Benevolence plays an important role in the life of the Samin tribe, an indigenous community living in forested areas bordering Central Java and East Java provinces.
Stereotyped as rebellious people during the Dutch colonial era, the Samin still endure ridicule from others who consider them slow and resistant to change.
Unlike other local communities frequently rocked by tribal conflict, the Samin live a tranquil life as they devote themselves to benevolence.
“Only benevolence can lead us to lasting well-being in this world and the next,” Hardjo Kardi, aka Mbah Hardjo, a 74-year-old tribal leader of the Samin, told The Jakarta Post.
He is the great-grandson of the late Surosentiko Samin or Raden Kohar, a tribal leader of a community living in Jepang village in Margomulyo subdistrict, Bojonegoro, East Java, from where the Samin come.
In Jepang village, the Samin group known as the Sedulur sikep community currently numbers 220 households.
Hardjo described the reasons why people should be benevolent.
“A benevolent person is someone who is not jealous or envious of someone else’s attainments, status or material possessions,” he said. Practicing benevolence both in daily activities and attitudes, there is never conflict between Samin tribespeople as it considered more important to care about and respect each other than to have a lot of material possessions.
Papat dulur lima pancer, a Javanese philosophy long honored by the Samin tribe, teaches people to see, hear, taste and smell only good things. It urges people to always put oneself in another’s place and do unto others as they would have done unto them.
“We have to consider whether our words may hurt or offend others. We can show people through our words and attitude that we respect them and only by doing that, others will in turn respect us,” said Hardjo, who spoke on the sidelines of 2011 Indonesian Children’s Conference last week.
Hardjo said the inaccurate stereotyping of being resistant to progress came about after Surosentiko urged his people to resist the Dutch by refusing to obey their orders during the colonization era.
After that, the Dutch mocked people who they considered stubborn as nyamin.
“I’ve experienced several occasions when even educated people used the word nyamin to ridicule people who are extremely benevolent. This strengthens the negative stereotyping and sometimes hurts us,” said Hardjo’s son Bambang Sutrisno, who is a civil servant at the Margomulyo subdistrict office.
Heru Sugiharto, a civil servant at the Bojonegoro Development Planning Board (Bappeda), said that although long considered “clumsy people”, the local Samin residents had high respect for the forest.