The indigenous forest people of the remote Mentawai Islands, about 150 kilometers off the west coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean, are being pushed even further to the edge. They are powerless to defend their pristine forest, which a company has eyed for converting into a plantation. The Jakarta Post journalist Moses Ompusunggu recently visited Siberut, the largest of the three islands that make up the regency, and observed the native people’s struggle to protect their ancestral home.

by Moses Ompusunggu

It is told that long ago, the ancestors of the Sabulukkungan tribe of Siberut Island embarked on a voyage to catch sea turtles, leaving behind their children and livestock at their uma, a traditional longhouse. At home, while their parents were away on their long journey, the children got up to mischief, teasing and laughing at a dog with total abandon, invoking the wrath of nature. A thunderbolt struck and transformed the uma into a rocky hill. Many people of the Sabulukkungan tribe, whose faith is a blend of animism and Catholicism, still regard the folklore today as if it were historical fact. If you ask where the hill is, they will point at a hill that stands in the central Siberut district of Saibi. The 1-hectare site in the center of the tribe’s customary forest is one of their most sacred places. ...