My first meeting with Orang Rimba

Posted By : Ali Syamsul/ 351 0

“Life is a journey, so tread on it. The world is wide, so explore it.”

Starting from a training, I had the opportunity to meet and get to know the Orang Rimba community in Sumatra. They live in jungle and far away from modernity. But not much people know that they live more wiser lives than people in the city.

One day on November 2015, a telephone rang from a friend. “Do you want to join in documentation training?” Of course I want it to. The training was held by an organisation called The indigenous youth of the archipelago. I had to submit an articles about the indigenous community before I could join.

For a week I had pre-training in Bogor with other 15 youths from various regions in Indonesia. Finally only six assigned to document the lives of indigenous peoples in three places. I was on of the lucky six, and with one friend Katharina, we had had the opportunity to go and meet Orang Rimba community in Jambi, Sumatera.

A mentor in training told us before we go. “Do not belief what people say about indigenous peoples untill you see them by yourself!” It’s interesting because as far as I know, Orang Rimba lives in jungle, nomadic, poor, and uneducated. Of course I got that information mostly from media.

Flight to Jambi only took one hour from Jakarta. We were picked-up and escorted by a woman named Dini to a stopover house. We met Datuk Usman Gamanti, a member of AMAN Jambi. He told us about Orang Rimba and mentioned some names who became his close friends.

The next morning, we started our journey. It took one day long just to reach Forestry Office in an area called Air Hitam in Sarolangun regency. There we met a guy named Jenang who said that everyone who wants to enter the jungle area where Orang Rimba lives, should report in this office. This jungle area now is part of Bukit Duabelas national park.

Jenang took us to a small building with a large room inside. It was very dirty, dead leaves and dust everywhere. “You guys rest and sleep here first because we could not go inside the forest at night”, Jenang said.

I was really shocked and wanted to cry. There was no mat, dirt floor, dark, and mosquitos are our friend that night. I thought to myself, if a place near an office is in such bad conditions, then how about inside the forest.

The very civilized Orang Rimba

Early morning a man came. Betaring his name. He is a member of Orang Rimba and he accompanied us to the forest. About an hour we walked and we met a group of Orang Rimba. This is Betaring’s group. It’s not a house like we know, it’s only a very simple hut that dozen of men, women and childern live together. They called this place detano.

We stayed there four nights. We walked and met other groups in other area of the forest. We slept together with them, we eat what Orang Rimba hunted and gathered from the forest, we talked and shared stories. But most of all we collected their stories, about their lives, origin, how they managed the forest, how they managed the community.

Every time after they hunt or gather fruits in forest, they just put all the results of their work on the path side. Nothing is lost or damaged. They never worry about thieves among themselves. They can’t hurt or kill each other because the rules already set they should live in harmony. They can’t cut any trees, only took branches to built a place to sleep or to cook.  

The population of Orang Rimba is approximately 200,000 lives. They live nomadic. Children do not know school. They learn everything from the nature. Until one time a brave woman name Butet Manurung pioneered an education for the orang Rimba children. She gives simple learning of reading and writing. Just only so that the Orang Rimba are not easily fooled by outsiders who want to take their forest. The journey of Sokola Rimba (the name of the school) was also filmed on a movie with same title.

About the forest, that’s the prime fight for Orang Rimba now. The fight to defend their land and life against the threat of oil palm expansion. Not to mention a coercion of modernized or forced them to become “city people”, only in exchange of citizen identity card. Shortly to ask, are they not recognized yet?

Those were my simple conclusions I got about Orang Rimba after the experience live-in with them. In this short trip I made friends with Orang Rimba, their wisdom, their nature, and I thank God to had this opportunity to learn more about life.

By: Ali Syamsul