Archipelago

Orang Rimba’s existence
at stake

Forced out: An indigenous youth poses for the camera on his way back home in the tropical forests at Bukit Duabelas National Park in Jambi. The government has plans to relocate more than 1,500 residents of the park, known as Orang Rimba.JP/Jon Aprizal
Forced out: An indigenous youth poses for the camera on his way back home in the tropical forests at Bukit Duabelas National Park in Jambi. The government has plans to relocate more than 1,500 residents of the park, known as Orang Rimba. JP/Jon Aprizal

The past decade has been a difficult time for the Orang Rimba tribespeople, who live within the Bukit Duabelas National Park (TNBD) in Jambi, due to the rapid pace of forest encroachment, despite the fact that the forest is home to the Orang Rimba.

Based on data at the TNBD Center, of the park’s total area of 60,500 hectares, only 30 percent remains intact, while the other 70 percent has been damaged. “This is because the TNBD was a former forest concession area [HPH],” the park’s head, Halasan Tulus, said on Saturday.

The 30 percent that is intact is a biosphere conservation that was expanded in 2001 to include the surrounding former HPH areas into the national park.

With the inclusion of the biosphere area, the government has designated the area as a dwelling place for the Orang Rimba. The area, which encompasses Batanghari, Tebo and Sarolangun regencies, is home to around 1,500 Orang Rimba tribespeople.

“However, the damaged forest has not been restored and to do so would take between 20 and 30 years,” he added.

Consequently, the Orang Rimba have been forced to move to other forested areas as they face difficulties in hunting for animals of prey and they seek tubers.

Those who are fortunate find a good place where there are many animals and tubers. But the less fortunate are forced to become beggars along the Trans Sumatra highway and even as far as Jambi city.

Animal farming is not their tradition. For them, eating the meat of a farmed animal goes against tradition. Their usual diet consists of wild boar, deer and river fish. “We still strongly adhere to the traditions handed down by our ancestors,” said the Orang Rimba tribal chief in Sungai Terab, Temenggung Marituha.

Besides that, they also lead a nomadic life, or melangun, especially when a family member dies, so as to physically put their sorrow behind them. They only return to their original dwelling when the sorrow has passed.

“Previously, a melangun could last years, but now it lasts a year at most because there is so little forest,” said Marituha.

The government has made strenuous efforts to improve the lives of the Orang Rimba tribespeople and encourage them to become “more civilized”, by building them homes and providing them with religious education, but to no avail. “We don’t need them [houses and religion], but we do need the forest because the forest is our home,” he said.

The forest contains a variety of trees that is useful for them, such as the sengeris, mentubung and sialang. The sengeris tree is chosen by women when giving birth, while the sialang tree is usually favored by bees for building their hives. Anyone who fells a tree is obliged to pay a fine of 60 timber logs, which is equivalent to the fine for killing a person.

Another matter of which the Orang Rimba tribespeople are afraid is ill health. A high mortality rate, due to illness and disease, also discourages them from joining the modern world because they believe that the illnesses come from people living in villages around the forest.

“Their most feared sickness is malaria because it can cause death,” said Justia Abdi, Sungai Terab’s Orang Rimba facilitator from the Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI).

They do not possess Jamkesmas community health insurance because they do not have identity cards, so they are deprived of health care at the nearest community health center. This is very hard for them; when someone is sick, he or she is not treated but is left to heal or die.

This complex situation has marginalized them, as they are surrounded by oil palm trees owned by plantation companies. The forested areas have been divided into plots for large-scale plantations and industrial forests (HTI).

“We only ask outside parties to respect our traditions. Stop deforestation. We also need a place to live,” said Orang Rimba chief in Sungai Belukar, Temenggung Ngalam.

“In such conditions, the government should issue a policy to protect the rights of the Orang Rimba as our very existence is in the balance.”

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