A small community on the island of Sumatra is at the heart of a battle for traditional territories that could finally resolve the muddled and exploitative system of laws governing land ownership in Indonesia

It is cold and late on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Huddled around a map, a group of elders are planning their battle strategy. In a milestone victory last year, they were promised rights to the land their village has controlled for generations, but today they have had bad news. The local inspector wants to slice off a piece of the forest where they harvest benzoin – a substance like frankincense – and give it to a large pulp company. They see this as a betrayal.

The elders debate in a mix of languages – Batak and bahasa Indonesia – while sipping tea and planning how they will resume the fight the next day. For years now, almost every day has involved this kind of planning.

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