Manyawa."

An estimated 300 to 500 uncontacted Hongana Manyawa people live in the forested interior of Halmahera. Huge areas of their territory have been allocated to mining companies, and in many areas the excavators are already at work.

Weda Bay Nickel (WBN) – a company partly owned by French mining company Eramet – has an enormous mining concession on the island which overlaps with uncontacted Hongana Manyawa territories. WBN began mining in 2019 and now operates the largest nickel mine in the world. German chemical company BASF is planning to partner with Eramet to build a refining complex in Halmahera. This video was filmed near the WBN concession.

The Halmahera rainforests are usually logged before being mined for nickel. The destruction of the Hongana Manyawa’s land is illegal under international law, which says that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the Hongana Manyawa is needed for any industrial project on their territory.

Survival International’s Director Caroline Pearce said today: “This video documents a human rights catastrophe unfolding. It shows that the logging and mining operations on Halmahera are invading deep into the rainforests of the Hongana Manyawa.

“For many months, Survival has been warning Eramet, BASF and the electric car companies which need nickel for their batteries that continued mining in this area will destroy the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa, just as similar projects have destroyed other uncontacted peoples in other parts of the world. If they continue after seeing this video, it would be an act of stunning and brutal disregard both for international law and for human life.

“These mining companies should stay out of the Hongana Manyawa’s land, period. We call upon the Indonesian government to urgently recognize and protect the Hongana Manyawa’s territory.”

Hongana Manyawa