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“Not all those who wander are lost.”
~ J.R.R.Tolkien

Nomads are having a bloody hard time. Not the burnt-out office-worker types who throw it all in for a few years of travel, but the real nomads, the ones who hunt rather than farm.

This is from last week’s Kompas:

And here’s the translation:

Orang Rimba (literally, people of the jungle) have refused the government’s offer of free houses. This aid is deemed (by them) a symbol of external pressure to force them to permanently settle. This is not in accordance with the nomadic culture and traditions of these people.

“We don’t need aid in the form of houses,” said Tumenggung Nyenong, in a dialogue with army officials and the police in Jambi, on Thursday (12 March).

After the dialogue, Tumenggung Nyenong, one of the Orang Rimba leaders, said to Kompas that giving aid in the form of houses - which is often done by the government - is no different from forcing them to adopt a non-nomadic lifestyle. The nomadic tradition cannot be erased. Whenever there is mourning for a death in the tribe, Orang Rimba always choose to move on in the melangun (nomadic) tradition.

They believe if they don’t move, disasters will befall them - as experienced by members of the tribe who have already died. “The government does not yet understand our culture,” he said.

In the dialogue with Orang Rimba, the Military Resort Commando Commandant of Jambi, Cornel Harianto, stressed that it was important for Orang Rimba to settle permanently and undertake farming. This is so that they can be guaranteed food security. By continuously moving, it is feared that Orang Rimba will frequently face problems in attaining sufficient supplies of food, as is the case at the moment.

In Bandung on Thursday, the Ministry of Social Affairs Khofifah Indar Parawansa said that the government would prepare locations where Orang Rimba can permanently settle. The government hopes that they can integrate socially and that they are willing to live on land supplied by the government. (ITA/SEM)

I first heard of Orang Rimba before I ever came to Indonesia and even thought it might be worth passing through their territory as I took the bone-crunching bus journey up through Sumatra to Bukit Lawang near Medan to see the orangutan. I never did. But perhaps I should have as the Orang Rimba now have their backs truly up the proverbial wall with the island of Sumatra being cleared of forest and effectively turned into one giant palm oil plantation. Okay, it’s not quite as bad as that. But not far from it.

With no place to go the Orang Rimba are pretty much doomed (note that their "dialogues" are with the military and police and not the government as such). Indeed, the Indonesian government sees their removal from the jungle as progress – even non-nomadic tribes like the Mentawai, Baduy and, of course, the Papuans need to brought into the fold – let alone the footloose Orang Rimba.

It never used to be this way of course, and for most of human existence (i.e. many hundreds of thousands of years), everyone was basically a nomad. These roots run deep into the human psyche and scientists even believe that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has its origins in “a tendency in those individuals for behaviors characteristic of hunter-gatherer societies over those of farming societies”.

Nomadic cultures are also far more adaptable than non-nomadic cultures to changing environmental conditions and, in particular, natural disasters. You only have to ask the Achenese who settled coastal areas about that.

Where to next I wonder?

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It’s NOT supposed to be like this.

Government policymaking is going zany again – just like during the good ol’ days.

Before reformasi really took hold - if it ever did - there seemed to be a contest among the ministries about which one could come up with the most zany and ridiculous idea - my favorites being:

1. The draft law on citizenship which would have required foreigners to pay a Rp500 million ”bond” to marry an Indonesian women.

2. The draft law on manpower which would have required expats to take a TOEFL proficiency test in the Indonesian language.

3. The draft law on pornografi and ponoaksi which would have made sunbathing in Bali illegal and even criminalized national dress such as the Javanese kebaya.

4. The draft law that would have banned the use of written English in public places. All signs, advertising and shop names were going to have to use Indonesian. Indonesia grammar also had to be adopted rather than English grammar. This law, amazing enough, was actually passed and cost Lippo Bank a small fortune as the bank was obligated to rename itself Bank Lippo, thus requiring all its branch signs to be changed!!

5. The draft law making it a crime not to use the rupiah in transactions in Indonesia!!! (highly ironic given how many high-profile corrupt politicians have been busted with suitcases full of US dollars)

But history repeats itself, and now, under the supposedly reform-minded Jokowi – although I have strong doubts about that – Indonesia is entering a new era of wacko policymaking, as evident in a string of mindboggling decisions, which includes number two above as well as the idea to ban airlines from selling airline tickets at airports (wtf?!!!!), the decision to impose luxury taxes on houses/apartments sold at only Rp2 billion or above, and, most worrying of all, the decision to prohibit mini markets and other small shops from selling drinks with low alcohol content i.e. mostly beer (mini markets are already banned from selling drinks with higher alcohol content).

Jokowi’s dislike of drug crime is well known of course – he recently hailed the executions of six drug smugglers – but why wage a war on low alcohol content drinks? Is it because bintang-heads are killing each other across Jakarta whilst shooting up by the side of stinky canals as they try to evade the cops? Nope. Or perhaps it’s because bintang-heads are dropping dead after consuming a few glasses too many? Nah. True, a few drinkers might have had a bad hangover but the body count is still at zero.

So why? Because, as we are told by the minister who signed the regulation (the trade minister, Rachmat Gobel), the regulation will ensure the “protection of morals and culture in society.”

HAHAHA!!! Where have we heard that one before?!! No need to mention the rank hypocrisy of allowing minimarts to still sell cigarettes which kill more than 200,000 Indonesians annually. Or that the regulation will result in more deaths as more Indonesian consumers purchase illegally produced moonshine – which has been killing people.

Nope the agenda here is entirely, erm, “social”, with the impetus behind the ban on the sale of low alcohol content drinks at minimarts coming from a hardline anti-alcohol group called @AntiMiras_ID (anti-alcoholic drinks Indonesia).

This group – which is run by Fahira Idris, the daughter of the former economics minister Fahmi Idris - is backed by Rachmat Gobel, and no it does NOT take a genius to put 2 and 2 together to realize why there is a war on alcohol but not a war on cigarettes (ironically, the minister complained last year about Australia’s decision to require cigarette producers to use plain packaging to deter smoking as it might adversely affect Indonesian kretek sales – never mind the hapless smokers who get cancer right?!)

And besides, isn’t the minister overlooking one simple fact:

Note: Guinness didn’t choose the wonderful red knobbed hornbill (indigenous to Sulawesi) as the iconic toucan in its vintage ads – although it perhaps should have given that Indonesia is (apparently) its sixth largest market!!!