Human Rights
Why the Community of Sedulur Sikep and Kendeng Want to Preserve the Environment?

Farmer of Kendeng
© Picture by Lena Sutanti

Gunarti’s heart is being hurt when she was watching Lawa Cave torn apart to be exploited for its phosphate. Since that day, Gunarti makes a promise to herself to protect her place to live. She is aware that her home is being destructed by other people.

Kendeng Mountains is a beautiful place that contains a lot of karst, but now this place is threatened by the construction of a cement factory. No struggle goes smoothly, several meetings and discussions held by environmental activists, like Gunarti and Mbok Giyem, oftentimes disbanded by thugs. They are sure, various religions and beliefs should be united to maintaining the sustainability of Kendeng Mountains that becomes the source of life.

Workaday, the people of Sukolilo and Sedulur sikep gather around for discussion, nguri-uri[1], and learning lots of things: from reading, writing, counting, singing in Javanese, even playing gamelan[2] in Omah Kandeng. Sedulur Sikep is a term for a community that believes in Samin Surosentiko that spreads in Pati, Rembang, Grobogan, Blora, and other surrounding places.

In the past, Sedulur Sikep was fighting colonialists who reject to pay taxes. They believe that earth, which we utilize and walk upon, belongs to the Almighty and the ancestors. Even though their community is small, Sedulur Sikep is significantly influential in opposing the construction of cement factories that is still ongoing today. They are opposing without violence, according to what they have been taught. From a young age, they are taught to improve their behaviour and always tell the truth.

In terms of parenting, they have their own way, which to not let them study in a formal school. Boys and girls are taught to read, write, and count by Gunarti (the woman who is in the frontline of civilians fights over the construction of the cement factories). Gunarti believes that the fight over the construction of cement factories is not only for men, but women also need to do something. “Women needed to be taught. They are brave because they understand,” said that 47 years old woman.

A lot of people assumes that Kendeng Mountains are dry and barren because it contains karst. However, that assumption is completely unproven when we went there and the first thing we felt was a cool breeze coming from the trees in the canyon. Gunarti said that the people of Kendeng who live on the hillside has found around 49 water springs that come from Kendeng Mountains. These water springs then flow through underwater caves and streams.

We have to directly feel the fresh air and the greeneries in Kendeng Mountains that have been preserved by the community to understand why their fight against the cement factory is crucial. One of the spiritual activities that is done by the people of Sedulur Sikep and the people on the hillside of Kendeng Mountains is nandur[3]. They always lead a simple life by doing farming. If cement factories is being built in this area, the fresh air, source of living, the flora and fauna in this place will slowly disappear.

Men and women who live on the hillside of Kendeng divide the role to gather and make a living. Gunarti told us that, in the beginning, she asked for the women to fight by visiting one village to another by bike, sometimes also by motorcycle when the location of the village is on the hill. Gunarti even coming to the women’s activities, like Tahlilan and Yasinan[4], even though she is the believer of Samin Surosentiko’s thought[5]. The fight to preserve the sustainability of Kendeng Mountains belongs to all religions and beliefs there.

[1] Nguri-uri is activities carried out in order to maintain Javanese ancestral heritage done in Javanese procedures, values or celebrations.

[2] Gamelan is Indonesia’s traditional music instrument made up predominantly of percussive instruments.

[3] Nandur means farming in Javanese dialect.

[4] Tahlilan and Yasinan is an Islamic activity that recites the verse from the Al-Qur’an, usually done to ask for forgiveness and mercy to God for people who has passed away.

[5] founder of Saminism belief in north and central Java between 19th  and 20th century. The belief rejected Colonial Dutch who imposed taxes upon Indonesian citizen and monopolized their forests.


Struggle against cement factories
© Lena Sutanti

Gunarti and the women of the hillside of Kendeng make an organization called Kelompok Perempuan Peduli Lingkungan (KPPL)[6] Simbar Wareh. Simbar means two water springs, which are Sumber Joyo and Gua Wareh, which existence will be threatened if cement factories are being built. They also produce jamu[7] for health, such as kunyit asem, kunyit putih, beras kencur, and temulawak, the ingredients of which are picked from the farm in Kendang mountains.

Amazingly, people of the the hillside of Kendeng can unite to fight the people who try to damage their source of living despite their different backgrounds and beliefs. The religious leaders are giving lectures about preserving the environment. The lecture about daily life should be a way to become an example for people outside the Kendeng mountain. Not a lecture that leads to hatred and exclusive manner thoughts.

“How important are lemah (land), banyu (water), and cement?” said Gunarti that makes us think twice about human greediness to do such things that disadvantaging others just for the sake of fulfilling their wants. It is a fact that surrounding communities will get bad impacts than good impacts if cement factories is really built in their place.

The fight that is done by Sedulur Sikep community and people in The hillside of Kendeng has successfully thwarted the establishment of a cement factory in Sukolilo, Pati. However, their fight has not over yet even today. Their fight still continues considering there are plans to open cement factories in other parts of Kendeng Mountains, such as Blora, Rembang, and Grobogan. The fight towards the construction of cement factories definitely not an easy one. Mbok Giyem, one of the environmental activists there said that the people of Kendeng hillside in Tambakromo, Pati have once been threatened by some thugs and their meetings were disbanded. However, they are not giving up that easily, all efforts are done for mother earth and the next generations! Discussions, singing, praying, and doing an act by pouring cement on their feet are some of their struggles. They keep fighting even though they are in a dilemma of “whoever fights the construction of cement factories, fights the country”.

According to Gunarti, the people of the hillside of Kendeng believe that mother earth should not be considered as inanimate objects. But, she needed to be planted, treated with care, respected, used sufficiently, and inherited. Tolerance should not only be done to fellow humans but also to the environment.

Tresnana ibu bumi kaya nresnani awakmu dhewe! Love mother earth as we love ourselves,” she said as she closed our conversation.

[6] English translation: Environmentally Concerned Women's Group.

[7] Jamu is Indonesia’s traditional medicine drinks made from herbs and natural ingredients.


This article is written as a part of Student Press Workshop and Story Grant program held by Serikat Jurnalis untuk Keberagaman (SEJUK) in collaboration with Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF) and Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights.

Written by Lena Sutanti, translated from Bahasa Indonesia by Adinda Rahma Putri (FNF Jakarta Intern)