Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Illegal logging threatens tradition

Illegal logging threatens tradition

Source: The Jakarta Post - August 29, 2007
By Rizal Harahap, Teluk Kuantan

Fatimah cheered as she watched a couple of jalur -- long traditional race
boats powered by up to 50 oarsmen -- racing along the Batang Narosa River
in Teluk Kuantan, in Riau. At the ripe old age of 62, the grandmother of 11
eagerly cheered on the oarsmen as she held her three-year-old grandchild.

"Faster, faster," she yelled in the local tongue. Fatimah wasn't the least
distracted by the scorching sun, nor showed any signs of fatigue from the
seven-hour bus ride from Ujung Batu.

"Look at that ... a boat has overturned!" she exclaimed when a boat tipped
over and the crew members were thrown overboard. Fatimah was one of
thousands of spectators who attended the traditional jalur competition in
Teluk Kuantan, the capital of Kuantan Singingi regency in Riau province,
which was opened by Riau Governor HM Rusli Zainal on Aug. 25. People from
neighboring regencies and provinces, as well as those in Kuantan Sengingi,
participated in the event.

The jovial atmosphere at the festival seemed to surpass that of the Idul
Fitri holidays. "Kuantan Sengingi residents residing outside the area often
don't return home during Idul Fitri ... but they come home to watch the
jalur boat race," Fatimah said.

However, the annual event, which has been held since 1903, is at gradual
risk of extinction. The tradition, which is included in Riau's national
tourism agenda, is likely to disappear due to illegal logging.

"It's getting harder to obtain wood to build a jalur," said an elder in
Kuantan Sengingi, Edyanus Herman Halim, who has the honorary title of Datuk
Bisai Orang Godang Koto Ditongah. Edyanus said at least one large log is
needed to build each jalur boat in Kuantan Sengingi.

Jalur are usually made from choice timber such as the kure and banio
varieties, due to their durability and lightweight quality. These varieties
are quite straight and long, thus able to accommodate 60 oarsmen. However,
these timber varieties are now quite difficult to find due to rampant
logging and forest conversion to make way for farms and plantations.

"Jalur cannot be made from palm oil or akasia trees. If forest conversion
continues unabated 10 to 20 years from now, the jalur boat race will become
a thing of the past," Edyanus said. He urged the Riau administration and
residents to work together to protect and preserve the forest to save the
traditional jalur boat race, which is deeply-rooted in Kuantan Sengingi

"It's time for us to establish a traditional forest to preserve the timber
to make jalur. It's the only way to ensure the jalur boat race will
survive. We must find a solution now if we want the tradition to exist for
future generations."

The move gained support from Governor Rusli, who said at the launch of the
festival a traditional forest was imminent. He also encouraged forest-based
companies in Riau to set aside land for the program.

"We support the establishment of such an area for the people and to save
the jalur boat race," Rusli said. He added the event should be preserved
due to its cultural value and also as a means to stimulate the local
economy. Each time a jalur boat race is held, thousands of people,
including foreign visitors, visit Teluk Kuantan -- filling hotels,
restaurants, markets and food centers.

"The local economy improves whenever the event is held."

Managing director of PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper Rudi Fajar supported
the idea of establishing a traditional forest in an effort to preserve the
local tradition.

"We will support the program because it is in line with our mission to
become more involved in the community and live in harmony alongside the
people of Riau," Rudi said.

As part of its social responsibility to preserve the traditional jalur boat
race, the company sponsored the event by building bazaar stalls and
providing three heads of cattle and a cash prize of Rp 10 million
(approximately US$1,100) for the winner.