Juni 06, 2014

Jambi’s Orang Rimba: Pollution, Plantations and Isolation Limit Tribe’s Health Care Options

"Jambi’s Orang Rimba: Pollution, Plantations and Isolation Limit Tribe’s Health Care Options", Jakarta Globe, 23 Desember 2009.

AS DUSK approached Pematang Kabau village, Tumenggung Grip waited restlessly in the humble — and empty — living room of Doctor Wingsar, the only medical practitioner in the entire district. The doctor apparently had gone to another village to take care of a patient.

Wingsar has served as the sole doctor for four villages in the district for the past seven years. Grip, the father of 16 children, is a tumenggung, or hierarchical leader, of the Orang Rimba in the Kedundung Muda area. Among the tribe in Jambi, tumenggung is the highest rank, and Grip is the leader of 50 families.

But on this day he was a husband and father seeking medicine for his sick wife and children. Grip had spent three hours hiking out of the forest to reach the nearest village, then had ridden a motorcycle for half an hour to get to the doctor’s house. After waiting for another half an hour, the doctor finally arrived.

Wingsar took a short break before asking Grip what his problem was. Outside, loud noise from a generator producing electricity for the house seemed to add to the man’s unease.

“My wife can’t walk because her right hip is in pain. Some of my kids have diarrhea, vomiting, and coughing,” he told Wingsar.

The doctor then asked Grip each patient’s age and began writing prescriptions. It’s common that Wingsar doesn’t see patients from the Orang Rimba directly because they live deep in the forest and transportation is a problem.

“Just give this medicine to each patient. If you can’t read, ask someone to read them for you,” the doctor said firmly. He was agitated when Grip asked for more packages of oral rehydration salts.

“Didn’t I gave you two boxes of that a while ago?” Wingsar said.

“A while ago” was two months. Grip had divided the packages among the 50 families in his group. It ran out fast because the tribe has chronic outbreaks of diarrhea.

Like many forest tribes, the Orang Rimba live by rivers. They even name their tribal groups after whichever river they call their own. Tribespeople are forbidden from defiling the rivers, which are the only source of water for the tribe. Unfortunately, rampant deforestation and pollution from palm oil and mining companies has contaminated their rivers, causing health problems. The tribespeople traditionally drink water directly from the rivers, without boiling it first.

Lack of personal hygiene is another health issue, as is food scarcity. Many of the tribes’ children appear malnourished.

“After clearing the forest and building palm oil processing plants, the factories dump their waste directly into the rivers, causing health problems for the Orang Rimba,” said Rudi Syaf, program manager of Warung Komunikasi, a local nongovernmental organization that works with the tribe on education and health care.

“Their shamans can’t find cures for these illnesses because they are a new problem to them,” he said.

For centuries, shamans of the Orang Rimba used the plants, roots and seeds that they found in the forest to make their medicines. With the their forest home shrinking, now their hopes depend on Doctor Wingsar.[Dewi Kurniawati]


Source: Jakarta Globe.

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