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Traditional Practices for Environmental Conservation and Economic Balance: Insights from Indonesian Local Communities

Indonesian traditions are safeguarding forests and nurturing communities.

Local communities in Indonesia have long relied on traditional practices to strike a balance between conservation and economic needs. From Lubuk Larangan in western Sumatera, sustainable forest management of Utik River (or Sui Utik), West Kalimantan, to the sasi tradition in Maluku and Papua. Different names, similar practices, same goal: protecting Mother Earth. 

Let’s take a peek at one of the local communities that live by the Subayang riverbank in western Sumatera who practice Lubuk Larangan or “prohibition forest”.  

The word lubuak or lubuk originates from the community’s word for the deep part of a river, typically a breeding ground for fish. Meanwhile, the word larangan means a rule that prohibits a certain action. 

Lubuk Larangan signifies a forbidden area for exploiting natural resources in a certain period, especially using unsustainable practices. The designation of the restricted fishing area is based on the agreement of the communities and is stipulated in customary rules and laws applicable to the indigenous communities of the area. 

The process of allowing the harvesting or catching of fish in the forbidden pool occurs when a decision and agreement are reached through a customary meeting. Fish harvesting is typically carried out once a year. After the elders (ninik mamak) determine the agreed-upon day, the youth and the community collectively prepare the location by forming a barrier around the forbidden pool. This barrier serves as a place to attach nets made of thread or plastic string, preventing the fish from escaping during the harvesting process. The captured fish weighing below 1 kg are evenly distributed among the community, while those weighing above 1 kg are auctioned, with the proceeds utilized for the village fund. 

Sui Utik and its Customary Forest 

Going to the central part of Indonesia, approximately 1,000 km from the equator, in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan, lies Utik River, or Sui Utik, as the locals call it. It is an area of more than 9,500 hectares of customary forest or Hutan Adat which stands as the first eco-labeled customary forest in Indonesia, showcasing the success of sustainable forest management. 

The Dayak Iban practices sustainable forest management according to Indigenous laws. They allocate 6,000 hectares as protected forest and 3,504 hectares for crop cultivation, using a traditional rotation system. This system provides the community with food, medicine, and clean water, emphasizing the prioritization of nature and cultural preservation over short-term gains from land sales.  

It’s a day-to-day practice to take what they need from the forest as the forest serves as their supermarket. But the people of Sui Utik always take only what they need for the day, no more than that. They don’t try to save up just in case they’d be too busy to go to the forest the next day or if there’d be rain or it’s too hot to visit the forest. This local wisdom has been passed down for generations. 

For decades, the people of Dayak Iban have looked up to Apai Janggut, an elderly who received the Equator Prize from the United Nations for leading the indigenous group of Dayak Iban Sui Utik Long House in defending their lands against illegal logging, palm oil production, and other interests, protecting an estimated 1.31 million tons of carbon.  

The Dayak Iban’s commitment to sustainable indigenous management is a powerful strategy for mitigating climate change and promoting human well-being.  

Sasi, a practice in Eastern Indonesia  

Similar to Lubuk Larangan, Eastern Indonesian local people practice sasi, which etymologically means “prohibition” or “larangan”—a local scheme that prohibits the extraction of specific types of natural resources in a fixed area for a defined period, be it marine life, plants, or animals. 

Similar to the Lubuk Larangan area, a group of people, including the head village, traditional leader, and the local community, would meet to determine the duration of the upcoming sasi—whether it be six months, a year, or more—tailoring it to combat threats of overfishing and rising sea levels.  

From various sources that study sasi, it can be concluded that sasi was applied first in Maluku before developing in Papua and other areas in the eastern part of Indonesia.  

In the southeastern area of Sorong, Papua, especially in Inanwatan District, the community has embraced the concept, aspiring for economic growth. However, a dilemma surfaces during the “close sasi” season when marine life extraction is prohibited.  

The Inanwatan community, reliant on fishing for sustenance, faces the challenge of finding alternative protein sources during this period, as sago and forest vegetables alone cannot meet their daily needs. Simultaneously, the Inanwatan community recognizes the shifting climate and the imperative to secure a thriving sea for future generations. This intricate conflict demands innovative solutions and effective communication with local communities, guided by experts in sociology and anthropology deeply attuned to the local mindset. 

Indonesian local communities’ steadfast commitment to traditional practices like Lubuk Larangan, Sasi, and other customary laws not only safeguards their immediate surroundings but also serves as a model for global efforts toward sustainability. These time-honored methods illustrate a remarkable synergy between cultural heritage and environmental stewardship, showcasing the effectiveness of indigenous wisdom in harmonizing human activities with nature. By learning from and embracing these practices, we can foster collaborative solutions that benefit both present and future generations, ensuring the protection and preservation of our planet for all. 

Roxanna R Silalahi
Roxanna R Silalahi

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