Last Wednesday, Pungky was presented with the skull of a black hornbill. Threatened by hunting and habitat loss, all 13 species of hornbill are protected by law in Indonesia — for some of Pungky’s pupils, however, it’s still on the menu.
Walking back home from the orchid nursery, Pungky was greeted with strange news. “Someone in the village cooked a hornbill,” related Ibu Suratin, the mother of the family who’ve taken Pungky in since he began teaching inside the Kerinci Seblat National Park, in southern Sumatra.
And there he was. Standing in the shadows outside the house, a boy called out to Pungky. The boy was one of Pungky’s 10-year-old students who he’s been teaching for the past six months.
“Kak [older brother] my dad caught a hornbill,” he said shyly. “Look, here’s the head.”
“What? And where’s the body?” replied Pungky, in shock.
“My mum already curried it,” replied the boy. “We had nothing else to eat…Will my dad go to prison?”
All 13 species of hornbill are protected by Indonesian law. If caught hunting one, the maximum prison sentence is five years, or a fine of Rp. 100.000.000,00 (about 5,000 pounds sterling). These facts will have been known to the boy after passing the Endangered and Protected Species in Sumatra topic that comes fourth on our specially-developed curriculum.
But Pungky didn’t scold the boy. He knew that the boy’s father was a hunter who makes his living by selling songbirds from the Sumatran rainforest, often illegally. In a region where few parents went to school, and where economic opportunities are even scarcer, hunting and poaching are common occupations. The hornbill accidentally got caught in a trap. Lacking meat on the table at home, a father brought home sustenance for his young family.
“I’m not going to eat it,” said the boy, regardless, and ashamed.
Pungky has an odd approach to environmental education. Though he often teaches the lima T (the five t’s’) of protected species — which in Indonesian stand for don’t shoot, don’t own, don’t sell, don’t eat, don’t hunt — he realises it serves little function if children don’t understand why.
The Jungle Library Project’s philosophy when it comes to hornbills is not one of punishment, nor scholarship. It’s actually one of poo. (In Indonesian it sounds like this: filosofi ee, pronounced ‘eh, eh’.) Which is to say that we present children with ideas that they themselves can grasp.
“All animals that eat fruit are dispersers of seeds,” says Pungky. “The flesh of the fruit is digested, but the seeds come out the other side. When frugivorous birds fly, they poo, and the seeds fall to the earth. They could be jackfruit seeds, rambutan seeds, or durian, and when the rainy season comes the seeds begin to grow. The poo becomes a fertiliser; it grows the whole forest.”
This is ecology, Jungle Library style. We learn to read the forest. We understand processes before our eyes, not theories. And we let the children decide for themselves what outcome they’d like.
Because after The Philosophy of Poo-Poo, then comes the catch:
“If you kill all the hornbills, all the bears, all the fruit-eating animals,” says Pungky, re-enacting what he says to students class, “would you want to every day eat fruit and go all over the forest pooping out the new trees?”
“No way, Kak!” would invariably come the reply.
“So don’t go around shooting the hornbills, then,” Pungky would advise.
The boy came to Pungky’s house to show him the skull, because he wanted to be sure about it. He wanted to know whether this was one the fruit-eating animals he’d learned about in class.
“They’re like my detectives,” says Pungky with a laugh. “They’re still young, so they’re honest. They haven’t learned to lie yet. They bring me all kinds of things: hornbills, porcupines, pangolins.”
One student even admitted to owning parts of a tiger skin. But it’s not Pungky’s philosophy to enter into a community and tell them right from wrong (Pungky comes from Java and does not speak the local dialect). Many parents engage in illegal activities for reasons of greed; but others are just trying to put their children through school, or buy their wife a motorbike. His hope is that the next generation will choose to take a different path in life, and know exactly why they are doing so.
Because the concept of the Philosophy of Poo-Poo applies to all animals. Tigers kill pigs. Kill all the tigers? Then you’ll have to keep the pigs off your dad’s plantation. Eagles eat baby monkeys. Kill all the eagles? Then you’ll have to keep the monkeys from eating your uncle’s rubber trees. Turtles clean the rivers of dead organisms. Eat all the river turtles? Then you’ll have to clean the river every day, and you won’t be able to swim.
Environmental education in our tiny project in southern Sumatra works by giving students the knowledge to understand the consequences of their actions. It works by showing what we want to protect, and how to protect it. It works by honesty, practicality and truth — the boy even offered Pungky some of the curried hornbill, following customs of hospitality. (He turned it down.)
“We will fight together to solve this problem,” wrote Pungky in a facebook post about the curried hornbill. “Education is key to make people realize, and I see hope in the young generation.”
Photographs by Pungky Nanda Pratama.
Story and interviews by Joshua James Parfitt.