Ammatoa: Local Wisdom from the Forest Conservation

Ali Jafar | CRCS | Wednesday Forum

AmmatoaMany of us know Ammatoans from general perspectives about them. Their traditional ways of life are fascinating. Indeed, if we watch TV programs about ethnicity or similar topic, Ammatoans are usually portrayed as a small community group who “still” believe in “animism” and hold rituals for forest conservation. In some religious programs on Indonesian television, Ammatoans are shown as Muslim who practice “syncretism” because they give offerings to the forest, mountains and lands. Indonesians have a lot of stereotypes about Ammatoans, but who they really are without judgmen? Concerning with these stereotypes of Ammatoans,   On Wednesday 16th September, Wednesday Forum of CRCS/ICRS presented Dr Samsul Maarif who had concerned his deep research in Ammatoans and said in otherwise fact.

Ma’arif has conducted his research about Ammatoans society for his dissertation. He lived with Ammatoans and discovered local wisdom of the Ammatoan in the forest conservation. Ma’arif explained that Ammatoans are a small community, no more than five thousand, who conserve the forest as religious practice. Their conservation was based on their belief that the relation between human being and the forest is inter-subjective relation. Ammatoans see that forest as subject like human.

The Ammatoans are the only indigenous community in Indonesia that have preserved their forests from outside exploitation. Ma’arif explained that Ammatoans have divided their lands into inner territory and outer territory in order to maintain their relationship with the forest. Public facilities, such as their school, mosque and clinic are placed in the outer territory, while they live in the inner territory. As their close relation to the forest, they have also divided the forest territory into three areas. The first area is conservation area or “Hutan Lindung” in which all use of the forest is forbidden for exploitation. The second area is “Battasaya”, where limited use is allowed, anyone who remove the tree, should plant another one. In the “Hutan Rakyat” or forest for exploitation, Ammatoan use the resource of this forest for their daily needs.

The closeness of Ammatoans to the forest is based on their cosmologic beliefs that the forest, the lands, and the mountain are no different from human beings. Persons entering the mutually reciprocal relationship are called “Rupanna” meaning face. There are also monsters who seek to destroy these relationships. In Ammatoans belief, the human relationship with forest is inter-subjective between one subject and another. Lands, mountains and forest are not objects to be exploited, they are also subject.

The inter-subjectivity also means that Ammatoans sacrifice, worship and offering over forest are to make sure that they are in communication each other. Forest conservation is engagement for mutually responsible relationship between persons. Humans are responsible for forest conservation. For Ammatoans, to gain is to share, and share is not only for human being but also for forest. In religious practice, lately Ammatoan have little bit different from their ancestors. It is because of outside influences.

Ammatoans have not totally resisted form outside influence like Islam and modernity. Although Ammatoans considered themselves Muslim, they practice Islam in the different ways. They give offering to the mountain, land and forest as their religious practice. Religion in Ammatoans belief is not only human relationship with god, but also understanding cosmos relation between persons. Ma’arif argued that there are verses in the Quran which can support this idea that non-humans are also persons capable of submission to Allah.  Despite their conversion to Islam and the intrusion of modernity, Ammatoan indigenous religion persists, and keeps doing it as an element of a hybrid cultural complex.

During the time for questions and comments, Ma’arif explained that Ammatoans are now struggling to protect forest conservation area from rubber companies and other outside forces that want to exploit their resources. Since the Ammatoans territory is getting smaller, they continue to adapt and reshape their outer and inner territory.

Related with the question about how Ammatoans understand disaster, Ma’arif answered it that in Ammatoan understanding, everything, including disasters, fertility and so on is interrelated. They believe in causality principle in which the coming of disaster such as flood and earthquake is because relationship needs to be restored.

Ma’arif has presented his research about Ammatoans three times in the Wednesday Forum, but his presentation still gets a lot of attention from the audiences who curious with Ammatoans wisdom in conserving the forest. In the next Wednesday Forum, CRCS/ICRS with Kampung Halaman foundation will present Karatagan Ciremai, a film about Sunda Wiwitan teenager. It also will present about Indonesian indigenous religion.

This post is also available in: Indonesian

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