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Sago: A Natural Barrier, a Cultural Identity

Sorong, in West Papua, is renowned as a destination for travellers seeking the breathtaking underwater beauty of Raja Ampat. However, the area offers more than just underwater wonders.

In this article we invite you to step into Inanwatan District, a place whose name derives from “Inan” and “Sawatan,” translating to “land teeming with sago palms.” The name ‘Inanwatan’ first emerged when a fleet of boats from the Kokas region in Fak-Fak Regency anchored on the banks of the Bira River, unveiling a land abundant with sago palms. They were captivated, for the Kokas region had limited sago, while sago was the lifeblood of the indigenous people in the lowlands of West Papua.

Yet, sago holds a significance beyond mere sustenance for the people of Inanwatan. The sago palms provide not only food but also mark territorial boundaries between hamlets. These tall sago palms, with their slender trunks, form natural borders between neighboring communities, meticulously cultivated and protected. They create a symbolic shield, dividing one community or clan from another.

Each hamlet is owned by different clans. The Patuanan clan, the hamlet’s owners, inherit the land from their ancestors. Those who marry Patuanan clan’s daughters become the Turunan clan. Turunan clan members can work in the hamlets without pay. Although they rarely sell their crops to other villages, these working men are the backbone of their families.

The sago grove boundaries carry profound cultural significance, representing the historical and ancestral claims of each hamlet to its territory. They declare, “This is ours, and we will protect it.”

The hamlets and sago have become their cultural identities. Violating another clan’s hamlet results in punishment according to customary law.


Papua is not impervious to the allure of modernization. The promise of Internet access, improved facilities, and better educational opportunities has ignited the imagination of its residents. They, too, yearn to embrace modern technologies, modern lifestyles, and the prosperity they bring.

For many Papuan people, the idea of selling their hamlets to parties interested in land cultivation appears as a viable opportunity. The residents of Inanwatan are no exception.

Having embraced a simple way of life, receiving a substantial sum, such as several hundred million rupiahs in a single transaction, appears as a miraculous blessing. Their thoughts immediately turn to the possibilities of a more urban lifestyle the money could provide. However, they may not yet grasp the full consequences of their decisions.

Without a hamlet and land to cultivate, a man can no longer be the backbone of his family. He loses his inheritance, his wealth, his identity.

He might work at other clans’ hamlets, but his identity is already lost. Having no skill in managing big funds, once spent, the hundred million rupiahs doesn’t shine so brightly.

Inanwatan’s sago groves, beyond being a source of sustenance, serve as tenurial barriers between hamlets, guarding the boundaries and heritage of each community. As the world watches, the Inanwatan people stand united by a common purpose, determined to protect the sago and the tenurial rights that underpin their existence and define the essence of their land.

GHG Actions, a nature-based solutions service provider collaborating with concession holders in Papua, is deeply committed to working with local communities. Its mission is to assist in cultivating the land sustainably, enabling the Inanwatan people to earn a livelihood without harming the environment while respecting their tenurial rights. In the heart of Papua, the last frontier of Indonesia’s forests, within its diverse communities, lies an opportunity to preserve cultural heritage and improve lives. Together, we work towards a brighter, more sustainable future for the land and its people.

GHG Actions
GHG Actions
We are a dynamic team of sustainability-driven young professionals who are passionate about creating innovative solutions. We leverage state-of-the-art technology to drive meaningful change in the fight against climate crisis.

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