Dozens of kindergartners their parents sat on the ground. They were listening to Samsudin, a 45-year-old storyteller. He held up cardboard cutouts of animals and forest trees for them to see.
“What is this animal?” he asked.
“Sumatran tiger,” the children screamed in unison, looking happy.
Samsudin continued his story about two men who were collecting firewood. However, they often to cut down trees, which destroyed the forest and the habitat of elephants and in turn threatening the lives of elephants.
“Can we destroy the forest? Can we poach tigers and elephants?” Samsudin asked the students.
“No. We cannot poach them. We cannot put them in cages. Poor them,” said one of them.
The dialogue between Samsudin and the kindergartners took place at the Hidayatullah madrassa in Paranggo village, Wajak, Malang regency, East Java.
Samsudin, who is originally from Indramayu, West Java, has been cycling to cities on Sumatra, Kalimantan and Java islands. He has tied a small red-and-white flag to the back of his bicycle.
“I just found out that the Sumatran rhino and elephants in Indonesia are endangered species. Some tiger species are already extinct,” said Erin, one of the students.
In Malang, Samsudin will tell the stories in several places for seven days. Previously, he told stories in Yogyakarta for 10 days.
He has created 12 characters from cardboard as tools to illustrate the stories. He also encourages students to gain confidence through storytelling.
Samsudin expressed concern for endangered species. “It is difficult to conserve the forests, especially if we only promote it to adults. It is much easier to talk to children because they are in the learning process and they are the ones who will suffer from environmental destruction in the future,” he said.
He often adapts the way he tell stories to incorporate local tradition, language and environment. In Sumatran cities, he focused on stories on tigers and elephants, while in Javanese cities the stories are more general, focusing on introducing different animals to children.
He usually visits schools without prior notice. If he is not allowed to perform, he goes to other schools until one accommodates him.
Samsudin usually stays in houses prepared by volunteers. He never charges schools or people for his storytelling, although he does accept gifts to help him continue his journey.
For Samsudin, he just wants to share with children his knowledge about animals, forests and the environment through storytelling. [yan]
Text and Photos by: Aman Rochman