Tribal children in Indonesia suffer from hunger, illness

Tribal children in Indonesia suffer from hunger, illness
Orang Rimba children.

Four children from a nomadic group known as the Orang Rimba have received medical treatment in Batanghari regency Jambi. But these four are only a few of the many Orang Rimba that are in need of food, water and medicine.

One-year-old Cipak and 12-year-old Merute from a tribal group led by Mangku Terap, who live in Bukit Dua Belas National Park (TNBD), have been admitted to a pediatric ward's isolation room in the state-owned hospital in Muarabulian city, Batanghari.

"They have been treated there since Saturday," Mangku Terap, the tribe's chief, said on Sunday, adding that two other children, Besikap, 4, and Sebilau, 3, have been treated as outpatients.

Mangku said that before being admitted to the hospital the children had been suffering from a high fever for seven days. The group tried to heal the kids by using traditional herbs to no avail.

"We then decided to bring them to the hospital," Mangku said.

He said that seven more children in the forest where they lived had also been suffering from the same disease but they were yet to be able to take them to the hospital.

One of the doctors at the hospital, Beby Andihara, said the patients were suffering from fever, cough and acute respiratory infections. "Apparently, these were caused by malnutrition and bad sanitation," Beby said.

Being nomadic and malnourished, he added, had weakened their bodies such that they were vulnerable to diseases.

The doctor said that if the patients did not improve in the next few days, they would be referred to a hospital in Jambi city, the provincial capital. The patients, he added, would be exempted from medical expenses as the Batanghari regency administration would cover it.

The Warsi Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI Warsi) unit coordinator Kristiawan said the patients belonged to the Temenggung Marituha tribal group. Eleven Orang Rimba in TNBD had died over the past two months. Most were members of the Temenggung Marituha group.

Kristiawan expressed hope that the government would proactively provide health and food aid, and, most importantly, medical treatments to the ill children.

Separately, the Jambi provincial Social Manpower and Transmigration Agency's Suku Anak Dalam section head Usup said his office had started investigating the deaths of the Orang Rimba caused by starvation.

He said the case was difficult to deal with because the tribe's nomadic life made it difficult to know their whereabouts and track them down, not to mention the difficulty of accessing the areas where they were dwelling.

But, he said, the government was committed to putting an end to the misery and curing all the sick people in the tribe. "That way no more people will die because of famine," he said, adding that the office had started handing out boxes of instant noodles to some of the Orang Rimba.

KKI Warsi reported that the tribe had been malnourished since they could not hunt for prey because the forest was damaged, forcing them to buy fish from outside the jungles.

"They are bound by their strong tradition. They are not allowed to eat meat except that which they hunt," Yomi said. Damaged forests means fewer, if any, alternative food sources.

Lack of clean water further worsened the conditions as their water resources had been polluted by industrial waste. Since the 1980s the group's customary forests have been exploited as the government turned them into oil palm plantations and developed infrastructure that trespassed on their territory.

KKI Warsi recorded that around 3,850 Orang Rimba were forced to travel long distances without being able to feed themselves properly, leading to malnutrition.

"We have to travel beyond the national park for clean water," said Temenggung Nyenong who led 35 families of Orang Rimba.

He hope that the government will pay attention to them and call for a stop to forest destruction. "The forest is our home. If the forest is no more, then we will be no more too," Temenggung said. - See more at:

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