“If you see forest areas turning into plantations in Bengkulu Province, you can be sure that there are Serawai people there. The Serawai people like to clear forest areas to be used as gardens,” 2021 pre-research interview.
The stamp and stigma attached to the Serawai Ethnic as forest encroachers, groups of people who destroy the forest to make fields last long enough so that it is not surprising that a statement appears if there is a damaged forest, it is certain that there is almost a Serawai Ethnic in it. This statement led me to research whether that statement is true? How far is the impact? Then what is the motive?
I put this curiosity in a Master’s Thesis of Postgraduate (S2) Communication Science, FISIP-University of Bengkulu entitled: “Managing Serawai Ethnic Impressions to Change the Negative Stigma of Forest Squatters”
This study found “extreme” and discriminatory things experienced by the Serawai Ethnic. There are several places in Bengkulu and other provinces where the presence of the Serawai ethnicity is denied, the Serawai people are not allowed to own land, the Serawai people are not allowed to marry local women. Generally, local residents refuse to do this because if the Serawai people are given access to land, they will bring their relatives to the location and continue to take the land until local residents are pressed and the forest around the location is also encroached for gardening. The result is that there are no Serawai people living in the area, but this case is small in number. Although there was a slight rejection, the Serawai ethnic majority were always accepted by other ethnic groups such as Rejang, Lembak and Pekal.
The research uses a case study approach in Tebat Tenong Luar Village, Bermani Ulu Raya District, Rejang Lebong Regency, Bengkulu Province, in this village, although the ethnic mix of Rejang, Serawai, Java is almost the same, the Serawai ethnicity is well received and even trusted to manage social, political structures and village resources. The positions of Kadus, Kades, and others were given to the Serawai Ethnic.
The original ethnicity of the research site is Rejang. The Rejang ethnicity at the research site admitted that they agreed with the statement that the Serawai Ethnic were forest encroachers. This is evidenced by the fact that a number of areas of the Kerinci Sebelat National Park (TNKS) have been converted into fields. The researcher also asked the Serawai Ethnic at the research location whether they realized that the stigma of forest encroachers was given to them? The Serawai ethnicity at the research site acknowledges and realizes that they do not have low self-esteem but are proud.
Why Proud to be Branded a Squatter?
This research initially only wanted to find out how the Serawai Ethnic manages the negative stigma of forest encroachers attached to the Serawai people. The researcher uses the dramaturgy self-impression theory of Erving Goffman. Goffman’s theory in general states that all people/groups in life have two stages, namely front and back so that they can be accepted.
Likewise, in this study, Management of Serawai Ethnic Impressions to Change the Negative Stigma of Forest Squatters, the researcher used the problem formulation of how the Serawai Ethnic changed the negative stigma of forest squatters? In self-concept and impression management (Goffman, 1959) states that self-concept comes from the observations we make of ourselves, how we see our self-image and evaluate ourselves. While impression management is how people judge, see us with all the attributes, cultures, concepts that we have.
Using dramaturgical theory analysis, it was found that the front stage was played by the Serawai Ethnic at the research location. First, the role of marriage, the intense interaction between the Serawai Ethnic and the Rejang Ethnic resulted in a love bond that culminated in an inter-ethnic marriage, because love and marriage of the Serawai Ethnic seemed to be protected by the Rejang Ethnic.
The two roles of social responsibility are diligent actions to help the Serawai Ethnic as problem-solving actors in the village, mutual cooperation and others create a positive impression of the Serawai people at the research location, making the Serawai Ethnic strongly accepted by the local ethnic group.
The three roles of the economy, the large number of Ethnic Serawai gardening, actively clearing land in forest areas have an impact on improving the economy. From gardening in the forest, the Serawai ethnicity can build a house, buy legal land, buy a vehicle, send children to school in the city and so on. This makes other ethnic groups who initially did not enter the forest to join the clearing of land in the forest area.
The four political roles, the acceptance of the Serawai ethnicity by the local ethnic group in the research location resulted in the growth of trust given to the Serawai ethnicity, they were even given a number of political positions in the village such as being village heads, hamlet heads, BPD members, traditional institutions and others. The fifth role of access to power is that the Serawai ethnic political access in the research location is able to access everything related to village resources, including not being disturbed by local ethnic groups in terms of managing forests.
