Kalimantan:: Slash-and-Burn and Budidaya Rotan in East Kalimantan

Karim and his wife, splitting rattan on his porch in the village Rantau Layung, Pasir

Karim and his wife, splitting rattan on his porch in the village Rantau Layung, Pasir

Forests in Asia and throughout the tropical world are being rapidly transformed through slash-and-burn. Increasing population pressure has made this ancient system unsustainable in many areas. In lesser populated areas slash-and-burn, or shifting agriculture, is less problematic and perhaps even the only viable form of utilisation of indigenous peoples natural resources.

Shifting cultivation is a form of “sequential agroforestry”, where crops and trees take turns in occupying the same land. Two essential aspects necessitate this sequential system from the farmer’s viewpoint; nutrient recycling and weed management. Probably the most widely known system of this type is traditional swidden cultivation, or slash-and-burn agriculture, which is the most extensive farming system in the humid tropics.

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Nusa Tenggara:: Sawu, a remote island

Pulau Sawu, East Nusa Tenggara. A village with traditional houses built by timber and leafs from palm trees. A group of curiously waving people can be seen in the lower center of the image. This is from southern Sawu (from helicopter) (Bjorn Grotting)

Pulau Sawu, East Nusa Tenggara. A village with traditional houses built by timber and leafs from palm trees. A group of curiously waving people can be seen in the lower center of the image. This is from southern Sawu (from helicopter, photo Bjorn Grotting)

When I worked in Indonesia some years ago some of my time was spent operating survey instruments onboard a helicopter. My best memories from that time are from flights we did in the more remote areas. We saw some fascinating scenery and flew by these small remote villages where people always came out waving to us. Well, not everyone was waving, we also saw people taking cover, not knowing what to expect. Luckily for them we were quite harmless, just surveying their land.

One of these remote places was the island of Sawu west of Timor in the province of East Nusa Tenggara. Flying by these, for us, primitive buildings or huts with apparently happy people cheering at us makes me wonder how diverse human life still is on this small planet, even in the 21st century.

Well, enough of that, the rest is some facts about Sawu;
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Life:: Chinese identity

Indonesia, Sulawesi, Manado. Ban Hin Kiong Temple is a popular tourism spot in Manado

Indonesia, Sulawesi, Manado. Ban Hian Kiong Buddhist-Confucian Temple in Manado, where the Chinese community hold yearly celebrations. It is a 19th century Buddhist temple. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Identifying someone in Indonesia as a member of the Chinese (orang Tionghoa) ethnic group is not an easy matter, because physical characteristics, language, name, geographical location, and life-style of Chinese Indonesians are not always distinct from those of the rest of the population. Census figures do not record Chinese as a special group, and there are no simple racial criteria for membership in this group.

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Sumatra:: Minangkabau identity

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Rumah gadang (Minangkabau: big house with horn-like roof). Traditional Minangkabau home at the museum. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Bukittinggi. Rumah gadang (Minangkabau: big house with horn-like roof). Traditional Minangkabau home at the museum. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The Minangkabau–who predominate along the coasts of Sumatera Utara and Sumatera Barat, interior Riau, and northern Bengkulu provinces–in the early 1990s numbered more than 3.5 million. Like the Batak, they have large corporate descent groups, but unlike the Batak, the Minangkabau traditionally reckon descent matrilineally. In this system, a child is regarded as descended from his mother, not his father.

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Java:: Javanese identity

Indonesia, Java, Jakarta. View from MONAS, a lift runs to te top of the monument. Jakarta skyline, looking south. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Java, Jakarta. View from MONAS, a lift runs to te top of the monument. Jakarta skyline, looking south. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

There were approximately 70 million Javanese in the early 1990s, the majority of whom lived in East Java and Central Java and the rest of whom lived on Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and other islands. Altogether, some 100 million people lived on Java. Although many Javanese expressed pride at the grand achievements of the illustrious courts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta and admired the traditional arts, most Javanese tended to identify not with that elite tradition, or even with a lineage or a clan, but with their own villages (see Early History and The Coming of Islam).

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Java:: Sundanese identity

Indonesia, Java, Cisarua. Landscape in the hills above Bandung. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Java, Cisarua. Landscape in the hills above Bandung. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Although there are many social, economic, and political similarities between the Javanese and Sundanese, differences abound. The Sundanese live principally in West Java, but their language is not intelligible to the Javanese. The more than 21 million Sundanese in 1992 had stronger ties to Islam than the Javanese, in terms of pesantren enrollment and religious affiliation.

