As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – The Jakarta Post

Parallels with Canadian Indigenous peoples and Christianity?

Indonesian tribesman Muhammad Yusuf believes his conversion from animism to Islam in a government-supported program will eventually make his life easier.

“Thank God, the government now pays attention to us; before our conversion they didn’t care,” says Yusuf, the Islamic name he has adopted.

Yusuf is a member of the “Orang Rimba” tribe. His small community now gathers around a stilt-mounted wooden hut, while children inside wearing Islamic skullcaps and hijabs enthusiastically recite the Koran.

Not far away, other members of the tribe who remain faithful to the old ways stalk through palm oil trees in a desperate hunt for prey in an area that was once lush Sumatran rainforest.

Stick-thin and wearing only loincloths over their weather-beaten skin, they brandish homemade rifles as they search for their next meal.

Yusuf’s group converted to Islam, the predominant faith in Indonesia, and gave up their nomadic ways in January in a bid to improve livelihoods that have been devastated by the expansion of palm oil plantations and coal mines into their forest homelands.

Authorities insist the move is positive but critics say it amounts to a last throw of the dice for indigenous groups driven to desperation by the government’s failure to properly defend their rights against rapid commercial expansion.

Indonesia is home to an estimated 70 million tribespeople, more than a quarter of the total 255-million population, from the heavily tattooed Dayaks of Borneo island to the Mentawai who are famed for sharpening their teeth as they believe it makes them more beautiful.

But as a nomadic group, the Orang Rimba — whose name translates as “jungle people” — are a rarity.

Source: As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – National – The Jakarta Post

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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