“Orang Rimba” face their final hour

“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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