By Nurdiyansah Dalidjo

Indigenous Peoples have long preserved their customary lands, which are regarded as assets that will be passed on to the next generations. Thus, every time they face a problem, they always look for nature and community-based solutions.

In this article, we provide the profiles of seven Indigenous communities that represent a variety of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples. Through their stories, we can learn that many problems in the world, including those related to the environment and sustainable development of the environment, can actually be solved by Indigenous Peoples. The solutions are in their customary lands.

1. Indigenous community of Batin Beringin-Sakai, Riau

The Indigenous community of Batin Beringin-Sakai is among the endangered Indigenous communities in Indonesia. Indigenous Peoples of Sakai have for generations lived in and maintained their customary lands ecologically. Initially, the majority of their customary lands were tropical forests that contained relatively small fields and villages standing along the river bank. The Indigenous Peoples rely on the forests’ resources for a living, and hence they maintain its sustainability. Nowadays, the number of the groups’ members preserving such a lifestyle has decreased. Administratively speaking, Indigenous community of Batin Beringin-Sakai lives in Suluk Bongkal Village and Koto Pait Village in Tualang Mandau District, Bengkalis Regency, Riau.

Confiscation of the community’s territories has been going on for decades since the country’s independence day. The Indonesian government has even chased away Indigenous Peoples from their lands. Conflicts involving Indigenous Peoples of Sakai have emerged as their lands overlap with PT Arara Abadi’s concession areas. The people have been under pressure ever since.

The people’s fighting spirit has come back to life again amid the pandemic. The People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)’s youth wing, namely the Archipelago Indigenous Youth Front (BPAN), initiated a food sovereignty movement (AMAN also developed this program at the national level as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and an effort to increase the resilience of Indigenous Peoples amid the pandemic). The youth front started the initiative on Aug. 1, 2020, by creating several groups.

Watermelon harvest in the fields of Indigenous community of Batin Beringin-Sakai. Photo source: AMAN Documentation.

The Food Sovereignty Group’s head Ismail Dolek said they began with growing fruits to strengthen the economy as well as provide a source of vitamins essential for the bodies in the face of the pandemic. Fruits, including watermelon, were planted in small fields managed under the supervision of traditional leaders. Near the end of 2020, the fruits could already be harvested. Their success story of growing fruits then triggered the youth to plant local rice seeds.

“We carry out the besolak in planting the seeds,” said Ismail. Besolak refers to the way they farm. It’s similar to the term gotong royong (mutual cooperation) in Bahasa.

Many more people, from youths to elders, have been inspired by the food sovereignty movement. By the beginning of 2021, they started to harvest rice. Nearly extinct traditional rituals in harvest times came back to life again. Some of the crops from the 10 hectare-rice field were then shared with residents to be consumed, and the other parts were traded to get capital for the next planting season. Apart from fruits and rice, the Indigenous community of Beringin-Sakai began to grow corn, cayenne pepper, and peanuts.

Amid the joy, the confiscation of their customary lands and forced evictions by the company reoccurred. On Wednesday morning (4/28/2021), the company installed a pole to mark their territory atop the community’s field as it planned to grow eucalyptus. A clash between the Indigenous Peoples and the company happened. The Indigenous Peoples tried to defend their customary land by installing wooden signs that were later dismantled by the company’s securities. The Indigenous Peoples, including women and children, experienced intimidation and violence during the chaos. Some had bruises and sprains.

“(The Indigenous community of Beringin-Sakai), the majority of whom are women, are trying to defend their rights,” said AMAN Secretary General Rukka Sombolinggi.

Such a tense situation was also witnessed by the children as they saw the parents were forcibly evicted from their customary lands. The newly-planted fields were destroyed as well by hundreds of workers from PT Arara Abadi.

2. Indigenous community of Amboan, South Sulawesi

The Indigenous community of Amboan lives in the Rongkong highlands in North Luwu Regency, South Sulawesi. The place consists of forests and mountains. The community members are spread over three villages, namely Amboan, Lowarang, and Ponglegen that all sit in an area of around 177 square kilometers. Most of them live by farming, gardening, cultivating fish, and raising livestock, while a small number of the community members still hunt and collect honey.

The main commodities from the area are honey and coffee, but the Indigenous Peoples also grow various vegetables for their daily consumption, such as cabbage, mustard greens, chayote, scallions, chilies, and mushrooms.

