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Story Publication logo August 19, 2022

Mentawai People's Pharmacy Forest Ravaged by Exploitation (bahasa Indonesia)

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This story excerpt was translated from bahasa Indonesia. To read the original story in full, visit MentawaiKita. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.



Gustaf Taikatubutoinan picking medicinal plants. Image by Gerson/MentawaiKita. Indonesia, 2022.

While praying silently, Gustaf Taikatubutoinan picks the buds of gandasuli flowers next to his house in Goiso'oinan Village, North Sipora Sub-district, Mentawai Islands Regency.

The 64-year-old man is collecting herbs for headache medicine. The number of gandasuli flower buds he picked consisted of two parts and each part consisted of nine buds plus one gandasuli flower complete with a stalk.

After picking the flowers, he mixes them with galangal and then mashes the concoction using gigiok (a Mentawai smoothing tool made from palm leaves). A refreshing fragrance wafts out as the ingredients are mashed.

Then the smooth ingredients are dabbed with coconut oil. While mixing the ingredients, Gustaf prayed silently that the ingredients would have healing properties.

After that, the herb was squeezed on his head, then his head was massaged repeatedly from the bottom to the top.


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Gustaf is a medicine man who is quite popular in his village and the surrounding area. According to him, his ability to concoct medicine for sick people who seek his help comes from dream visions. Through the dream guidance, he concocts the medicine.

"It was not my own ability, but someone gave me guidance through a dream, someone who came into my dream told me what the medicine was for the patient's illness, how to take the medicine and how to use it," Gustaf said on June 28, 2022, in Goiso'oinan.

Although he is a medicine man in his village, he refuses to be called sikerei (a traditional Mentawai healer who can communicate with the spirit world). He also refuses to become a sikerei even though his older brother is one.

Although Gustaf is an expert in concocting medicine, all medicinal properties are left to the power of God. So to pick the medicine he always prays silently according to his beliefs. He also does not underestimate the role of health services built in his village such as the Community Health Center. This is because not all medicines can be handled by the medical system. Illnesses such as bajou or kisei (spirits) need traditional treatment. This is the role that Gustaf plays.

As someone who relies on herbs from the forest, Gustaf strongly objects to the exploitation of the forests in his village. According to him, some medicinal plants cannot be cultivated in his yard, they only grow when they are in their natural habitat, the forest.

For Gustaf, the forest is a pharmacy, so losing the forest is losing a source of medicine to help people.


Aman Boroi Ogok, Sikerei from Siberut. Image by Gerson/MentawaiKita. Indonesia, 2022.

Pile on the Berkat logpon. Image by Rus Akbar/MentawaiKita. Indonesia, 2022.

Sikerei Siberut concocting medicine. Image by Rus Akbar/MentawaiKita. Indonesia, 2022.

Tugboat loading wood from the Berkat forest. Image by Rus Akbar/MentawaiKita. Indonesia, 2022.

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