Nukila Evanty expects people to recognize the valuable local traditions of Indonesia by involving women in disaster mitigation


Jakarta, IO – Nukila Evanty, Chairwoman of the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative (IMA) and Executive Director of the Women Working Group (WWG), represented Indonesia and civil society in the Asia-Pacific region, was nominated as a panelist at the 2024 Global Summit for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) held in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa, in mid-February 2024.

On that special occasion, Nukila brought up the issue of implementing local wisdom as part of disaster risk mitigation. According to her, the indigenous communities have been following written and unwritten local wisdom, including knowledge, values (ethics), identity, way of life, and traditions, passed down from ancestors, to wisely treat their environment daily.

For disaster risk reduction, local wisdom serves as both a guide and a source of strength in adapting, organizing, and nurturing the influence of nature and culture, as well as being a driving force in regulating the societal order.

Indonesia is geographically situated at the convergence of three major tectonic plates—the Pacific, Eurasian, and Indo-Australian plates—placing the country at high risk of disasters, particularly earthquakes, land movements, and tsunamis.

According to data from the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), 4,940 natural disasters were reported in 2023. In the face of disasters, communities across Indonesia rely on local wisdom to cope, a tradition that has persisted to this day.

Nukila Evanty, Chairwoman of the Indigenous Peoples' Initiative
(Source: Special)

During her advocacy and community capacity strengthening program across various regions in Indonesia, Nukila discovered that each area possesses local wisdom useful in perceiving the signs of approaching natural disasters.

For example, an Aceh local wisdom called Smong has saved the people of Simeulue Island in Aceh from earthquakes and tsunamis. Smong is a popular traditional art of Simeulue. Parents in the Simeulue Regency would impart local wisdom to their children, particularly ways to recognize impending natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunamis.

Tsunami is known by the name “Smong” in Aceh. The Simeulue people have recognized tsunamis since 1907, from a disaster that took place in Salur, South Teupah District, Simeulue Regency. The experience of a tsunami was then documented in poetic songs and verses, with the aim of staying cautious when reading natural signs. The verses also describe the signs of a natural disaster, which include strong tremors, sudden sea receding, and oncoming massive waves.

When the earthquake and tsunami occurred on the west coast of Aceh and North Sumatra on December 26, 2004, Simeulue residents living in coastal areas counted among the fewest casualties. Only seven people lost their lives, out of the 78,000 residents of Simeulue Island. In spite of lacking modern technology warning locals about tsunamis, the Simeulue community was able to read natural signs, through traditional wisdom passed down through generations.

Nukila also found a tradition called “hoyak tabuik” in Pariaman, West Sumatra. The procession would involve shaking a Tabot statue and planting pine and mangrove trees in coastal areas. The people believe that the small islands around the Sea of Pariaman will afford them protection. This tradition anticipates tsunami and earthquake disasters in the vicinity of the city of Pariaman.

The local wisdom of the Baduy tribe of Banten, goes by the name “Pikukuh Sapuluh,” a rule governing the social life of the Baduy community. The community establishes customary rules for building houses. Building houses is only approved by utilizing environmentally-friendly materials such as bamboo and ijuk (palm fiber), to prevent them from easily deteriorating. The bottoms of the houses are also forbidden to touch the ground.

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In this modern era, Indonesian local wisdom is a cultural wealth that deserves preserving. Nukila expects people to recognize the valuable local traditions of Indonesia by involving women in disaster mitigation, disaster response, and post-disaster handling, to protect women from other threats.

“It is essential that a country’s local wisdom be documented, preserved, and passed down to the next generation. The current existing forms of documentation include books and audiovisuals,” said Nukila, in a conversation with the Independent Observer on Tuesday, February 27, 2024. (des)