The term Kubu is a Malay exonym ascribed to mobile, animist peoples (Orang Batin Sembilan and Orang Rimba) who live throughout the lowland forests of Southeast Sumatra. In the Malay language, the word Kubu can mean defensive fortification, entrenchment, or a place of refuge. It is metaphor for how the majority and dominant Islamic Melayu villagers believe them to use the interior forests as a means for resisting inclusion in the larger Malay social and Islamic religious world. As is the case with other forest peoples in the region, the term Kubu is associated with very negative connotations.
Following Malay classifications, early Europeans divided the Kubu into two categories: 'tame' or 'civilized' Kubu, who were predominantly swidden farmers, and 'wild' Kubu, who lived deep in the forests, and made much stronger efforts to avoid close relations with the outside world. While closely related Malay speaking peoples, these peoples represent two separate cultural groups, which have different economic and socio-religious systems.
Orang Batin Sembilan
Traditionally referred to as civilized Kubu, the Orang Batin Sembilan are a larger population of swidden-based peoples who live in the central and eastern lowland forests of South Sumatra (pop~3-5000) and Jambi (pop. ~10,000). Like other people in the region, these people traditionally use the swidden field as a base camp from which to exploit resources in the forests, particularly when collecting forest products for trade.
The Orang Rimba ('people of the forest') are a much smaller population of people (~3000) who live in the upstream regions of Jambi and South Sumatran. They have a unique, diverse economy, which shifts in and out of two base subsistence strategies: swidden farming and a very nomadic life based on foraging wild yams. This is traditionally combined this with hunting, trapping, fishing, damming and poisoning rivers, and the collection of forest products for trade. For many, part-time rubber tapping and participation in logging has gradually replaced the collection of forest products.
Orang Rimba life is characterized by small and changing camps, which can be the size of a nuclear family when digging for wild yams, but more commonly is based around an extended family, and can include several extended families whenever swidden farming. Their social relations are very egalitarian, while hierarchies are largely based upon age, gender and knowledge of religion and culture law.
Deforestation and government settlements
Since the 1970s, many of these peoples have been displaced from their traditional lands by logging companies and palm oil plantations, and for some time have been the target of government settlement projects.
The various Kubu languages belong to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. They are isolects of the Malay language (Bahasa Melayu) spoken in the upstream regions of Palembang and Jambi, Sumatra. All are similar to Bahasa Indonesia, which is based upon a variant of Malay.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kubu people.|
- Description of the tribe by Warsi, the Indonesian Conservation Community
- WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) page about the Orang Rimba fighting for influence over how the Bukit Duabelas National Park is run.
- Sager, Steven. The Sky is our Roof, the Earth our Floor:Orang Rimba Customs and Religion in the Bukit Duabelas Region of Jambi, Sumatra.