Indonesia A Major Destination For Ecotourism

Sumatra is the only place on earth where tigers, elephants, orangutans, and rhinos share the same island. The Leuser Ecosystem World Heritage Site on the island of Sumatra also is home to clouded leopards, pangolins, macaques, hornbills, sun bears, and unique butterflies.

The greater Leuser Ecosystem spans 2.6 million hectares, almost three times the size of Yellowstone National Park. It includes lowland and highland rainforests, nine rivers, three lakes, and more than 185,000 hectares of carbon-rich peat. It has one of the last remaining intact rainforests in all of Indonesia, it is a crucial source of clean drinking water and agricultural livelihoods for over four million people. Gunung Leuser is named after one of the mountains, which rises prominently in the northwest region of the park.

There are less than 80 wild Sumatran rhinos in the world. Most of them live in the Leuser region. At most, there are 400 Sumatran tigers alive in the wild. More than 100 live in Leuser. About 85 percent of the world’s critically endangered Sumatran orangutans call this forest home. There are almost 4,000 species of plants residing in Southeast Asia’s largest expanse of rainforest. It hosts 380 species of birds, 194 reptiles and amphibians and nearly 130 species of mammals.

As Sumatra’s forests are destroyed, it becomes more likely that Sumatran orangutans will become the first great ape to go extinct. 

It was designated a national park in 1980, one of the first five in the country. The park represents the largest forest block in northern Sumatra. This rainforest is a treasure of biodiversity, but it’s highly endangered. The threats have accelerated since the end of the civil war in northern Sumatra. Post-war stability has encouraged the rapid invasion of commercial interests. Elephants and tigers are being slaughtered for their skins and tusks. It’s insane. Between 1985 and 2009, half of Sumatra’s forests were destroyed. The decimation continues today. Despite its protected status, Leuser has lost 20 percent of its lowland forests to illegal commercial activities in the past five years. At that rate, the forest will be gone in 20 years.

Sulawesi is another interesting destination in Indonesia. It’s known for its world-class scuba diving, but inland adventures are equally as rewarding. For example, Toraja land is a mountainous region of South Sulawesi. There are approximately 650,000 Torajans. Most of them still live in Tana Toraja (Toraja land).

Prior to the 20th century, Torajans were largely untouched by the outside world. Dutch missionaries converted many Torajans to Christianity in the early 1900s, but many Torajans still follow traditional beliefs, called aluk, which is a combination of law, religion and life. It governs social life, agricultural practices and ancient rituals. The practices vary from one village to another.

The Toraja people grow rice and raise buffalo. Like most Indonesians, they balance work and religion on a daily basis.

Harvest festivals and house warming festivals are times for feasting and a gathering of the clan. They wear their best costumes and jewelry and drink tuak (a local brew). The parties last for days.

Family is the primary social and political grouping in Torajan society. Each village is one extended family, the seat of which is the tongkonan, a traditional Torajan house. Each Tongkonan has a name, which becomes the name of the village.

Once, there were three social classes—nobles, commoners, and slaves (slavery was abolished in 1909 by the Dutch East Indies government). Class was inherited through the mother. It was taboo, therefore, for a man to marry down in class. On the other hand, marrying a woman of higher class could improve the status of the next generation.

Nobles lived in Tongkonans, while commoners lived in bamboo huts. Slaves lived in smaller huts. Some nobles married the nobles from other cultures on the island, including Bugis and Makassarese. Commoners and slaves were prohibited from having death feasts. A marriage or change in wealth could affect an individual’s status. Wealth is counted by the ownership of water buffaloes.

Gary R. Chandler

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Gary Chandler is the CEO of Crossbow Communications. He also is the founder of Sacred Seedlings and Earth News. He is the author of 11 books about health and environmental issues from around the world.