In Search of Knowledge
A documentary shows how the Orang Rimba in the heart of the jungle are motivated to learn.
GURU RIMBA DI MANAPUN JADI SEKOLAH
Director: Vivian Idris
Scenario: Vivian Idris
Production: Secret Prayers in collaboration with Insight Investment
THEY do not wish to just hunt or wait for drops of rubber sap under the thick foliage of the Bukit 12 forest. They want to be part of the literate world and pursue knowledge. Orang Rimba, one of the tribes in the deep of the Jambi jungle in South Sumatra, are inseparable from the forests and run their lives according to the customs and signs of nature. But, as Ngandum, the chief of the Orang Rimba, said while metaphorically comparing education to planting a tree, “They must go to school and complete their education until they can reap the result.”
Their quest for knowledge is the focus of the debut documentary film by Vivian Idris. Vivian, 39, the program manager of Kalyanashira Foundation which has produced several documentary films, among others, Pertaruhan (Bet) and Working Girls, now acts as the director at her own production house to follow the trail of teachers who teach kids without access to pursue formal education. “I’ve always wanted to immerse myself directly in the Jambi forest,” said Dwi Eni, 32, one of the teachers who has been working under the auspices of Butet Manurung, an educator and a teacher who laid the first foundation for education in the heart of the Jambi forests.
“Butet Manurung is recognized as a pioneer who built a sokola (school) here,” said Vivian. “I’m interested in shining a light on her successors like Dwi Eni and Oceu who go into the woods to sustain and develop what Butet initiated.”
Vivian, therefore, together with her team consisting of, among others, Affan Diaz (camera) and Nina Desilina (line producer) took a five-hour trip from Jambi to Bangko (regency town located closest to Bukit 12 National Park), where the Orang Rimba live. From Bangko, they took another three-hour drive followed by a one-and-a-half-hour walk to reach sokola rimba in Makekal Hulu. When it rains, the last leg of the trip on foot will stretch up to four hours.
The focus of Vivian and her team’s documentary is an interesting story of Rimba children who want to go to school but are unable to do so as they have to spend most of their time helping their parents. To create a place where the children can focus to learn reading and counting, the teachers decided to bring them to sokola rimba, which resembles “a very simple and small boarding school.” A wooden structure in the heart of the thick forest is without beds or mattresses, and minimal stationeries provided by the teachers are their only asset. But their main asset is spirit. Under kerosene lamps, these underprivileged children sit on a wooden floor to learn how to spell correctly or to be tested on simple arithmetic skills.
The teachers, Dwi Eni and Oceu, do not forget to instill the understanding in the kids that they are part of Indonesia. The red and white flag hoisted on a bamboo pole and the national anthem Indonesia Raya that echoed from the forest children illustrate just how far their life is from the spoilt and wasteful life of Jakartans. The Rimba children—who feel more comfortable without shirts except when they have to meet visitors from town, of course—are all boys. Vivian explained that in accordance with Rimba customs, girls are not exposed for fear of exploitation. Nonetheless, girls also get equal education from female teachers.
The documentary is also interesting when the plot turns to political and economic problems of Orang Rimba, such as the arrival of big corporations that disrupt their lives. The conflict due to expansion of palm oil plantations is in fact a different issue which can be made a separate documentary. Vivian stated that the apparent ‘turn’ in the segment is to show that having studied in sokola, the young generation of Orang Rimba have developed into individuals who can express political, economic, and social problems they are facing. Accompanied by a number of NGOs, they confront government institutions to articulate their problems in fluent and smart language.
The issues of Rimba children and the companies that are pushing ahead with development projects are very complicated thus necessitate a coherent chronology (it will take a quite long duration, even if told in a separate documentary). It will be more interesting if the camera of Vivian and her team continue to follow the Rimba children and their teachers who are still struggling for the very basics of education.
However, this film, like other documentaries produced by Indonesian filmmakers in the last few years, has succeeded in showing that basic education is one of the biggest problems of this country.
Leila S. Chudori