BBC International Media on November 17, 2017, reported that the indigenous people of Orang Rimba who live in the rainforest of Sumatra, Jambi, Indonesia are very concerned. The Jungle People are threatened with extinction there, even the Indonesian state has forced them to abandon the old culture and embrace a new religion. Who is the Orang Rimba? How is the condition now? Maybe that’s interesting to talk about.

Orang Rimba is one of the indigenous tribes living in the rain forests of Sumatra, Jambi Province, Indonesia with an estimated population of about 200,000 people. But the number is decreasing. They are still living by being nomadic for their survival by hunting animals and looking for fruits in the forest. They still consider forest products to be mutual. Their religion is animism or belief in the holy spirit of the ancestors. In the forest, they are divided into small groups led by a person who is labeled tumenggung.

tribe of the jungle
tribe of the jungle

According to some Orang Rimba sources from the erring Maalau people, they fled to the jungle around Black Water, Bukit Duabelas National Park. Other sources said they were from the Pagaruyung area, who fled to Jambi. This opinion is reinforced by the evidence that the Orang Rimba tribal customs have a common language and adat with the Minangkabau tribe, such as the matrilineal family system.

The local people more often call them inner or tribal tribes who are still underdeveloped. In addition, there is also a mention of them with the term Kubu tribe which means very dirty, disgusting, primitive and garbage. They call themselves Orang Rimba themselves. Orang Rimba is estimated to have lived hundreds of years in the rain-forest of Sumatra. But they have been marginalized since Indonesia opened a palm oil plantation there.

Since Indonesian independence Orang Rimba is not recognized by the state of Indonesia because they are not religious and have no identity. In the 1980s Suharto’s president through transmigration program has sent Java tribes to various areas in Sumatra one of them is Jambi Province. The government provides land for the Javanese as well as cleared palm oil plantations there. Since then, the vast forest area has traditionally been the home of Orang Rimba, Soeharto has handed the area over to oil palm, rubber and paper companies without compensation to indigenous tribes.

The transmigration program has brought migrants from Java to live and settle there. The Indonesian government did not see the jungle as a citizen even as a human being. That was the beginning of the jungle removal in the rain forests of Sumatra, Jambi, Indonesia.

In recent years indigenous people are increasingly being pressed in the Sumatran rainforest where they live. Tens of hectares of forest annually burned the company for oil palm expansion. There is no place for them to find food. Massive forest burning by oil palm companies has caused death for them because it is caused by air pollution so they suffer from respiratory problems.

New oil palm plantations have increased at a rate of between 300,000 and 500,000 hectares annually over the past 10 years. In the past 30 years, more than half of Sumatra’s forests have disappeared, replaced by mono-culture oil palm plantations.

According to one of the interviews of social researchers with one of the indigenous tribal families named Sigungang, they still try to survive in the forest by trying to hunt wild pigs but their efforts are sometimes in vain. He states “if we can not find anything, we are forced to eat palm fruit and that makes our heads spin”

For now they are very difficult to get food in the forest. In addition, rivers in plantation forests are polluted with pesticides and their families are increasingly problematic after drinking the water. Whereas from the first they are very guarding the river. They respected the god of springs so they did not defecate into the river but now the river water can not be used anymore.

Many are forced to convert to Islam or Christianity. There is no other option for them to survive than to follow the wishes of the country. so some of them are forced to abandon their old beliefs and convert to both Islam and Christianity. Many of them chose Islam as a new religion.

Government of Indonesia in 2016 social minister Khofifah mentions “There is no forest for them to hunt, their water fishing and drinking is contaminated, and so is the air, So we give them houses, villages to live there.”

The government in cooperation with plantation companies has built some housing for Orang Rimba. In 2016, President Joko Widodo announced it had made new housing and provided some land for them, after meeting with tribal leaders.

But the government’s efforts failed because many of the housing that had been built had been abandoned by them. The Jungle people who live in it only briefly and return to the remaining forest.

One of the oldest people of the jungle tribe said “What we want is for them to stop burning our forests, we do not want home like outsiders, we feel peace and happiness in the forest, I am a person from the forest”.

Orang Rimba food source
Orang Rimba food source

Some of them choose to convert to Islam so they can travel and struggle to try and protect their family forests. They try to register forests as ancestral lands because of a 2013 court verdict stating that indigenous peoples have rights over their forests they have lived for centuries. But there is one thing they fear: their culture and way of life will be destroyed forever.

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