Although the highlands are quite far from the center of business, it doesn’t mean that the area is not being targeted by investors and the government. At least three mining operation permits (IUP) atop tens of thousands of hectare-area in the highlands have been issued by the government. Nearly all customary lands of the Indigenous Peoples, including their fields and forests, have been designated as conservation forests by the Environment Ministry. This makes it difficult for the Indigenous Peoples to access their customary territories.

Another challenge has also arisen within the community. The youths studying outside their villages are reluctant to come back home and become farmers. This has negatively impacted the community’s food sovereignty. Sellers from outside the villages have started selling vegetables cultivated in neighboring districts.

Growing vegetables in the field. Photo source: AMAN Documentation.

Through the aforementioned food sovereignty movement, Indigenous youths invited their peers to return home and participate in cultivation. The young members from the Indigenous community of Amboan started to reconnect with their long-neglected customary lands. They subsequently began to identify local food crops, prepare the gardens as well as the ponds. All the activities were conducted from September to December 2020.

At the beginning of 2021, they harvested various crops and fish. The youths also produced organic fertilizers and fish feed. Now it was common to see Indigenous youths-men and women-in the fields, gardens, and ponds. Apart from being consumed for daily food needs, some of the harvests were also sold to support the community’s economy during the Covid-19 crisis.

3. Indigenous community of Talang Mamak, Riau

The Indigenous community of Talang Mamak, also known as the Talang Mamak Peoples, are endangered as they live around forests that have mostly been turned into palm oil plantations. They now inhabit barren lands of Indragiri Hulu Regency in Riau. Rivers and springs would dry up entering the dry season. In fact, before their customary lands were confiscated and turned into plantations, the Indigenous Peoples could farm and cultivate in fertile areas that were abundant in water. The expansion of palm oil plantations has not only changed the face of the Indigenous territories but has also reduced the population of the Talang Mamak Peoples. Every year, many members of the group, especially children and youths, went outside their villages and refused to return. Some of the group members who stayed eventually became workers in the plantations.

The deprivation of the Talang Mamak Peoples’ living space has a direct impact on the destruction of their culture. The rich biodiversity has gradually disappeared from their customary forests, with food and medicinal plants ceasing to exist. The same thing has happened to their local languages and dialects. Amid the tribulation, the Talang Mamak Peoples must face a new challenge, namely Covid-19.

Indigenous youths, both male and female, carry out identifications and mapping on their customary areas. Photo source: AMAN Documentation.

Under these pressures, Talang Mamak youths have been getting stronger. BPAN was formed and actively performed various works, from securing their villages from the threat of coronavirus to going down into the gardens and fields and becoming young farmers.

“The words ‘talang’ in Talang Mamak means field, so the Peoples cannot be separated from the fields,” said Supriadi, the Chairman of BPAN Talang Mamak chapter. “Meanwhile, when we enter the palm oil plantations, we are forced to become a part of the plantations. Day by day, our main livelihood, which is farming, is no longer a priority”.

The 24-year-old said he and other young members of the group regularly carried out a patrol over their customary areas and revisited remaining customary forests. The youths then took the initiative to put up a signpost to mark the boundaries of their territories that could still be defended from the exploitations.

Supriadi and co eventually mobilized residents to plant food crops and asked for elders' permission to plant a thousand banana trees in a communal garden. The idea was very much welcomed. It did not take long for the harvest time to arrive. Besides bananas, they also grew chilies and peanuts.

“We have actually got the idea of developing a communal garden before the arrival of coronavirus,” said Supriadi. They only managed a four-hectare area of garden, but the outcome was not only limited to bananas and other crops. The youths were no longer ashamed of becoming farmers. In fact, they were now proud to return to the fields.

It did not stop there. The youths went a long way by identifying and developing local seeds, both for food and medicine. For the first time in history, there was a consolidation among 29 communities in the Talang Mamak Peoples. Inter-village work took place, in which community youths exchanged their natural resources in an effort to revive the identity of Talang Mamak Peoples. The young generations of the community also began to learn traditional dance, self-defense, traditional medicine, farming skills, and such.

