Marunda Fishermen: North Jakarta, West Java

An old Indonesian children’s folksong goes “Nenek moyangku orang pelaut, gemar mengarung luas samudra, menerjang ombak tiada takut, menempuh badai sudah biasa.” The lyrics can be translated as “My ancestors are seafarers, wading great oceans fondly, thrusting waves fearlessly, going through storms every day.” The song reflects native wonder at the archipelago’s vast seas and the nobility of seafarers who have sailed as far as Africa for centuries in search of trade.

Yet the splendor of the sea, as depicted in the song, has faded into history. For the fisherman at Kampung Marunda, North Jakarta, where the city’s rapid development and the degradation of the environment encroaches on their shores, the days of glory have subsided according to an article in the Jakarta Post.

“We live on the city’s edge, and we live our lives on the edge for the most part,” said Lemin, 63, born and raised in a village located on the border of Jakarta and Bekasi.

In the past, most of the villagers, many of whom are ancestors of native Betawi, worked as fishermen and fish farmers. Nowadays, many must make a living as factory workers or as motorcycle-taxi drivers, or ojek.

Eviction by the government, environmental woes and uncertainty in the weather are a few of the causes for their woe.

“Being fishermen, our life cycle follows the seasonal winds, the east and the west wind,” said Tiarom, 33, a fisherman.

Traditionally, during the east wind season, associated with the dry season, fishermen go to sea to catch fish. The wind lasts for approximately nine months, from February to October. This marks their busiest period.

During the west wind, a period of bad weather associated with the rainy season, fishermen stay on land and farm fish instead.
However, pollution, damage to the environment and changes in weather patterns have upset traditional rhythms.

“This year’s west wind has caused severe waves the likes of which we have never seen before, and it has lasted longer.
Usually, in the middle of February, the waves start to subside and we can return to the sea,” said Tiarom, a father of two.

Even during the east wind, fishermen find it more difficult to catch fish.

Tiarom said there was no certainty of income for fishermen.
“Some days we can earn Rp 50,000 (US$5.37), some days even more, but there are also days with nothing.

“Year after year, we have to go further and further, while the number of fish decreases,” said Alim, 43, a fisherman.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said Jakarta’s polluted sea and deforested mangrove thickets were the major cause of the problems.

Development of trade and industry has changed the city’s coastal areas. Bonded commercial zones and the construction of shipping docks throughout coastal areas during the last few decades have forced locals to seek new land.

Fish farming has similarly become less fruitful, especially in the rainy season. The large capital required to build farms is beyond the means of unprofitable fishermen, while polluted waters stunt the produce of those already-established.

“(Thirty years ago) we farmed whatever fish we could and we didn’t even need to feed them. But now we have to farm marketable fish like milkfish and prawns, and we have to buy those fish expensive feed,” said Lemin.

Prawns are harder to maintain, they easily die in polluted water and they require expensive feed.

Scavenging garbage scattered on estuaries has become an alternative source of income for struggling fishermen. Plastic drinking glasses, “cilong” among locals, are worth Rp 5,000 per kilogram.

In the hardest of times, fisherman’s families have no other choice but to borrow money from local vendors for daily needs, such as rice and vegetables and, because their kampung is situated on the coast, clean water is difficult to access.

“We have to buy clean water in canisters for bathing, cooking and washing. The water company brings clean water to a centralized post where we pay Rp 7,000 (US$0.77) per canister,” said Tiarom.

A canister consists of 210 liters of water. A four-member family needs at least half a canister a day, and more during the dry season.

Jaenah, 38, a resident at Kampung Marunda Baru, said, even with the hardship she had to endure in the village, she had never thought to leave.

“People say our village is isolated from everywhere in every way, but this is where my ancestors and I were born and raised, I would never leave it.

“This is the world as we know it, and we’re trying to make the best of it,” she said.

Here is a related article regarding the environmental degradation in the area of Kampung Marunda Baru and how it has changed this coastal village:

Kampung Marunda, located in the northeastern most point of Jakarta, is a collective name for four villages: Marunda Pulo, Marunda Alam, Marunda Kongsi and Marunda Kepu.

Locals say that in the past the name Marunda referred to the first three only. Kepu was not part of the kampung, in fact it was the village burial site.

All the villages were located on the coastal area at the edge of old Batavia (the Dutch name for Jakarta during the colonial era).

Legend has it that the name “Marunda” is an abbreviation of
MARkas yang tertUNDA” (postponement base). It is said that during the Mataram (now Central Java) kingdom, Sultan Agung set up a logistical base in what is now the village during a siege of Batavia from 1628 to 1629.

The villagers said that 20 years ago, the edge of Marunda was a thicket of mangrove trees so dense they called it a jungle.

Marunda Pulo was home to most of the fishermen, while Marunda Kongsi was a large area of land used for fish farming.

The name “Kongsi” is a Chinese word meaning commercial association. The area was supposed to host rich landlords who had guards for their vast land, allowing them to build huts and fish farms.

“From my ancestors stories and my own experiences, I know the Marunda people are working class,” said Lemin, a resident of Marunda. “We built huts and farmed fish on land owned by rich landlords. We were basically just workers.”

As time passed, some land was sold to new people or put under government authority. The rights of the village people to the land is not acknowledged by the landowners or the government.

Around 1980, the government started several construction projects, including a log shipment dock in Marunda Pulo and the Tanjung Priok bypass highway.

While the dock construction forced the people to move to neighboring villages, the highway construction attracted outsiders to gather sand from the shore and sell it to the developers.

Years of massive sand excavation, sea erosion and the establishment of fish farms have contributed to the destruction of the mangrove thickets, which in turn has added to the degradation of the coastal environment.

“The era marked prominent changes in our life,” said Lemin, who still makes a living as a fish farmer.