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Society

Villagers fear Indonesia's new capital will bury their culture

Touted as a 'green city,' Nusantara could steamroll life-giving forests

Indonesian President Joko Widodo makes a sunrise inspection of the site of the new capital he wants to build in Penajam Paser Utara on March 15.   © Agus Suparto/Indonesian Presidential Palace/Reuters

PENAJAM PASAR UTARA/MEDAN, Indonesia -- In a much-anticipated ceremony in mid-March, Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo along with his cabinet ministers and provincial heads gathered at the Ground Zero site upon which Indonesia's new capital will sit. With great pomp, they took turns dropping soil and water samples from each of Indonesia's 34 provinces into two gold-plated caldrons.

The ceremony was meant to mark the laying of the foundation of the new capital on Borneo island. It is to be named Nusantara, the Indonesian word for "archipelago." Yet as plans to move from Jakarta to East Kalimantan Province gather pace, locals are reacting with horror: The plan is to erect a new metropolis on lands that for centuries have nourished their customs and traditions.

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