Orang Rimba Transcript

Transcript from the film

"Orang Rimba:

Happiness Lies in the Forest"

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The Orang Rimba are a nomadic forest people, small groups of whom still live in the jungles of Sumatra, Indonesia. Since the advent of President Suharto’s transmigration schemes in the mid-1980s, deforestation in Jambi Province has accelerated massively. Vast oil palm plantations continue to replace natural forest.

The filmmaking process attempted to enable a neutral forum for conversation between the geographically isolated Orang Rimba and the palm oil company executives in charge of running this industry from their offices in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.


Mangku Basemen:
The palm oil companies cleared the forest, thousands of hectares from each group.
There have been no benefits for the Orang Rimba.

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Tumenggung Tarib:

Our forest is gone.
It’s already been made into oil palm plantations.
The whole of the Black Water area is our ancestral land.
The Dragonblood Land, the Forbidden Forest, the special land for childbirth…
…It has already been destroyed.

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Tumenggung Majid:
We’re now sitting in a plantation.
When they arrived, they started to clear the forest in order to establish the plantation.
They completely ignored our customary laws and cut down all our culturally significant trees.
The ‘birth trees’ and the ‘life trees’. They cut down the sialang tree [where the honeybees nested], all the Durian and Duku [fruit trees].
When they began clearing the forest in this area, they cut all those trees down.

Harvesting Honey from the Sialang Tree

Tumenggung Tarib:
In the past no-one was clearing the forest.
Now everyone is.
Rimba people had a very small impact on the forest.
We only cultivated plants along the riverbank.
But now much of the forest has been destroyed.
We’ve lost a lot.

Mangku Basemen:
This national park is the only remaining forest.
Our culture…our customs…
…our wealth…they’re all tied to this forest…
Every aspect of Orang Rimba life is tied to the forest.
All our culture…how we find our food…all the wealth that we have.
That is why I am happy to be Rimba.
When I see my forest being destroyed it makes me weep.

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Tumenggung Majid:

We’ve asked the company for compensation for this tree many times
…according to Orang Rimba customary law…but they refuse to accept responsibility.
According to Orang Rimba customary law…if you cut down a Senggirris Tree – even if you don’t kill the tree – or if you just destroy the “anakan” (“child” of the parent tree)…the customary law must be enforced.
You must pay 500 loincloths.
It’s not for the benefit of the humans but out of respect for the tree.

Tumenggung Nggrip:
I’m the representative for my people.
I have a duty to negotiate with [the company] PT SAL.
My people and I have already been waiting two years for reparations.
If they don’t keep their promise…I feel like they are making a fool out of me.

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Tumenggung Majid:
All I can do is keep pestering the company.
Keep repeating my demands…
Since opening the plantation they have refused to acknowledge the Orang Rimba.

Tumenggung Tarib:
The company could give us food to eat every month, or the government…
…but given the choice we would prefer to keep our forest.
Happiness for the Orang Rimba lies in the forest.
Even if they gave us a massive pile of money this big we’d still prefer to keep our forest…
The money would run out...whereas the forest will still be there to provide for our grandchildren.

Tumenggung Majid:
We rely on the forest and we need something to leave for our grandchildren.
A guarantee for their lives. That’s why we’re asking for land.
If they give us money it means I can eat…but what about my grandchildren? How will they survive?
Our community will be destroyed.

Three Chiefs of the Orang Rimba - B&W

Tumenggung Nggrip:

What would people do if I started cheating the government?
The government would be angry with me!
Why should the Orang Rimba be treated with any less respect?

Tumenggung Majid:
We’ve made demands…but our forest has already been taken…our forest is gone.
We demand some land!

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Tumenggung Nggrip:
The source of the river is now within a palm oil plantation. The oil palm trees are sucking up all the water.
So now it is hard for us to find water.
Water has become scarce and hard to find.
The water is also polluted.
It’s got fertilizer and poison in it.
The children drink it and get diarrhoea and other stomach problems.

Pak Mbliring:
My mother died from drinking water from the oil palm plantation.
Her stomach swelled up.
In the plantation they are always using herbicides. Even the grass dies.
If it enters our stomachs is it going to kill us?


Tumenggung Tarib:
In the past, it was easy to find fish.
There were so many we could pick them out of the river by hand.
Now it’s difficult to find even two fish.
Hunting wild boar can be a real chore.
Finding anything is difficult.

Jungle River Fishing

Tumenggung Melencang:
During the era of the last Tumenggung [1984] there was still a lot of forest.
There were lots of ways to make a living.
Nowadays survival is very difficult.
Nowadays we can only hunt for pigs.
There is nothing else left to look for.

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Pak Mbliring:
When the forest was still healthy, life for this Orang Rimba community was good.
There was rattan and resin…meranti trees and dragonblood.
But now it’s so difficult.
So difficult to eat.

Tumenggung Tarib:
The Orang Rimba’s forest has been taken over and converted to oil palm plantations.
So they became rich, but Rimba people became poor.
So that’s why some of the Rimba people became thieves…robbers…
They [the Orang Rimba kids] stole some fruit (palm oil seeds) from the company.
The company men were angry and chased them on motorbikes.
One kid had his hand injured when shielding himself from a security guard who was trying to stab him. He was just a child.

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Tumenggung Majid:
The population is growing and the forest is shrinking.
I feel cramped! Claustrophobic!
That’s what I feel! We’ve had to sit and watch whilst they took our land! Our own ancestral land!

Tumenggung Melencang:
Sometimes I would like to make a camp inside the oil palm plantation but it’s forbidden.


