“We learn lest we forget our culture and identity.” | In conversation with Martison Siritoitet of Yayasan Pendidikan Budaya Mentawai, Indonesia

Sapru Leleu Sapru Enga
Makatai’ Buttet Makatai’ Bakkat

Habis hutan habislah nafas, lenyaplah kita
Layunya daun petanda akar telah rosak

The forest gone, so will our breaths, we will be gone
Withering leaves are a sign that the roots have been damaged

This was Martison’s closing message before we ended the call. He shared this saying in his local Mentawai language as a call to action to all indigenous people – young or old – to protect their homes, traditions and cultural values, which are the connections to one’s identity.

23-year-old Martison is a Mentawai youth leader as well as the media and communications officer for the Yayasan Pendidikan Budaya Mentawai (YPBM). Although currently living and studying in Jakarta, his heart is with his home and his people. Through YPBM, Martison engages his community and other Mentawai communities across the islands to learn and reconnect with their cultural identity.

“YPBM was established in 2017 and is based in Muntei Village, South Siberut District, Mentawai, Indonesia, “ said Martison. “The initiative started with the aim to be an alternative education for the young Mentawai to reconnect with their cultural and customary values, local wisdom, and traditions.”

And thus birthed the Mentawai Cultural and Ecological Education Program (CEEP).

“Together with our Australian partner, the Indigenous Education Foundation (IEF), we want to give voice and strengthen the local wisdom values and systems through real implementations of CEEP.”

The formal education that exists today in Indonesia does not give access to the younger generation in Mentawai to learn about their heritage.

“As a result, many young ones are not learning about our culture and traditions,” explained Martison. “There are some lessons but not serious ones, so it’s difficult to gain comprehensive knowledge about our traditions and our lived environment.”

Eventually, they would leave the knowledge behind and would never come to intimately know the values of their traditional practices and way of life.

That’s why Yayasan Pendidikan Budaya Mentawai and the Cultural and Ecological Education Program (CEEP) are very important to be present as a connection, to reconnect with this knowledge.

The CEEP is a response to the national education system that does not wholly recognise and include their local wisdom and language in the formal school curricula.

“It’s very important to implement CEEP as a lesson for our younger generation, to be sure that our local wisdom will not be forgotten and abandoned. If cultural and ecological education are not applied in daily life, our traditional knowledge will be lost in time amidst modernity,” said Martison.

He explains that the concept of development today does not take into account indigenous people and their way of life, causing them to be vulnerable to poverty and hunger. Therefore, CEEP comes as a method to remain resilient in this day and age.

It’s an indigenous education initiative based on indigenous people and their knowledge, with subjects that consist of the following:


At CEEP, the children learn the Mentawai language. “At the national level, we have our national language, which is Bahasa Indonesia. But in each region, we have a regional language,” explained Martison. “And that’s equally important to be learned and preserved because it’s our mother tongue, while also using our national language”


There are also lessons on folk music, dance and songs. CEEP students learn about traditional music instruments and how to play them. They also learn how to dance, about the traditional ceremonies, and the songs of our ancestors.


“Then there are also folklores and mythologies being told at our programme where the children can listen and learn from our elders,” said Martison.


Students also learn to make handicrafts such as the baskets used to carry coconuts, fruits, taro roots, vegetables, and more when out in the fields; and accessories such as bracelets and headwear. “This creative skill is meant to encourage the creation of products that can become a source of income,” stated Martison.


During this lesson, students learn about medicinal plants and plants directly from the Mentawai elders. Both teacher and students explore the surroundings of the village to learn about plants and their various uses. As they do so, the students write down what they learn. This is also a way for them to document their knowledge.

Since its implementation, the reception has been phenomenal.

The positive impact of the programme can be seen in the increasing number of students involved, as well as the growing awareness and enthusiasm among community members in forming their own traditional schools using CEEP model and methods.

Throughout the pandemic, four new traditional schools were established in collaboration with YPBM and IEF in various villages across the Mentawai islands—totalling to seven CEEP schools.

The first school was established in the Muntei Village at South Siberut District, followed by the hamlet of Toktuk and the village of Maileppet.

“The latest ones that have been formed are in the Uggai, Salappak, and Buttui hamlets, and the Madobag Village,” stated Martison. “In the next five to ten years, we aim to collaborate with traditional leaders, the Mentawai government, and educational institutions to establish, support, and campaign for the CEEP to be present in ten areas of the Mentawai islands.”

“Our hope at YPBM is very simple. We want traditional education – our local wisdom, cultural values, and our traditions – to be one of the syllabus in formal education.”

Martison stressed that indigenous local wisdom should be an educational model for indigenous people for the sustainability of their lives.

“Education needs to be relevant and contextual to the community to ensure the continuity of Mentawai culture and traditions and as a people,” he said. “Similarly, the education must be relevant and contextual to Malaysia’s indigenous people as well.”

As a parting message, Martison called out to Malaysia’s indigenous youth to be proud of their culture and traditions.

“Our culture, our traditions should not be lost. Because it is our pride. It is our identity. So we must love our culture instead of being ashamed,” he said.

Indigneous youth must not allow their traditions to be swept away by the currents of modernisation. As the younger generation, Martison asserts that they must be able to adapt to the world today. Instead of letting today’s sophisticated era become a threat to their culture and traditions, they must take advantage of technology and use it as a tool to strengthen the existence of their culture and traditions.

“One example I can give is promoting and campaigning our culture and traditions through social media platforms and other media channels,” he explained.

Circling back to his local Mentawai saying, “Sapru Leleu Sapru Enga – Makatai’ Buttet Makatai’ Bakkat”, Martison ended our interview on a wise note.

“The welfare of our children and grandchildren in the future depends on us today. If we as Roots (Bakkat) have lost our identity and identity, we can be sure that our children and grandchildren as Young Leaves (Buttet) will also lose their identity, identity and noble culture. So we who are currently their teachers  must love our culture. We must develop and preserve our culture so that our future generations can also experience it. Don’t let them lose their identity too.”

All photos are taken from YPBM’s social media pages. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.


error: Content is protected !!