JP/Ika KrismantariChaerudin has brought heroic characters in Betawi folklores to life, but this time the main actor doesn’t fight to rescue the powerless from evil and corrupt colonialists as in the legendary tales, but rather to save the environment from irresponsible people in the present concrete-jungle city.
Looks wise, Bang (brother) Idin, as he is universally known, very much resembles an old-time Betawi hero, wearing a traditional simple outfit of a neutral-colored shirt and loose fitting pants while clenching a tiger-headed machete everywhere he goes.
The 50-something man said he still liked to ride on horseback on his daily work inspecting the 42 hectares of green area along the Pesanggrahan River in the southern part of Jakarta.
This peculiar choice of costume and transportation may remind people of the heroic figures of Betawi legends, but Bang Idin has made his own story.
Locals recall his heroic action when he spent five days and six nights trailing the Pesanggrahan River up to the Pangrango mountain to clean up the dirty stream at the start of his environmental mission in the early 1990s. The saga earned him the title of a modern Betawi hero of the environment.
For more than 20 years, Bang Idin has worked for Mother Nature, becoming the guardian of Pesanggrahan River and its surroundings.
Apart from restoring the dirty river, he has also initiated conservation work of planting and replanting indigenous trees along the banks that has led to the formation of the city’s forest along the river.
The mustachioed Idin manages the forest and the river with locals under the farming and environmental group Sangga Buana, which he established in 1992. So far, he has planted more than 60,000 trees in the area.
The Sangga Buana city forest, where the towering greenery and the smell of fresh air as well as the sound of chirping birds welcome visitors, is truly a perfect solace for Jakartans accustomed to foul pollution and maddening traffic.
Such a haven would never have existed without the hard work and stubbornness of Bang Idin, who at the start of his conversation efforts met opposition from people who thought him crazy.
But he seems to have had the last laugh as he has received many awards, including the prestigious national Kalpataru environmental award in 2000 and an international environmental citation in Dubai, in 2002 for his environmental work.
Thanks to his hard work, the people who smirked at him at first can now enjoy a nice break from the stressful capital with the whole family visiting the city’s forest.
All his great achievements, surprisingly, are result of his frustration 23 years ago, he revealed in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post.
The native Jakartan said he was upset looking at the condition of his neighborhood that was destroyed by massive property development in the late 1980s.
Growing up as a village boy, who made nature his playground and animals his playmates, he said he was extremely disappointed with the then surroundings.
“I didn’t have anywhere to play. The river had become dirty. I was just furious,” the father of three said in his thick Betawi accent.
He said that the frustration encouraged him to take action, including cleaning up the rivers and restoring the forests. He also called on his neighbors to join the campaign to save the environment, an invitation that received a lukewarm response at first.
But later he managed to show people that nurturing nature could also bring benefits to humans.
Bang Idin has made use of the well-maintained forest and river to regenerate the local economy. With the support of Mother Nature, the man has been developing animal husbandry, fruit plantations and fish ponds, which have attracted thousands of unemployed neighbors to join his mission.
“That’s why every conservation effort must hold life-supporting values,” he said of his philosophy on saving the environment.
Although Bang Idin only graduated from elementary school, his knowledge of environmental topics can be compared to that of academic scholars. A frequent speaker in various respected universities in Indonesia, he has introduced what he describes as management based on nature’s wisdom, referring to the system that requires people to consider the impact on the environment before taking any action.
“My philosophy is simple, when you plant paddy, grass will grow, but if you plant grass, paddy will not grow,” he remarked.
His belief has spread outside Jakarta as Sangga Buana members have brought and developed similar empowering conservation efforts to other provinces, such as Bogor, West Java; Ungaran, Central Java and Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi.
Unfortunately, such wisdom is rare in his beloved home town, Jakarta, where most development programs are marred by greed and have threatened the environmental condition of the city.
Bang Idin is also aware of the absence of good leadership in the city’s administration, adding that he was not very enthusiastic about the upcoming Jakarta gubernatorial election as no candidates met his
In a joke during the interview, the outspoken Idin suggested that leaders of the country should undergo at least two month’s training as goat herders to understand the problems suffered by poor people, referring to the examples of great figures like Jesus and Muhammad, who used to be shepherds.
“How can they solve traffic problems if they never face it, or flooding if they live in beautiful houses,” he said in a cynical tone.
Problems and challenges remain in the badly-managed capital, but hopefully the modern Betawi hero can once again conquer those enemies to create a happy ending for Jakarta.