Universitas Indonesia Conferences, The 8th International Symposium of Journal Antropologi Indonesia

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Defining the Progress from Within the Forest
Aditya Dipta Anindita

Last modified: 2022-06-05


Indigenous peoples are distinguished, among other things, by their cultural identity. When used in the context of development, culture has often been qualified with the adjective traditional, a pejorative connotation implying that it is a constraint to change of any sort (Rao and Walton 2004 in Gow 2008).

Meanwhile, development in Indonesia is heavily influenced by evolutionary theories that states that development is a linear process from primitive or traditional societies to advanced (modern) societies with western countries as the reference (Suwarsono and So, 1994). From this point of view, Indigenous Peoples are often placed as disadvantaged communities, and therefore receive many interventions in the name of development.

If development is considered as progress, is that really how the Orang Rimba who inhabit the Bukit Duabelas forest area in Jambi feel? Since the New Order era, the Orang Rimba have relinquished patches of forest in the name of development. Today, there are no more than 60,000 hectares of forest area surrounded by oil palm plantations, rubber plantations, Malay villages, and transmigrant villages, complete with markets and roads that support the distribution of goods. The remaining forest areas have also been designated as National Park. Some Orang Rimba have been relocated through settlement projects.

Narrowing forests and increasingly open access, increase the intensity of interaction with the outside world. From this point, new problems emerged: the changes in habitat that have led to changes in their way of life, and the collapse of customary institutions.

The writer's long and intensive experience in working with the Orang Rimba has produced notes from a native's point of view, about their romantic memories of their ancestral forest and the changes that occurred which they had no control over. Changes that feel contradictory to progress that is a unilaterally designed development goal.

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