A miner in the village of Sungai Luar’s pertambangan liar.
You Have Received an Invitation to Play Miner-Ville©
In the capital city of Jakarta, the super rich can afford to take their hobbies seriously. While the rest of us play Candy Crush and Farmville, these folks enjoy investing in illegal mining operations around the nation. Like horse races, this is sport, and it fits their routine of data analysis, assembling teams, judging key characters involved, and pitting them against one another.
I know this because the owner of a warung I frequent happens to be their third party. A former business person from a country in Central Asia, K quit his job and somehow found himself going down narrow, unsafe tunnels to mine for precious minerals on the island of Lombok. As soon as he had assembled a solid team, though a few also died down the tunnels in the process (and the smell was pretty awful, he says), he took the figures to Jakarta to show potential investors. The hobbyists took the bait, and the illegal mining sector of Indonesia’s wild, resource frontier digs on.
Fights to the death are a daily occurrence in the mining town of Tanah Bumbu in South Kalimantan. The feverish desperation of miners has created an economy of gambling, narcotics, and prostitution. Deaths of up to fifteen miners in one day go unreported. Children are taken out of primary schools to help their fathers in the tunnels, because eleven-year-olds can squeeze into tight spaces tens of meters down, in unsupported canals. I know this because I once strapped a camera to the head of one of these mining tweens.
Demam batu, or rock fever, struck Southeast Asia immediately after the economic collapse of 1998. Only now are miners finally returning to the earth to plant crops, often enjoying government subsidies to make the transition. Though it requires more of an investment, fish farming is also a trend. Sleeping in floating huts on lakes and rivers around the country, the fish-feeders wake every few hours to distribute pellets. They are the sons and daughters of the miners, still trying to escape.
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Natural Resources and Capitalist Frontiers:
“‘Indonesian Miners Revive Gold Rush Spirit of 49ers’ proclaimed a headline in the Los Angeles Times.” On a continent famous for producing knock offs, even this resource frontier seems unoriginal, “shaped by other wild times and places.”
“The activity of the frontier is to make human subjects as well as natural objects. The frontier, indeed, had come to Kalimantan.”
“Frontier landscapes are particularly active: hills are flooding away, ants and humans are on the move. On the frontier, nature goes wild.”
“…to them, the world is a frontier. There is no point in asking how frontiers come to be; they are nature itself.”