Collaboration for Conservation: Walking with the Togutil people to protect the forest

by: Eko Prasetyo

Last November 2023, cyberspace was shocked by a video showing two brave figures driving away bulldozers to protect the forest where they live.

With a catchy title, “Viral, Action of an Inland Tribe in Halmahera Refusing Bulldozers to Save the Forest,” this video attracted more than 3 million viewers and provoked various comments from netizens.

According to the video’s caption, the two unsung heroes are the O’Hongana Manyawa, or the Togutil people, who inhabit parts of Halmahera island. However, the question arises: is this a new incident or just a rehearsal from two years ago?

The persistence of stereotypes

Despite the controversy, this video seems to add to the list of stereotypes attached to the Togutil people, who are often perceived as evil killers and stigmatised as uncultured. But how accurate is this view?

Two years ago, a team from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), now known as the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), together with the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS), conducted field research on the Togutil people in East Halmahera for 15 days.

They visited several groups of Togutil people, observed their homes inside and outside the forest, and interviewed several group members.

The results proved that the lives of the Togutil people have undergone significant changes due to forest conversion triggered by mining activities and the timber industry. However, their lives are far from the negative image inherent in society.

Getting to know them better

Syaiful Madjid, a sociologist from Universitas Muhammadiyah Ternate, reveals that the Togutil people are spread across four regions and live separately in 16 groups on Halmahera Island.

Despite attempts by the provincial government to resettle them, the Togutil people remain loyal to a subsistence life in the forest, referring to themselves as O’Hongana Manyawa or People Who Live in the Forest.

The Togutil people, who are mostly part of the Tobelo Tribe, live a life of activities such as hunting, gardening, and gathering food on a nomadic basis. Their attachment to nature is seen in birth trees and death trees, which mark birth and death events.

In the face of change, especially due to the expansion of mining and timber companies, the Togutil people who still live in the forest face a dilemma. Their home ranges are being reduced, forcing some of them to move out of the forest and settle like the rest of society.

In East Halmahera, mining and quarrying activities have become the largest contributor to the region’s Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP), reaching 37% in 2021. However, the impact is felt by the Togutil people who face difficulties in meeting their daily needs.

The researchers’ visit to Gogaili Valley, Iga Village, North Wasile Sub-district, showed that some of the Togutil have moved to a more modern lifestyle by having sugar, salt and cooking oil in the center of their kitchen. Interaction with the outside world is inevitable, and many of them experience intervention and dependence on outside products.

Cooperative efforts and stigma reduction

Although some Togutil have left the forest to join the Government’s Remote Indigenous Community (KAT) settlement program, not all of them have been able to adapt. Some still continue to farm in the forest and face economic challenges and dependence on external aid.

However, there are also success stories like Loriana Tiak, a Togutil woman who managed to pursue higher education and now contributes positively to her community.
Stories like these prove that the Togutil people are not just people to be saved, but also have the potential to adapt and thrive.

The importance of understanding and de-stigmatizing the Togutil people cannot be underestimated. They play a crucial role as the last guardians of Indonesia’s tropical forests, and their environmental sustainability and cultural heritage need to be respected.

With better understanding and strong collaboration, we can collectively care for the biodiversity and cultural heritage of the Togutil people. Assimilation policies must also be developed with their views and customs in mind to be more effective.

Like this article? share it

More Post

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Get notified about new articles