Long before anyone was talking about disaster risk reduction, our ancestors were already doing it. Back then they realized that if they continue to exploit the environment without any efforts to protect and conserve it, then there would no doubt be a disaster. So, in an effort to prevent this from happening, they established a set of rules to regulate the usage of natural resources. These rules were agreed upon by customs and they hoped that it would last for generations to come.
These days not many cultural rules and customs are still being heeded. Changing times and economic interests have made people become more preoccupied with using up nature’s resources without taking care or conserving it.
There is, however, one community that still strongly upholds its custom laws in the daily lives of its residents, including natural resource management. This community is located in the Beleq hamlet in a Gumantar village in North Lombok district. All community members of this hamlet are of Sasak ethnicity and still obey the laws established by their ancestors.
The community members of Beleq follow a special custom law called an awig-awig, or rules, which regulates the management of natural resources from the forest and springs.
Not too far from the village is a communal forest with tall trees towering over the land. In that forest is a spring, which villagers use for their daily needs. For this community, the forest and spring are invaluable assets, making it absolutely essential that they protect their existence. No one is allowed to cut down the trees in this forest or else they face sanctions set by the custom laws.
The same can be said about water sources. There are several rules on its usage that community members must follow. One of them is that bathing and washing is forbidden in the spring, which has contributed to maintaining its cleanliness. They are also not allowed to take an excessive amount of water. Generally villagers retrieve water using a bokah, or a hollowed out pumpkin shell, which is not very big in size and has a diameter of around 30 cm.
“People’s awareness to preserve the environment has been around for generations, and even the children understand the importance of environmental stewardship,” said Jumayar, a local youth leader. Additionally, villagers also believe that if they violate the awig-awig, they will get ill or suffer from long rainy or dry seasons, which might befall the village.
Even though disaster risk reduction traditions were started by their ancestors and have been carried out throughout many generations until the present day, community members of Beleq are quite open to new knowledge and skills. When the Building and Deepening Resilience to Disasters in Eastern Indonesia was introduced to their hamlet, they were very enthusiastic about the program. Some residents have become members of the Village Preparedness Teams.
“We are grateful for this program in our community since we have new knowledge and skills in reducing the impacts of disasters,” said Yurdin, the head of Beleq hamlet. Yurdin also acknowledged that by increasing the knowledge and information in disaster risk reduction, villagers will be better organized and focused in their environmental conservation efforts.
In the end, all of the efforts done by the community of Beleq hamlet are aimed at maintaining a balance between nature and humankind. When that balance is achieved, therein lays the harmony of life. (NugrohoArifPrabowo/Oxfam)
Residential area of the Beleq hamlet. (Photo credit: Nugroho Arif Prabowo/Oxfam)
Reninti, a Beleq villager, carrying a bokah. (Photo credit: Nugroho Arif Prabowo/Oxfam)
Communal forest of Beleq. (Photo credit: Nugroho Arif Prabowo/Oxfam)