Indigenous Batam Tribe, Orang Darat, on the Brink of Extinction Amid New City Development in Rempang Island

Indigenous Batam Tribe, Orang Darat, on the Brink of Extinction Amid New City Development in Rempang Island

One of the tribes in the remote area of Batam when met by a Batam community leader, Imbalo, in Rempang (Photo: Imbalo)

The indigenous tribe of Batam, known as Orang Darat or Orang Utan, residing on Rempang Island, is nearing extinction. The population has dwindled, with only an estimated five members remaining. They currently live in Kampung Sadap, Rempang, Galang Subdistrict, Batam City, Riau Islands. Their lives are increasingly threatened as Rempang Island is set to become a new city.

Tomy Winata, through PT Makmur Elok Graha (MEG), has obtained permission to develop the island. How will the Orang Darat fare in these circumstances? PT MEG's spokesperson, Fernaldi Anggadha, assured that the local community, including the Orang Darat tribe, will not be neglected. "We will pay attention to them and relocate them to a special area, complete with facilities such as housing, healthcare, education, and more," Fernaldi said.

Currently, PT MEG and BP Batam are conducting a census of the population on Rempang and Galang Islands. The 17,000-hectare area, encompassing both islands, will see the construction of high-rise buildings, industrial areas, and agro-tourism sites. This development plan will inevitably impact the local community's social life, especially the indigenous Batam tribe on Rempang Island, the Orang Darat.

Since the opening of the Barelang Bridge, the lives of the Orang Darat have become increasingly cornered. They used to live as nomads in the forests of Rempang Island but are now being displaced by settlements and businesses established by newcomers. The Orang Darat are known for their introverted nature, unwilling to mix with outsiders, and their nomadic lifestyle has made them very closed off.

The history of the Orang Darat is distinct from that of the Orang Laut tribe. Although both are considered indigenous to the Riau Islands Province, their ways of life differ. The Orang Darat reside on land, inhabiting the forests of Batam and Rempang Islands, while the Orang Laut tribe settles on the sea and lives around Lingga and Bintan Islands.

With the introduction of industrial development in Batam, the lives of the Orang Darat have been significantly impacted, particularly after the completion of the Barelang Bridge in 1998. The remaining five Orang Darat tribe members live in wooden houses in the forest, no longer leading a nomadic life due to the shrinking forest area.

Dedi Arman, a researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), hopes that the Orang Darat tribe can be preserved and not be allowed to go extinct. "The extinction of the Orang Darat tribe would be a massive loss to the history of the Riau Islands. The Orang Darat, along with the Orang Laut and Akit tribes, are proto-Malay ethnic groups that have shaped the Malay culture in the Riau Islands today," Dedi said.

It is hoped that the Exclusive Integrated Tourism Area (KWTE) developed by PT MEG will allocate land to accommodate the lives of the indigenous Batam community.

Writer: Denni Risman

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