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Sumatra, Indonesia 


Biocultural Diversity Conservation Tourism: The Gamaran Protected Forest, West Sumatra, Indonesia

Given the myriad of contradictions, spending time in the ancient forests of West Sumatra with Minangkabau people (Minang) is perhaps a challenge for the mind and spirit of any conservationist. Traditionally a people of the forest, the Minang are the world’s largest matrilineal society, with land owned and passed down through the female lineage. They possess a culture centered on protection of the most vulnerable, hold a deep belief in the ancestral spirits, and are historically connected to nature. Yet they could easily be accused of showing little concern for the forest, rapidly depleting its wealth as well as its spiritual and environmental protection day by day.

Walking in the forest with Ramly and Amek, my Minang team, is often akin to walking through a great library hall with gifted orators, exploring history, language, art, and nature as we sample wild foods, follow animal tracks, collect medicinal plants, and discuss the sweet and sour flavors of the forest. By the light of the night fire, the stories come to life, some myth and some no doubt fact, the close encounters with the Harimau (tiger), the Sun bear, or the Orang Pendek, the cryptozoological “little people” of the West Sumatran forest.

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