The Forest Scribe

The Anak Rawa Tribe Seeks Rights to its Customary Forest in Indonesia’s Riau

By Winahyu Dwi Utami

Five years have gone by but the Anak Rawa Penyengat, an indigenous tribe living along rivers and straits between the many mangrove covered islands in the Sungai Apit subdistrict of Riau Province’s Siak district, continued to fight to get their rights recognized over their customary forest.

The Anak Rawa indigenous community has been trying to get their rights recognized over their customary forest ever since district regulation of the Siak District number 2 of 2015 on the determination of customary villages in January 2015. The regulation designated Kampung Penyengat where most of the Anak Rawa tribe resides as one of the eight recognized customary villages in the district.

“Since the issuance of District Regulation Number 2 of 2015, we, the Anak Rawa Penyengat Customary Community, have been fighting to get the recognition of our Customary Territory and the existence of its Customary Forest,” said Alit, the head of the Customary Council o the Anak Rawa.

The forest which they are proposing to be recognized as their Customary Forest covers an area of about 18,952.97 hectares. It borders with the Kampung Penyengat in the north, with the concession of PT Triomas in the south, The Dayun sub-district in the west and with the concession of PT RAPP in the east.

A formal proposal for the recognition of this area as customary forest of the Anak Rawa tribe has already been submitted ot the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, through its Directorate General for Tenurial Conflicts and Customary Forests, in March 2018.

“A year after that, it was responded by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. It was said that there was a file missing and that has to go through the district/municipal administration,” said Alit.

“What is missing is the customary territory map signed by the head of the Siak District. This is what we are now working on,” he added

The Anak Rawa is a customary community unit which has been living according to the traditional customary laws of the Anak Rawa. The tribe has been living in the Penyengat Customary village at the very least since the 1930. The Penyegat customary village covers an area of some 54,000 hectares.

At present the population of the village is composed of a mixture between Anak Rawa Tribesmen and incoming migrants from various region, although the Anak Rawa remain the majority of the 478 families, or 1,797 souls. living in the village.

The Anak Rawa depends on nature for their livelihood with fishing as the main sources of livelihood for most of the tribesmen Almost 80 percent of the Anak Rawa work in the fishery sector or grow rubber.

The Anak Rawa build their house on stilt on the banks of rivers or the creeks near their fields. Their houses are build using logs, and their walls and floors of wood bark.

The roof is made out of a local leave known as kepau or from thatch. A wooden ladder usually connects the open front veranda to the ground below.

The Anak Rawa in Penyengat want recognition over their customary forest as an inseparable part of their customary territory, so that they can manage and derive benefits from the forest in a sustainable way according to their won customary practices which have been the local wisdom dating back from their ancestors.

We want to safeguard its conservation by managing it according to the customary laws that we have already contained in a charter, as a form of our concern to the conservation of forests which are increasingly coming under threat,” said Alit who was accompanied by Dom, a tribe wiseman and Toko, who heads the village deliberation council.

The Anak Rawa community is seeking this right over their own customary forest as a form of their concerns for the conservation of forest which are now increasingly threatened by uncontrollable management and exploitation. As a community that lives around the forest, the Anak Rawa has not derived any benefit from the exploitation of the forest that had for generations been the tribe’s source of livelihood.

“On the contrary, we often receive disasters such as floods, air pollution damage to the ecosystem and other source of livelihood in the forest, conflicts with animals and the diminishing customary role in the management of the natural resources in our customary territory,” Alit said.

Therefore, the customary community, along with various concerned parties, have been taking a number of efforts, such as participative mapping, convening meetings with customary communities to build up joint agreement on the delineation of customary territories, communication and coordination with both regional governments and the central government, he said.

Alit was optimistic that they would be able to obtain the recognition for the customary forest because two of seven customary communities in the district of Kampar which had applied for similar recognition had managed to obtain a decree from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry recognizing customary forests. The decrees were directly presented to the communities by President Joko Widodo on February 21, 2020.

The recognition was given to the 251 hectare Imbo Putui Customary Forest in Petapahan village and the 156.8 hectare Kampa customary forest in Kampa village. The Kampa forest is divided into two separate areas, the Ghimbo Lidah and the Ghimbo Pomuan.

The Riau chapter of the Malay Customary Institute (LAM) fully supported the efforts of the customary community in Penyengat. “We fully support customary communities which want to fight for the rights over their customary land. We have formed a team to assist them technically and administratively,” Riau Chapter LAM Chairman Syahril Abu Bakar said on December 10, 2020.

He said LAM will assist the Anak Rawa tribe and representatives of the community and its customary leaders have already met with LOAM executives to seek assistance.

“Because Siak has just held its regional elections, for the time being we are waiting for the definitive administration to be formed to follow up the files that have already been submitted some time ago,” Syahril said.

Alit said the response of the Riau Chapter of Lam was very positive when his community sought its support and contribution to the process of seeking the rights over the customary forest. “We also need assistance from those who are really experiences. Bahtera Alam, WRI, AMAN Kampar are NGOs which have been successful in assisting customary communities in Kampar to get their customary forests recognized. Their experience is really meaningful to our steps going ahead,” Alit said.

By obtaining the recognition of its customary forest, defined as forests within the customary territory of a customary community, then all concessions in that forest must have the approval of the customary community which has authority over that forest. Existing concessions would therefore must be reviewed and must obtain the approval of the concerned customary community to operate.

A recognition of the customary forest would not only help the customary community to assure their welfare but also help them in conserving their custom and local wisdom.*

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