Let indigenous people decide their own future and that of their environment: Ramon Magsaysay Award 2014 for Butet Manurung – Indonesia

Manasi Mathkar, The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, September 20, 2014 | To read the full interview, click here >>

Butet Manurung, winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2014, talks about her work with Indonesia’s indigenous tribes and why she chose to start a school in the jungle.

Saur Marlina Manurung, better known as Butet Manurung, is an embodiment of passion, grit, and determination. A 2014 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for her incredible work to better the lives of Indonesia’s indigenous tribe, the Orang Rimba, her organisation SOKOLA strives to empower the remote nomadic tribes by teaching them basic literacy and relevant life skills. SOKOLA primarily works in the rainforests of Central Sumatra where an estimated 3,500 Orang Rimba live in relative isolation grappling with issues related to decreasing forest land. […]

Here she shares her thoughts on Sokola Rimba, the ‘Jungle School’, and what it takes to attain success on such an unchartered territory. Excerpts:

Sustainable Development is a tricky realm where you need to strike a balance between needs of the modern world and preserving traditions. How do you help the indigenous people deal with the community-level emotional or philosophical conflict?

When I began working, it was also a personal debate about whether they really need a change? Will this be preserving or destroying their culture? As an anthropologist, I’m more of the destruction opinion. Culture is pivotal for a society. Yet I don’t want to see them in a romantic way. You ask people to preserve their culture but are you doing that yourself? So I ask them to think the same way — how do you think your traditions will survive in today’s world? It takes them a long time but also makes them think that if we continue preserving our culture without any compromise we will all be dead.

Indigenous people, ever since they are kids, are taught by their parents to be independent. It makes them so open about their weaknesses and also stubborn about what they have. But it also helps them define by themselves what is sustainable to them, what is the best development or the best future.

So you leave for them to decide?

Yes, I will not feel so selfish about what is considered good according to me. It’s not my future, it’s their future. It’s not about living someone else’s dream. But I have to make sure they know the risks involved. When the first time I came to the jungle they asked me, “Why was I born an Orang Rimba?” They felt ashamed to be an Orang Rimba, as if it’s a mistake. That was my first task to make them feel happy and proud of themselves before they learn about other expertise. Because once a community is not proud of itself you will never make it independent.

The only skill that they need to maintain, and which they only have, is to be critical. All indigenous people in the world are critical. Until the outside world comes and indoctrinates them — about the mainstream ideal world — and it’s so intoxicating, so poisonous. If you want to conserve them, just show them bad things about the cities. […]

Whereas women have to follow their desires since only a woman with aspirations will understand the needs of the children.

If we have to replicate the Sokola model elsewhere what are the key factors which need to be considered?

I think indigenous people face the same problems everywhere in the world — social, economic, environmental. Also, the governments or the outside world never validates their knowledge. Indigenous people are actually the best teachers on environment. You might come up with a theory but they know a lot better than anyone else. We need to teach these people, document their local knowledge, and share it with the outside world. Hence, we need to support them in every possible way so they have more power to decide and to look after the environment. Only 0.6 per cent of the world population is indigenous people but they live in 1/3 of the world’s arable land. So imagine how important their role is in preserving this 1/3 of the world even though they are just 300 million. Also, the very existence of these people is dependent on forest resources for their food, shelter, and livelihood.

Thus, education is an important aspect. The indigenous people can’t even speak the national language. We should teach them and help them mediate and exchange stories and knowledge. Jungle school is a good method to do so. And it’s easy to set up a school. Just come to the community, identify their problems, put it as a curriculum, and make the school that they want and help them become stronger. […]

Our ultimate goal is teaching skills of advocacy. We train them in advocacy and empower them to liaison between their community and the outside world. Today they have skills to maintain their rights. So they know how to seek help, how to network for a certain problem, whom to seek help for a specific problem, and also to organise themselves. Of course, they will not just listen to you on the first day you meet them. They will test you. But they have instincts. And hence, it all comes down to how much trust and faith you develop between one another.

Source: Wildly Wise – The Hindu
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/wildly-wise/article6429726.ece
Date Visited: Mon Sep 29 2014 12:38:17 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Related posts