The role of the front stage is apparently effective in removing the negative stigma of forest encroachers for the Serawai Ethnic, on the other hand the local ethnicity actually imitates and understands that the act of managing the forest carried out by the Serawai Ethnic is an act of survival. The condition of the front stage was also reinforced by Alex Abdu Chalik’s Dissertation: Changes in Production in the Serawai Bengkulu People’s Field 2019.
After finding the front stage role played by the Serawai Ethnic at the research location, the researcher also looked for how the back stage was, why and what motivated the Serawai Ethnic to play the front stage role? Researchers found a number of reasons why the Serawai ethnicity played the front stage.
The conditions of the back stage, firstly, the narrowness of land and the condition of poverty in the area of origin of the Serawai Ethnic, Seluma Regency. The contribution of poverty in Seluma Regency, from the Serawai ethnicity in the research location according to the BPS in 2020, reached 19.10 percent. When opened in general the districts in Semaku (Seluma, Manna and Kaur) the majority of the Serawai ethnic origin are the areas that contribute to the largest poverty in Bengkulu Province. So far 19.10 percent, Bengkulu Selatan 18.54 percent and Kaur 18.89 percent. Poverty occurs in the backstage where the Serawai Ethnic is massively looking for arable land because the land in the area of origin has been exhausted by oil palm plantation companies holding tens of thousands of hectares of Cultivation Rights (HGU).
The second backstage condition is that the Serawai Ethnic has a habit of shifting cultivation. In the past, because land was still widely available, the Serawai people had a shifting cultivation pattern. In management, this is local wisdom. The Serawai people use the land for a certain period until harvesting, when the harvest is complete they rest the land (fallow period) for several years with the aim of restoring soil fertility and then in a certain period they will return to managing the land, this method is known as the deer ngulang tai (Suminar, et al: 2003).
The third condition of conflict with wildlife resulted in a settlement where residents had to move because of the conflict with the Sumatran tiger. Some of these migrations even went to Malaysia and controlled the natural resources in Malaysia. Fourth, namely the culture of wandering, the Serawai people have a strong culture of wandering even in several other studies it was found that men who were growing up or had married were required to leave the nuclear family home to migrate, namely to open new land. They will not go home until the term is successful until Palak Embau Tanah which signifies hard work.
Fifth, looking for fertile land, the motive of the Serawai people to open new land, namely looking for fertile land, is also caused by the lack of land and the lack of soil fertility in the area of origin targeting forests as new cultivation because forests are considered to have soil fertility that is good enough for farming.
This study concludes that the Serawai ethnicity at the research site is able to change the negative stigma of forest squatters into as if they are inspirational heroes who are able to improve the local economy, slowly the negative impression of squatters disappears. This research also gave birth to theories and models of how the Serawai Ethnic model at the research site was able and well accepted by other ethnicities to control access and political and social structures in the village. This model can be used to analyze the behavior of the Serawai Ethnic in conducting social interactions with other ethnic groups.
In addition to finding the theory that the Serawai ethnicity is accepted by local residents, this study also reveals that cultural factors, seeking fertile land, poverty and lack of land are the main motives for the massive Serawai people to enter the forest. Based on this research, the researcher recommends that the government make a policy to stop the granting of permits for plantation and mining companies that are greedy for massively arable land. The government is obliged to give arable land to the people first.
The government is obliged to carry out the agrarian reform mandate in accordance with the constitutional mandate which prioritizes the use of land from abandoned HGU distributed to farmers. Improvement of the creative economy, agriculture that does not require large areas of land and encourage the creation of employment opportunities based on village potential.
Recommendations are also given to the Serawai Ethnic, public education efforts against the negative stigma of forest encroachers by the Serawai Ethnic must be carried out massively because not all Serawai Ethnics are forest encroachers. The Serawai Ethnic leaders in Seluma must provide good knowledge about the negative impacts of encroaching forest activities that can damage the environment. Then start to use environmentally friendly agricultural patterns that are not greedy for land. Finally, promoting the advantages and wealth of the Serawai Ethnic to offset the negative stigma of forest encroachers who have already been labeled.
*Researchers and journalists live in Bengkulu