Pak Tuah:
In fact, that land is our ancestral land.
Our life and death are in that land.
How can it be that we are forbidden?
It’s forbidden for kids to take the seeds which have fallen from the oil palm trees.
How can it be forbidden?
They planted oil palm trees all over our land.

Tumenggung Tarib:
[The company] said “We bought this land from the President. So if you want to make demands, ask the President!”
They said: “Don’t ask us, we are just workers here!”
How on earth were we supposed to find the President?!
We didn’t have any idea of where the President was!

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The representatives from PT ASTRA requested that we stopped filming. They declined the opportunity to issue a statement, either written or filmed.

PT ASTRA told us to ask the government for a statement. They said the government invited them to invest in Jambi Province.

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The representatives from PT SINARMAS required that we included a full, unedited recording of their response. They stated that this was to avoid any confusion or potential for misrepresentation.

Pak Daud:
New palm oil plantations are always situated in locations allocated by the government.
In developing plantations, especially for palm oil, we tend to use areas of non-productive land.
When we are entering a new area, we always consider the environment, local communities, and people living in the surrounding area.
Our hope is that a non-productive area can become more productive.
For example, the palm oil plantation creates more economic opportunities.
The new market activity causes a greater economic turnover.
There are more employment opportunities for local people.
New opportunities for entrepreneurship.
It also supports the government in achieving its aim to alleviate poverty.
With specific reference to the Orang Rima in Jambi Province, the hope is that the development of palm oil in Jambi will bring economic development, and development for the Orang Rimba themselves, so that their children and grandchildren can receive a better education, and so that in the future they can become more modernised and advanced.
In order to achieve this we need the collaboration of the regional and central government.
With all development, whether for palm oil or anything else, there will always be a conflict of interests.
It is up to us to find solutions and to resolve any conflicts fairly. The conflicts should be resolved using an informed and holistic approach.
The government’s developmental aim is to improve the welfare of local people and the Indonesian population in general, to improve the country’s economy.
It is the responsibility of all of us to support the government.

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Tumenggung Tarib:
That’s correct, the point about development for the future.
But development for the future with what resources.
It’s true what he said.
If there are companies, there is development, there are roads, that’s true.
But how can the Orang Rimba continue to make a living?

Tumenggung Nggrip:
It’s impossible for things to happen as Mr Daud suggests.
Us no longer being Orang Rimba in the future?
That’s impossible. We will remain Orang Rimba.
But Orang Rimba do want development.
We want education and schooling, and to have some support from the government.
That does not mean we should change our culture.

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Pak Prabum:
We’re asking the company to make amends for what they have already destroyed – cutting down the birth tree, the life tree, destroying the graveyard in the transmigration and company area – that’s what we’re asking for help with.
It’s nothing to do with our customs.
My brother’s grave is over there.
They already burnt it.
If you don’t believe me I can show you the grave.
There is a graveyard but we don’t mark the graves with headstones. Only the land itself knows it’s a graveyard.
They already burnt it.
According to Rimba custom, if you burn a graveyeard, you should be fined 500 loincloths.
I already made my demands.
They only paid 60 loincloths, it’s no compensation.
They did not treat it like a human graveyard.

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Pak Tuah:

Only people like you get developed, not us! That’s how it’s been, since the company came here.
Only transmigrants have received development aid.
The Orang Rimba have not.
That’s why what the company says is not true.
In the past when they began clearing forest they promised economic development like that.
They said it would increase household income.
We’re still waiting for our household income.
For us the Orang Rimba.


Tumenggung Tarib:
We went to the Hulo Mandalang Office – that’s the company office.
When we arrived there, they grabbed two people, and put them in jail.
They didn’t release them even though they were crapping and pissing themselves.
The others didn’t get arrested.
Only two people were taken to the police office.
Until they were crapping and pissing in their loincloths.
The police said “Don’t complain to the company! We’re just following orders! We’re just workers following the orders of President Suharto!”
That was their response.
And then we just shut up.
Our Jenang [speaker] shut up and we all shut up, and our forest was cut down.
That’s all. Thank you.


Mangku Basemen (Interior):

In my mind, he said that right now we are Orang Rimba, but tomorrow we will not be.
That’s his perspective.
I have no desire to change my beliefs, nor to abandon our customary laws or culture.
What I want to say is that Orang Rimba culture should endure.
The original beliefs of the Orang Rimba should endure.
So how can the economic situation of the Orang Rimba be improved?
Because many people try to rip us off.
That’s why we want our kids to go to school.
Hopefully they will become less naïve, less easy to cheat.
Developing our kids means we won’t be living in debt.
They will be able to make their own way, ‘they have their bikes’.
But that doesn’t mean our culture and our forest should change.
As for us, we will remain in our loincloths.
When I go into town I will wear trousers and a shirt, but for the forest I will keep my loincloth.
I won’t wear a shirt.
I will not abandon my culture.

Mangku Basemen (Exterior):
To be called an Orang Rimba is to live in the forest and live a rich life. In the cool of the shade.
You can make an analogy with the life of a fish.
If you put a fish into hot water it will die.
Water is the essence of a fish’s life.It lets them prosper.
This is what the forest means to the Orang Rimba. It lets us prosper.
Maybe Orang Rimba can survive in the heat outside the forest…but that life would not be worth living.

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Dedicated to the Orang Rimba of Sumatra.

On the 20th November 2007 this film was shown to delegates at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO-RT5) Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


Over 500 people from 28 different countries were in the audience. They included palm oil producers, investors, goods manufacturers, retailers, and representatives from social and environmental NGOs.

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