Tue, 08 Feb 2000

Tumenggung Tarib wages peaceful resistance against loggers

JAKARTA (JP): Tumenggung Tarib, the "Tarzan" has never formally learned about conservation but, obviously, he knows it better than the more "civilized" timber-hungry people from outside the jungle.

If you were to ask his age, he would tell you only that he is as old as the tree that his father planted on Bukit-12 (Jambi) the day he was born. But environmental activists who provide advocacy to the Kubu, estimate his age at about 45.

Tarib, looking as innocent as fellow orang rimbo (jungle people of the about 2,500-strong Kubu tribe), has led a non- violent resistance against the mindless destruction of the Jambi forest.

The forest plunderers are basically a coalition of capitalists, corrupt government officials, thugs and their accomplices. They steal trees for money and have no cares at all for the impact on the tribe's survival.

The tumenggung, the highest hierarchy in the Kubu community's traditional "government", has emerged an environmental hero since he received on Jan. 31 the Kehati Award 2000 in recognition of his efforts to save the revered forest.

Kehati (Keanekaragaman Hayati or biodiversity), a non- governmental organization founded by Emil Salim, a former environment minister, categorized Tarib as penyelamat lingkungan, or environmental savior. The award is the most prestigious in conservation of biodiversity.

Flying to Jakarta, where he stayed at Hotel Indonesia, to receive the award presented by Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri was a memorable experience. It wasn't all somber ceremonies for activist friends, members of a Jambi-based environmental group (Warsi), who accompanied him, there were humorous experiences as well.

"It was amazing on the flight to see clouds floating around and under us," he said in his Kubu dialect as translated by Warsi activist Robert Aritonang.

Aritonang gleefully told of the difficulty he had explaining that Tarib had to go to the toilet when nature called, because Jakarta had no "forest" where he could bury his waste the way it is done in the jungles of Jambi.

The tumenggung found it "uncomfortable" to hang his loincloth on the hook in his hotel room and wear trousers and a long-sleeve shirt the whole day in Jakarta.

In the jungles of Semapui and Pakuaji areas, Tarib leads a group of 84 people from 22 families. A tumenggung since 1985, Tarib has two wives, eight children and eight grandchildren.

Tarib, who wears a loincloth like all other Kubu tribesmen, is one those from within the jungle who have opened themselves to the presence of outsiders thanks to the environmental activists that support their cause.

According to Warsi, more than 1 million hectares of forest in Bukit-12 area and elsewhere in Jambi have been turned into plantations.

The journey to the award ceremony began nine years ago when he became convinced that the loggers, legal and otherwise, would never stop unless he did something to put the brakes on their activities.

He and people of his group started farming with a pattern they call hompongan, planting land along the border of the Bukit-12 biosphere. The farms were to serve as a demarcation line between their property and that of people outside the forest. The farms were made along the borders previously set out by the Ministry of Forestry.

Living outside the biosphere are mostly transmigrants and the indigenous people that capitalists from the city often hire to fell trees in the forest.

The non-Kubu people have long agreed that they would not trespass the farms of the forest people.

On the farms, the orang rimbo grow cassava, rubber and paddy.

The nomads live almost entirely on forest products like honey, resin, and rubber that they sell to tauke (businessmen, usually Chinese) that periodically come from the town to sell them foodstuffs and other basic necessities like kerosene and clothes.

Tarib's efforts to introduce hompongan initially met opposition from people in his own group. Critics insisted that they would be forced into contact with aliens they call orang terang, which is taboo under their traditional beliefs.

But after a time, Tarib was able to convince his people of the necessity for the strategy.

Hompongan has, for now, been effective with loggers and orang terang who still honor the peace agreement. The Kubu are known as a peace-loving people and will choose to retreat if confronted.

Tarib is also a well-known traditional healer in his community. He has a vast knowledge about herbs and plants in the forest which have curing effects.

In 1998, a team of researchers from the Ministry of Health, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), University of Indonesia and the Bogor Institute of Agriculture reported there were 137 types of plants which had potential as beneficial drugs.

The greedy orang terang keep on eying the Jambi forest and for as long as corruption persists and supervision slack, Tarib will need a helping hand to defend the forest where he belongs. (pan)