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Plantation companies grab Orang Rimba indigenous land on Sumatra, Indonesia

Since the 1970s, most of the forest managed by the traditionally semi-nomadic Orang Rimba has been converted into large-scale rubber, pulp and palm oil plantations, depriving them of the possibility to live solely in and off the forest.


The Orang Rimba are indigenous to the forests of the provinces of Jambi, Riau and South Sumatra. Today around 2700 Orang Rimba live on Sumatra island [1].  To the Orang Rimba, whose lives were traditionally characterized by semi-nomadism, the forest is not only a source of life but also of big cultural and spiritual importance and constitutes the foundation the Orang Rimba identity and traditions [2] [3]. Since the 1970s Sumatra has lost much of its forest cover due to large-scale land clearing for oil palm plantation establishment, creation of residential areas and industrial logging [2]. Most of the forest managed by the Orang Rimba has been converted into large-scale rubber, pulp and oil palm plantations, depriving them of the possibility to live solely in and off the forest. Due to physical displacement and forced transformation to sedentary ways of lives, many Orang Rimba are now engaged in agricultural labor or have migrated to beg in roadside areas and cities, are occupaing  in plantation sites  [4]. Resettlement housing has been provided by the state, but has naturally served as poor compensation [5]. Naturally, the Orang Rimba are negatively affected by land clearing through fire and resulting air pollution [6]. The largest share of Orang Rimba can be found in Western and Northern Jambi respectively, as well as the Bukit Duabelas forest in the central part of the province. In 1984, the Orang Rimba started lobbying for a designation of the Bukit Duabelas as a nature reserve. The efforts were fruitless up until the year 2000, when the Ministry of Forestry made a decision to turn 60.500 ha of the forest into a national park [6]. The Bukit Duabelas National Park is unique in that its purpose is not only to protect the ecological richness of the forest, but also the livelihood of the indigenous group [6]. It is currently the only place where the Orang Rimba still live according to traditional believes and practices [2]. However, despite granting the group rights to hunt, plant and gather within it, the park declaration makes no reference to customary (masyarakat adat) rights of the Orang Rimba to the forest, or any other part of its traditional territory. However, the Orang Rimba and its supporting NGOs interpret the declaration as granting such rights, which has been a source of dispute [7]. Further, there are reports of the park boundaries not being respected by companies operating in its surroundings [2]. Up until 2000, approximately 21 cases of conflict between Orang Rimba and companies and/or communities have been seen [4]. Some of these have resulted in settlements being set on fire [4, 8]. The Orang Rimba's fight for their rights is part of the wider national movement of indigenous people seeking to have their rights recognised by the state, fronted by Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN) [7]. Furthermore, the Orang Rimba are supported by the organisation Warung Informasi Konservasi (WARSI) in terms of advocacy and provision of education and health services [9] [10].

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Plantation companies grab Orang Rimba indigenous land on Sumatra, Indonesia
State or province:Sumatra
Location of conflict:Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Rubber
Palm oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Project area:60,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:~ 2700
Start of the conflict:1970
Company names or state enterprises:PT Bahana Karya Semesta (BKS) from Indonesia
PT Kresna Duta Agroindo (KDA) from Singapore
PT Astra Agro Lestari Tbk from Indonesia
PT Lestari Asri Jaya (LAJ) from Indonesia
PT Wirakarya Sakti (WKS) from Indonesia
Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) from Indonesia
Relevant government actors:National Government of Indonesia
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:KKI WARSI
Conflict & Mobilization
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Property damage/arson
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Soil contamination, Other Environmental impacts, Food insecurity (crop damage), Fires
Potential: Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Global warming
Other Environmental impactsDecreased soil nutrition
Health ImpactsVisible: Deaths
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of livelihood, Displacement, Land dispossession, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsStigmatization, social insecurity
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:All supporters are encouraging the government to comply with the third amendment to the Indonesian Constitution, which states indigenous peoples’ rights in Article 18b-2. Furthermore, the recognition of customary rights (Act No. 5/1960 on Basic Agrarian Regulation, Act No. 39/1999 on Human Rights, and MPR Decree No X/2001 on Agrarian Reform) of the Orang Rimba of their territory. The Constitutional Rights of Indigenous Peoples to their traditional territory was affirmed by the Indonesian Constitutional Court in 2013.
WARSI fights for the rights to the Orang Rimba to their traditional territory to be recognised, as well as new land to be purchased [7].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The conflict is still on-going
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Act No. 5 of 1960 Concerning Basic Regulations on Agrarian Principles
[click to view]

The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia, Article 18b-2
[click to view]

Indonesia: Law No. 39 of 1999 on Human Rights
[click to view]

MPR DECREE NUMBER IX/MPR/2001 On Agrarian Reform and Management of Natural Resources, Article 4j
[click to view]

Environmental Protection and Management (Law No. 32/2009). Chapter IX, (1)t
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] Cairns, M. (Ed.). (2015). Shifting cultivation and environmental change: Indigenous people, agriculture and forest conservation. Routledge.

[4] Prasetijo, A. (2017b). Livelihood Transformations of the Orang Rimba as Tacit Resistance in the Context of Deforestation. ENDOGAMI, 1(1), 1-13.

[1] Bakker, L., & Moniaga, S. (2010). The space between: Land claims and the law in Indonesia. Asian Journal of Social Science, 38(2), 187-203

[2] Prasetijo, A. (2017a). Living Without the Forest: Adaptive Strategy of Orang Rimba. Senri Ethnological Studies, 95, 255-278.

[7] Murray Li, T. (2001). Masyarakat Adat, Difference, and the Limits of Recognition in Indonesia’s Forest Zone. Modern Asian Studies, 35(3), 645-676.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Chain Reaction Research, 2016. 2016 Sustainability Benchmark: Indonesian Palm Oil Growers
[click to view]

AMAN, 2017. Joint Stakeholders’ Submission on The Situation of Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia
[click to view]

[9] WARSI, 2018a. Orang Rimba Tribe
[click to view]

[5] Survival International, 2018. I met the tribe on the front line in the battle to save Indonesia’s forests
[click to view]

[10] WARSI, 2018b. Protection on the Rights of Marginalized Minority Tribes
[click to view]

[8] Survival International, 2016. Indonesia: Tribe attacked in palm oil plantation
[click to view]

[6] The Guardian, 2016. Indonesia's forest fires threaten Sumatra's few remaining Orang Rimba
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Emmy Iwarson (ICTA-UAB)
Last update28/05/2018
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