From the Forest to the Airwaves
Atop a small hill overlooking the green expanse of Bukit Duabelas National Park sits a tiny two-story wooden structure. The adjacent tower and satellite indicate its unique function, the building housing a radio station for the Orang Rimba called Radio Benor.
Supported by the Norwegian government and UNDP through its REDD+ program, Radio Benor offers an increasingly marginalized community at Bukit Duabelas in Jambi province a voice. Literally “people of the forest”, the Orang Rimba lead semi-nomadic lifestyles dependent on hunting and the collection of forest products. But, because of the swift and continuing devastation of Jambi’s forests through logging, they are struggling for space to live and to thrive.
One Orang Rimba tribe leader, Temenggung Nggrip, discussed the necessity of speaking about what has been happening in and around the national park. “Radio Benor was proposed by Orang Rimba for Orang Rimba. There are a lot of things we want to explain to people outside, like the destruction of the forest and other threats that we face. If we can report things that are happening on the radio it could make things easier because the government will hear about things quickly. That is what we hope,” he said.
- The Orang Rimba have been pushed from their homes in Bukit Duabelas National Park because of deforestation.
- The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and land Degradation (REDD+) programme, through a local NGO, is supporting a community radio station for the Orang Rimba that assists them in communicating with the outside world.
- With over 65,000 hectares of forest disappearing each year in Jambi province, the Orang Rimba are hit hard by deforestation, and struggle to maintain their traditional way of life.
- With support from the Norwegian government and UNDP, Radio Benor will continue to foster awareness of the specific issues these forest-dwellers face amid the degradation of their homes.
Previously rather isolated, the community has lost much of their forest home and been forced to increasingly interact with outsiders – now participating in the monetary economy by cultivating such items as rubber and rattan for the market. Radio Benor engages with this move from seclusion to forced engagement, providing an outlet for Orang Rimba to communicate to others, on their own terms.
Radio Benor is the only radio station at Bukit Duabelas, where approximately 1,700 Orang Rimba reside. The broadcasts are one-of-a-kind, those on air employing Indonesian and at times their local language, directly addressing people deeper in the forest. A local NGO that advocates for the Orang Rimba, the Indonesian Conservation Community Warsi (KKI-Warsi), manages the station and trains the broadcasters.
Kurniawan, a project coordinator with KKI-Warsi, said, “I’ve seen kids really enthusiastic expressing themselves through the radio.” The broadcasts uniquely depend on those in the community’s specific schedules, tied both to the forest and the weekly market, he added.
A BRIDGE OF COMMUNICATION
The many transformations in Orang Rimba lifestyles are a topic of discussion on Radio Benor, which is itself a reference in the local language to roots expanding and spreading in the soil that empower people. Beteduh, a 17-year-old who is one of the station’s broadcasters, said, “The forest continues to disappear. The animals we used to hunt aren’t around anymore…other animals have been forced from their usual habitats and come and take what we would eat. What we have available to eat has totally changed.”
Indonesia is home to the third-largest area of tropical forest in the world. But the country has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, with estimates at approximately 6 million hectares lost between 2000 and 2012. The rate of deforestation was highest in 2012, with a peak of 840,000 hectares. Jambi province is estimated to have lost 1.3 million hectares of forest between 1985 and 2013, and if the destruction continues at that rate, Jambi’s forest will be gone in less than 20 years.
Because of these alarming numbers, Jambi was selected as one of the 11 pioneer provinces in Indonesia’s implementation of REDD+, which promotes sustainable human development while preserving and restoring the environment. Jambi governor Hasan Basri Agus recently outlined the adoption of a provincial action plan for REDD+ and said he has high hopes for Radio Benor and the improvement of the condition of the Orang Rimba.
UNDP has supported the station by providing antennas and building a new broadcasting studio and space for community meetings. Solar panels will be added to avoid overreliance on an unsteady supply of electricity and keep the radio on the air.
“This is a bridge of communication through the airwaves,” Heracles Lang, coordinator of the UNDP REDD+ programme, said during an interview on Radio Benor.
Later, during a walk in the national park, the path to one family’s home required the crossing of another kind of bridge – a tree trunk splayed over a small river. Climbing a slight hill, the space these Orang Rimba have made for themselves features a handful of simple wooden shelters and a garden of chili peppers and yams. Very reserved with outsiders, it is clear many bridges must be crossed to assist the Orang Rimba. Radio Benor is one of them.
Sepintak, who is in his early 20s, was reflexive, emphasizing the need for his community to remain independent. “My hope for the future is to see the Orang Rimba resolutely advance without our traditions disappearing,” he said, adding “How can we protect ourselves and not be destroyed?”
Story By: Deanna Ramsay