Given the myriad of contradictions, spending time in the ancient forests of West Sumatra with Minangkabau people (Minang) is perhaps a challenge for the mind and spirit of any conservationist. Traditionally a people of the forest, the Minang are the world’s largest matrilineal society, with land owned and passed down through the female lineage. They possess a culture centered on protection of the most vulnerable, hold a deep belief in the ancestral spirits, and are historically connected to nature. Yet they could easily be accused of showing little concern for the forest, rapidly depleting its wealth as well as its spiritual and environmental protection day by day.
Walking in the forest with Ramly and Amek, my Minang team, is often akin to walking through a great library hall with gifted orators, exploring history, language, art, and nature as we sample wild foods, follow animal tracks, collect medicinal plants, and discuss the sweet and sour flavors of the forest. By the light of the night fire, the stories come to life, some myth and some no doubt fact, the close encounters with the Harimau (tiger), the Sun bear, or the Orang Pendek, the cryptozoological “little people” of the West Sumatran forest.
Each time we set out to the forest, it seems the edge has retreated a little further, while inside the forest the canopy is slowly being lowered. Every few hours we come to a clearing, often littered with fresh-cut planks or the stumps of once towering trees and the decaying evidence of an old logging camp. Ramly and Amek navigate the forest moving from one of their past logging sites to another. They recall vividly their experience with every tree they have cut and every animal they have trapped. They have a local name and use for almost every plant, animal, and sometimes insect.
As we pass between the towering trees, the conversation is focused on life up to 200 feet above. Ramly points out trees with significant or abundant life supported in the canopy, insisting that trees housing such dense epiphytic life are too valuable to sacrifice, regardless of the timber’s value. His dilemma then follows in the next breath, as he feels that many loggers drifting in from outside the local villages do not pay any attention to traditional law, forcing him and other locals to fell these giant hardwoods before they do.
Reverence, Respect, and Reciprocity: Cornerstones of Biocultural Diversity Langscape Magazine, Volume 11, Double Issue Summer/Winter 2022 A just, equitable,… Read more
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