4. Indigenous community of Montomisan, Central Sulawesi

In Indonesia, the Covid-19 outbreak has lasted longer than we expected. Such a situation has finally taught us that Indigenous Peoples possess a great role in dealing with crises and creating food sovereignty. One of the instances comes from those living on islands and coasts, such as the Indigenous community of Montomisan who inhabit the old village of the same name in Banggai Islands Regency, Central Sulawesi. Majority of the residents there live from managing surrounding coastal and marine areas, including seaweed.

Seaweed, as the main commodity produced by the community, has even been marketed abroad. Most of the cultivation processes are carried out by Indigenous women. Around 70 percent of the seaweed farmers in the area are women, who are also members of the Association of Indigenous Women of the Archipelago (PEREMPUAN AMAN).

Indigenous women generally do most of the work from the beginning to harvest time. Men only help sow the seeds. The work has allowed Indigenous women to financially support their communities and families. Some are even able to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

During the harvest season, the Indigenous women would sail to the sea and collect the seaweed. After that, it would be dried and sold. The women carry out all the processes, from carrying the seaweed to be weighed and taking it to the middlemen. They must pass through a hill while carrying a load of up to 30 kilograms on their back. If the weather is good enough, they can harvest two to three times a year.

Harvesting seaweed. Photo source: AMAN Documentation.

“If it wasn’t for this jelly, the Montomisan villagers wouldn’t be able to pay for their children’s tuition fee and to afford houses,” said a seaweed farmer, Arbia. Seaweed is called agar-agar or jelly in the village.

Despite the many challenges during the pandemic, the Indigenous women have continued on farming the seaweed as usual. In fact, their works are much more organized nowadays as they have joined the PEREMPUAN AMAN, which creates mutual cooperation among Indigenous women. Aside from cultivating seaweed, the women in Montomisan also grow crops like rice, sweet potatoes, and cassava to meet their daily food needs.

5. Indigenous community of Malaumkarta-Moi Kelim, West Papua

Indigenous Peoples of Moi are spread across West Papua, including in Malaumkarta Village in Makbon District, Sorong Regency. Their customary areas are located near the coast and surrounded by forests. The Indigenous community of Malaumkarta-Moi Kelim lives from the forest and marine resources. Their staple food is sago, which is obtained from the forests and processed into sago starch using a method passed down through generations. Meanwhile, in managing marine resources, they use a local wisdom system known as egek.


Indigenous women in Malaumkarta are cooking together in a kitchen. Photo source: AMAN documentation.

Egek has been proven to contribute to environmental preservation in Indigenous territories. Under the system of egek, the community members are barred from extracting certain sea products in a specific period within a year. The rule generally applies to hunting fish, lobsters, sea cucumbers, and such. Sometimes, the application of egek is specific to the prohibition of using certain fishing gears like trawlers, bombs, and other environmentally damaging tools. Egek is preceded and followed by traditional ceremonies. During the harvest time, the community usually holds parties that can be attended by outsiders, including foreigners, as long as they follow the rules. The interesting part is that egek can be adjusted with the current situation. For example, in the past, Indigenous Peoples of Moi were allowed to eat turtles, but now as the turtles are getting rare, the rules of egek apply to hunting the turtles along with dugong.

An economic valuation study on sustainable natural resource management in customary areas, conducted by AMAN along with Indigenous Peoples and a team of experts, has dismissed the perception about Indigenous Peoples’ incapability in producing economic values to their customary lands. The study results present surprising facts.

The economic value of natural resources products in customary lands managed by Indigenous Peoples across the country reaches tens to hundreds of billions of rupiah annually. In fact, the projected economic value of the Indigenous community of Malaumkarta-Moi Kelim is higher than the region’s economy. That’s because the community has been able to manage its natural resources using local wisdom that respects the aspects of nature conservation.

In Moi Kelim’s customary area, an intensive economic analysis has been carried out easily as the population in the area is quite small. An analysis by the Executive Director of Padjadjaran University SDGs center, Dr. Zuzy Anna, shows a remarkable result.

“The value of the direct use of fish caught using traditional tools reaches around 3.8 billion rupiah per year from various types of fish,” she said. “That’s only the value of regular resources, excluding those hunted using the local wisdom of egek. The forests themselves also possess a great value of around 1.2 trillion rupiah without cutting down the trees!”