Although the Sundanese language, like Javanese, possesses elaborate speech levels, these forms of respect are infused with Islamic values, such as the traditional notion of hormat (respect–knowing and fulfilling one’s proper position in society).

Children are taught that the task of behaving with proper hormat is also a religious struggle–the triumph of akal (reason) over nafsu (desire). These dilemmas are spelled out in the pesantren, where children learn to memorize the Quran in Arabic. Through copious memorization and practice in correct pronunciation, children learn that reasonable behavior means verbal conformity with authority and subjective interpretation is a sign of inappropriate individualism.

Although Sundanese religious practices share some of the HinduBuddhist beliefs of their Javanese neighbors–for example, the animistic beliefs in spirits and the emphasis on right thinking and self-control as a way of controlling those spirits–Sundanese courtly traditions differ from those of the Javanese. The Sundanese language possesses an elaborate and sophisticated literature preserved in Indic scripts and in puppet dramas. These dramas use distinctive wooden dolls (wayang golek, as contrasted with the wayang kulit of the Javanese and Balinese), but Sundanese courts have aligned themselves more closely to universalistic tenets of Islam than have the elite classes of Central Java.

As anthropologist Jessica Glicken observed, Islam is a particularly visible and audible presence in the life of the Sundanese. She reported that “[t]he calls to the five daily prayers, broadcast over loudspeakers from each of the many mosques in the city [Bandung], punctuate each day. On Friday at noon, sarong-clad men and boys fill the streets on their way to the mosques to join the midday prayer known as the Juma’atan which provides the visible definition of the religious community (ummah) in the Sundanese community.” She also emphasized the militant pride with which Islam is viewed in Sundanese areas. “As I traveled around the province in 1981, people would point with pride to areas of particular heavy military activity during the Darul Islam period.”

Indonesia, Java, Bandung. Wisata Bunga, the flower road above Bandung. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Java, Bandung. Wisata Bunga, the flower road above Bandung. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

It is not surprising that the Sunda region was an important site for the Muslim separatist Darul Islam rebellion that began in the 1948 and continued until 1962 (see Independence: The First Phases, 1950-65). The underlying causes of this rebellion have been a source of controversy, however. Political scientist Karl D. Jackson, trying to determine why men did or did not participate in the rebellion, argued that religious convictions were less of a factor than individual life histories. Men participated in the rebellion if they had personal allegiance to a religious or village leader who persuaded them to do so.

Although Sundanese and Javanese possess similar family structures, economic patterns, and political systems, they feel some rivalry toward one another. As interregional migration increased in the 1980s and 1990s, the tendency to stereotype one another’s adat in highly contrastive terms intensified, even as actual economic and social behavior were becoming increasingly interdependent.

Library of Congress, Country Studies
Data as of November 1992

 

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Life:: Tradition and Multiethnicity

Kalimantan, Tanjung Datu. Small village close to the Malaysian border. As usual in Indonesia there are happy, playfull children everywhere. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Kalimantan, Tanjung Datu. Small village close to the Malaysian border. As usual in Indonesia there are happy, playfull children everywhere. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

This article give some background to the complex traditions and multiethnicity of the young Indonesian nation. In the early 1990s, Indonesia’s society was divided into numerous ethnic groups and minorities (see list of principal ethnic groups). The largest group were the Javanese at 45 percent of the total population. Sundanese made up 14 percent, followed by Madurese, 7.5 percent, and coastal Malays, 7.5 percent.

As a sign of it’s diverse population, fully 26 percent of the population in 1992 consisted of numerous small ethnic groups or minorities. The extent of this diversity is unknown, however, since Indonesian censuses do not collect data on ethnicity.

As this increasingly mobile, multiethnic nation moved into its fifth decade of independence, Indonesians were made aware–through education, television, cinema, print media, and national parks–of the diversity of their own society. When Indonesians talk about their cultural differences with one another, one of the first words they use is adat (custom or tradition). This term adat is roughly translated as “custom” or “tradition,” but its meaning has undergone a number of transformations in Indonesia. In some circumstances, for instance, adat has a kind of legal status–certain adat laws (hukum adat) are recognized by the government as legitimate. These ancestral customs may pertain to a wide range of activities: agricultural production, religious practices, marriage arrangements, legal practices, political succession, or artistic expressions.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Indonesians are Muslim, they maintain very different social identifications. For example, when Javanese try to explain the behavior of a Sundanese or a Balinese counterpart, they might say “because it is his adat.” Differences in the ways ethnic groups practice Islam are often ascribed to adat. Each group may have slightly different patterns of observing religious holidays, attending the mosque, expressing respect, or burying the dead.

