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Hoping for Life in Hutan Harapan

The island of Sumatra has lowland forests that represent about 20 percent of the island's biodiversity. As well as being a haven for biodiversity, these forest areas are also home to the Batin Sembilan indigenous people who have traditionally lived nomadic lives in the forest. Batin Sembilan and the forest have a close emotional relationship. Their existence is interrelated and dependent on each other.

Her name is Teguh Santika, a woman born and raised as part of the Batin Sembilan indigenous community in Jambi who has lived in forest since her eyes were opened. As a child, she and her family lived nomadically in forest. The existence of a river became a benchmark for the location of her group's settlement. According to him, the area around the river provides various things to fulfill their lives, such as fish, resin, rattan and dragon blood. They will move to a new location to search for these resources elsewhere.

"When I was a child, my parents often took me to different places to live," Teguh said.

Currently, the forest area where Teguh and other Batin Sembilan indigenous people live is within the ecosystem restoration area managed by PT Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia (REKI), known as Hutan Harapan. Ecosystem restoration is carried out to support the sustainability of the forest and the life in it. This includes the indigenous people who live in it, such as the Batin Sembilan community. The community's dependence on non-timber forest products makes them and PT REKI collaborate in efforts to protect the forest.

Bi Teguh, as he is usually called, was born and depends on non-timber forest products in the Hutan Harapan area. (Photo: Hutan Harapan/Ardi Wijaya)

Teguh said that the forest is the source of life for her and its community. If the forest is lost, she said, the weather will get hotter, many diseases will appear, and livelihoods will be lost. Unfortunately, the forest is facing various problems, one of which is illegal encroachment. Apart from cutting down trees for timber, the encroachers also clear land for oil palm plantations. Therefore, Teguh and other community members have long been part of PT REKI's forest protection efforts, for example as forest patrol officers.

"As we help PT REKI, they can also help us. Hopefully this patrol activity can slow down illegal encroachment," Teguh said.

Initially, the Batin Sembilan community often stayed away when crossing paths with illegal encroachers to avoid conflict between the two. Sometimes, there are also community members who fight the encroachers, until a fight occurs. If this happens, they will deal with the police.

The Batin Sembilan indigenous people have a rule of jempalo tangan which is a sanction for people who damage the forest. Those who cut down trees carelessly can have their hands cut off. However, this sanction is rarely applied due to concerns about the criminal code, so they prefer to avoid dealing with encroachers. Teguh always hopes that Hutan Harapan can be preserved and continue to be his home. According to him, he and the other Batin Sembilan people would not be able to live in the city. They do not understand how to survive other than in the forest. Therefore, if the forest continues to exist, it will certainly be a home for his children and grandchildren in future generations.