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Indonesia’s Indigenous Communities Use Ecotourism To Secure the Rights to their Land

(Photo: Sunset at Sawai village on the island of Seram. Credit: GreenIndonesia/Rifky)
Sunset at Sawai village on the island of Seram. Credit: GreenIndonesia/Rifky

From Chandra Kirana in Bogor, Indonesia.

Six Indigenous communities have launched an ecotourism initiative that would show off their ancestral forests in a bid to develop alternate economic models that local government in Indonesia could embrace, moving away from extractive industries such as mining and palm oil plantations. The initiative, called GreenIndonesia, would ultimately help the communities secure the rights to their own lands, an elusive goal that they have long pursued.


The Guguk Indigenous Forest on the island of Sumatra Credit GreenIndonesia-Faizal Abdul Aziz
The Guguk Indigenous Forest on the island of Sumatra. Credit: GreenIndonesia/Faizal Abdul Aziz

Indonesia has the third largest area of rainforest in the world, and the Indigenous Peoples and local communities who live in and depend on these forests play an important role in conserving them. With global climate change challenges looming—deforestation is the leading source of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions—the fourth most populous country in the world is searching for a green economic pathway to lift people out of poverty.


Mollo community weavers on the island of Timor Credit GreenIndonesia-Wahyu Mulyono
Mollo community weavers on the island of Timor. Credit: GreenIndonesia/Wahyu Mulyono

GreenIndonesia sees significant potential in community based eco-culture tourism—one recent study found that for 26 percent of the travelling population, sustainability and responsibility play a big part in their decision making.


Subak 3 - Copyright Nanang Sujana sm
Indigenous rice farming on the island of Bali. Credit: GreenIndonesia/Leoni Rahmawati

Indonesia is blessed with a more than 400 ethnic groups who inhabit the largest archipelago in the world, over 14,000 islands. The six partner communities of GreenIndonesia are:

  • The Sui Utik Indigenous Forest in West Kalimantan;
  • The Mollo Sacred Lands in Nausus, Timor Tengah Selatan;
  • The Paluanda Lama Hamu cloth weavers, in East Sumba;
  • The Guguk Indigenous Forest in Jambi, Sumatra;
  • The Sawai community in Seram Island, Maluku; and
  • The Jatiluwih community in Tabanan, Bali.


Sumba 7 - Copyright Wahyu Mulyono sm
Weaver and textiles on the island of Sumba. Credit: GreenIndonesia/Wahyu Mulyono

Through GreenIndonesia, women weavers from all over Indonesia connect, share knowledge, and keep their traditions alive. The communities work with many local plants to create unique colors and pay close attention to maintaining the environment where the vegetation grows.


Photographing endangered birds on the Island of Seram. Credit: GreenIndonesia/Rifky

The Sawai community, on the island of Seram, Maluku, have transformed themselves over the last decade from poaching endangered birds for illegal wild-life traders to sustainable forest managers of one of the best birdwatching havens in Eastern Indonesia. Other partners also have inspiring successes. The Guguk Ancestral Forest community, for example, has kept logging and palm oil expansion in their territory at bay. Their forests provide a sanctuary for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, whose population has dwindled to perhaps 250.


Jatiluwih 3 - Copyright Wahyu Mulyono sm
Traditional hospitality platter in the Jatiluwih community on the island of Bali. Credit: GreenIndonesia/Wahyu Mulyono

The communities hope to show that resilient and green economic development is possible when local community land rights and the integrity of natural ecosystems are equally protected. The national government has been supportive, endorsing the initiative and sponsoring a booth at Norway’s biggest tourism expo in early January. This support reflects the new government’s focus on addressing climate change and Indigenous community rights in an effective and fair way.






  1. k swazey
    November 5, 2015, 10:56 pm

    The bird watching project mentioned here is located outside the village of Masihulan, not Sawai. Dalai tourism stakeholders coordinate visits, but is guides from Masihulan who take guests out to Manusela, and who previously ran the bird rehabilitation center. The project stalled a few years ago when money from a foreign donor ran out, and subsequent intervention from the regional government created conflict between the local community and government stakeholders. I would rate the program as being only partially successful. The idea was originally introduced by a foreign organization, from within the community itself, and still struggles to be self-sustainable.