Thursday, 13 November 2008

Tribe lives in poverty, isolation in protected forest

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tribe lives in poverty, isolation in protected forest

Nurni Sulaiman , The Jakarta Post , Paser Wed, 11/12/2008

Paser regency, East Kalimantan, is home to an indigenous tribe called the Paser Muluy. The group lives in a settlement, isolated on the higher plains of the Gunung Lumut Protection Forest, in Muluy hamlet, Suan Slutung village, Muara Komam district.

A majority of them live in absolute poverty as they only depend on non-timber products from the forest for a living, such as honey, rattan and resins.

Seasonally the group tills an area which has been designated as customary farmland.

They lead a life far from civilization, located hundreds of kilometers from Tanah Grogot, Paser regency's capital.

Residents have to walk through rough terrain as far as 18 kilometers to the main village of Suan Slutung for medical treatment as there is no community health center in the hamlet.

"The road was opened by timber companies. We usually use herbs from the forest to treat the sick. The community health center is too far away," said Paser Muluy tribal chief Jidan during a recent meeting facilitated by Kawal Borneo Community Foundation, a Kalimantan environmental group.
"Besides, we don't own vehicles. If our wives are going to give birth, the village midwife will attend to them. We don't have the means for treatment or for delivery."

The tribe has been living in the area for the past 13 generations. Their numbers are small, as there are only 25 families, or 120 people living in the village.

They are completely deprived of their basic rights to education and healthcare. Most, if not all of them, are not well versed in the Indonesian language.

They claim to have received no attention from the government. Its government-sponsored illiteracy eradication program has been running ineffectively.

The village's only education facility is an elementary school with a status of visiting school which has 26 pupils.

Only two assistant tutors teach students from the first to sixth grades. The school was set up in 2002, but there were no teachers for two years.
Lessons began in 2004 -- the reason why some of the first 2008 graduates are 18 years old.

"Our children can't pursue their studies to the next level after graduating from elementary school because we don't have money to send them to schools outside the village," Jidan said.

Based on observations during the meeting with the Paser Muluy tribe, around 20 local youths said they have never had the chance to gain a formal education. Most of them have no means to earn a regular income.
"Since early September we haven't been able to earn a living because there has been no honey. To survive, we depend on help from our relatives or neighbors," said resident Jidan.

The village is not connected to the power grid. Its only source of light comes from a micro-hydropower plant donated by the Padi Indonesia Foundation.

"However, because of the recent landslide it is out of order. We plan to work together to repair it," said another resident, Ngunsang.
Residents can only pin their hopes to survive on the sustainability of the Gunung Lumut Protection Forest. They claim 18,000 hectares of the forest as customary forest.

"The forest is our life and soul. The government should understand this and pay attention to this issue and not try and separate us from the forest by relocating us to the lower reaches of the river," Jidan said.

The three-by-four meter houses inhabited by the Paser Mulut tribespeople are part of assistance received from the Paser regency social office. Their daily water supply comes from the river or wells.

The government plans to relocate the tribe to the lower reaches of the area and designate the forest as a national park, Jidan said.

Besides farming, the village women make pleated bamboo or rattan utensils for their own use and sometimes are able to sell them to visitors.
However, don't expect to get there by public transportation. During the wet season, only four-wheel-drive vehicles are able to reach the village.

Counselors from the Paser Traditional Community Foundation often have to stay the night in the middle of the jungle because their motorbikes got stuck in the mud and there is no one to help.

"I feel like crying when my motorbike gets stuck in the mud," said Iwan Himawan, a counselor.

The Paser Muluy tribespeople were living in the Gunung Lumut Protection Forest before the government designated it as a protection forest in 1982.