Meanwhile, the potential of tourism, biodiversity, women’s empowerment (producing noken crafts and traditional food), along with culture, each yields up to hundreds of millions of rupiahs every year. Dr. Zuzy Anna further has revealed that the well-maintained forests, mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrass have the potential value of up to tens of billions of rupiah. All in all, the combined economic value of natural resources and environmental services in Malaumkarta Village reaches 156.39 billion rupiah per year.

6. Indigenous community of Kasepuhan Ciptamulya, West Java

The Indigenous community of Kasepuhan Ciptamulya is part of the Indigenous unity of Banten Kidul, which administratively inhabits Sirnaresmi Village in Cisolok District of Sukabumi Regency, West Java. There, around the foothills of Mount Halimun, Indigenous Peoples live in harmony with nature packed with fields and forests.

For the Indigenous community of Kasepuhan Ciptamulya, farming is not a profession, but a part of its tradition. The Indigenous Peoples are banned from trading rice, which is used as the main material of every traditional ceremony and ritual. Indigenous Peoples only grow local rice using traditional methods, without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The ritual of storing rice in leuit. Photo source: AMAN documentation.

For a long time, Indigenous Peoples of Kasepuhan have managed to preserve a local wisdom system to achieve food sovereignty, named leuit. Leuit is similar to a rice barn made of wooden walls, woven bamboo, and fiber of kirai (a kind of palm) leaves. One unit of leuit can accommodate tons of rice. Indigenous Peoples believe that the rice stored in leuit is blessed by their ancestors. In 2017, the government included the local wisdom of Kasepuhan Ciptamulya into the list of Indonesian Intangible Cultural Heritage as its philosophy had remained through generations.

Moreover, every year, all communities in the Indigenous unity of Banten Kidul celebrate Serentauan, which marks the peak of the harvest time. During the ritual, Indigenous Peoples usually perform a series of events, from presenting folk entertainments to having a large meal made from their harvest.

7. Indigenous community of Seberuang, West Kalimantan

The Indigenous community of Seberuang lives in Sintang Regency, West Kalimantan. Currently, thousands of Indigenous Peoples inhabit customary lands measuring more than 21,000 square kilometers, which are adjacent to Sarawak in Malaysia. Most parts of Sintang comprise hills and forests, but now members of the Indigenous Peoples are flanked by large-scale plantations. Even so, the Indigenous Peoples’ gardens can still be found there. Their main commodities include oil palm and rubber, while there are also other commodities such as pepper, coffee, durian, dog fruit, and various fruits.

Generally, the Indigenous community of Seberuang lives in the upper reaches of large rivers. Apart from relying on plantation products, many of the residents are also hunting, fishing, and gathering food from surrounding forests and rivers.

Harvesting rice. Photo source: AMAN documentation.

“Indigenous Peoples of Seberuang live a very simple way of life,” said Masihun, Head of AMAN West Kalimantan Daily Management Board. “Forests are preserved. Of course, Indigenous Peoples apply a unique zoning system. There are certain areas that can be accessed and utilized, but there are areas that do have strict boundaries and cannot be entered by just anyone. Some call it the forbidden forest or sacred forest. And the fields are still ‘alive’ along with the residents’ settlements. In addition to forests, Indigenous Peoples also have certain sacred places. It confirms our identity, origin, and ownership of our customary territory.”

As prices of oil palm and rubber were often unpredictable, Masihun said that the Indigenous Peoples had now started growing a commodity that had been a prima donna lately, namely dog fruit or known locally as jengkol.

Jengkol thrives and the quality is excellent. In one harvest time, the yield can reach up to 600 hundred tons with great quality, productivity, and selling value.” Masihun described that jengkol from Sintang had large fruits and had been marketed outside of Kalimantan.

In the Seberuang customary area, the forests hold a very large economic value, even exceeding the regional income of Sintang Regency. An economic valuation study on the management of sustainable natural resources there shows that the Indigenous community of Seberuang possesses up to 27.14 billion rupiah value per year. The resources range from rubber to jengkol, water, chili, fish, rice, and others. Meanwhile, the economic value for environmental services (hydrological control, ecotourism, water supply, and micro-hydropower plants) reaches 11.53 billion rupiah per year.

The preservation of customary forests can be maintained as it is connected with various rituals. For the Indigenous Peoples, forests are sacred.

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Tag : PEREMPUAN AMAN Masyarakat Adat Tangguh di Tengah Krisis Pemuda Adat