Desperate Tribe Converts To Islam To Secure Government Assistance

An indigenous, nomadic tribe of people in Indonesia has abandoned their ancient way of life, settled in a village and converted to Islam in order to secure government benefits like welfare, food, and public education after they faced a lack of government protection. Following the old ways became increasingly difficult due to conflicts with plantations that are cutting down the Indonesian rainforest and making the tribe's nomadic way of life impossible.

While some members of the tribe say, "It's nicer living in a village like this," others remain against the conversion.

"We're afraid if we break our oath, we will be captured by tigers."
The opposing sentiments were expressed by officials and human rights groups as well. The director of indigenous communities at the social affairs ministry said that it will be easier to provide for the tribe now that they are not moving around, but the secretary general of a leading Indonesia indigenous rights group said that the tribe was being forced to abandon their way of life.
"I view this as a result of the state failing to protect them. They turn to clerics or the church in some areas, because they offer protection."
The Orang Rimba tribe faced enormous environmental pressure from Indonesia developing around them. Rainforests have been cut down to make way for plantations and coal mines, leaving the tribe with few hunting options.

Tribe converts to Islam.
This image shows the Bataks, another Indonesian tribe related to the Orang Rimba. [Image byHorst Faas/AP Images.]

The Orang Rimba tribe once traveled to a new area every three months, or whenever a member of the tribe died, per ancient custom. The tribe has since settled down in a village and converted to Islam in order to secure government benefits. Members of the tribe are now waiting to receive the government issued ID cards that entitle them to social services.

Islam is the majority religion in heavily populated Indonesia, but over a quarter of the population there still identifies as tribespeople. For the nomadic jungle people, their way of life became increasingly difficult due to disputes with plantation owners. Critics say the government has not done enough to protect them.

Indonesia rainforest destruction.
Indonesia is developing rapidly, destroying its rainforest. [Image by Ian Waldie/Getty Images]

One tribe elder, who converted, explained that the decision to convert was only practical.

"Thank God, the government now pays attention to us; before our conversion they didn't care."
What do you think? Is there a way for the Orang Rimba to maintain their traditional way of life?

[Featured Image by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images]