Although adat in the sense of “custom” is often viewed as one of the deepest–even sacred–sources of consensus within an ethnic group, the word itself is actually of foreign derivation– originally from the Arabic. Through centuries of contact with outsiders, Indonesians have a long history of contrasting themselves and their traditions with those of others, and their notions of who they are as a people have been shaped in integral ways by these encounters. On the more isolated islands in eastern Indonesia, for instance, one finds ethnic groups that have no word for adat because they have had very little contact with outsiders.

Indonesia, Sumatra. Samosir. Simanindo on the northern tip of Samosir is the cultural center of Samosir, with a museum. Batak dance performance. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Sumatra. Samosir. Simanindo on the northern tip of Samosir is the cultural center of Samosir, with a museum. Batak dance performance. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

In the 1970s and 1980s, the notion of adat came to take on a national significance in touristy settings such as Balinese artistic performances and in museum displays. Taman Mini, a kind of ethnographic theme park located on the outskirts of Jakarta, seeks to display and interpret the cultural variation of Indonesia. From its groundbreaking in 1971 and continuing after its completion in 1975, the park was surrounded in controversy, not least because its construction displaced hundreds of villagers whose land was seized in order to finish the job. Nonetheless, a 100-hectare park was landscaped to look like the archipelago of Indonesia in miniature when viewed from an overhead tramway. There was a house for each province to represent the vernacular architecture of the region. Distinctive local hand weapons, textiles, and books explaining the customs of the region were sold.

The powerful message of the park was that adat is contained in objective, material culture, that it is aesthetically pleasing and indeed marketable, but that it is more or less distinct from everyday social life. Furthermore, the exhibits conveyed the impression that ethnicity is a relatively simple aesthetic matter of regional and spatial variations rather than a matter of deep emotional or political attachments. However, the park provided visitors with a vivid and attractive (if not always convincing) model for how the Indonesian national motto– Unity in Diversity (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, a Javanese motto dating to the fifteenth century Kingdom of Majapahit)–might be understood.

When Indonesians talk about their society in inclusive terms, they are more likely to use a word like budaya (culture) than adat. One speaks of kebudayaan Indonesia, the “culture of Indonesia,” as something grand, and refers to traditions of refinement and high civilization. The Hinduized dances, music, and literature of Java and Bali and the great monuments associated with their religion are often described as examples of “culture” or “civilization” but not “custom.” However the wide variety of sources of local identification underscore the diversity rather than the unity of the Indonesian population.

Library of Congress, Country Studies
Data as of November 1992

Indonesia:: Facts

West Sumatra, Padang. Coral reef and a small island west of Padang (from helicopter). (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Padang. Coral reef and a small island west of Padang (from helicopter). (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia consists of more than 17.000 islands, of these about 6.000 which are permanently inhabited. About 80 percent of the archipelago is water. The country stretches across some 5.150 km from Sumatra in the west to Papua in the east, almost one eighth of the Earth’s circumference. The distance from north to south is about 1.931 km. Indonesia lies at the junction of the Asian and the Australian continental plates, which is the reason for the high volcanic activity in this region.

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Nusa Tenggara:: The Metu people of West Timor

Nenas woman on her way to the market. West Timor

Nenas woman on her way to the market. West Timor. Photo © Narve Rio

A couple of years ago West Timor used to see tourists in the range of 3 – 4.000 foreigners a year. Many of these visited the mountainous region of the Gunung Mutis protection forest. Particularly bird watchers showed a great interest to the area. In 2001 tourism dropped to less than a hundred visitors yearly due to the proximity to the East Timor border, the refugee situation and general instability in the area.

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Life:: Principal Ethnic Groups of Indonesia

West Sumatra, Padang. Air manis outside Padang. A fisherman proudly presents some of the days catch, which he caught on the reef at low tide. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

West Sumatra, Padang. Air manis outside Padang. A fisherman proudly presents some of the days catch, which he caught on the reef at low tide. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

For centuries the many thousands of islands and mountainous terrain have separated groups of people in the Indonesian archipelago from each other. The result of this is huge variations in culture and languages across the nation. The exact number is not clear, but approximately 300 ethnic groups live here, which speak 365 languages and a large number of dialects.

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