Tag Archive for The Ethnobotany

The Ethnobotany Of Traditional Agriculture And Agroforestry System Of The Geba Bupolo, Buru Island, Maluku, Indonesia

Max Marcus J. Pattinama

Faculty of Agriculture Pattimura University, Ambon, Indonesia


Marthin G. Nanere

School of Bussiness, La Trobe University, Australia

 Apollo Nsubuga-Kyobe

School of Business, La Trobe University, Australia.


The paper discusses the balance of environmental and sustainable agiriculture with the focus on the use of river by community.  The research location  is in the area of settlement of the Geba Bupolo in Waekahitnangan, which is the name of the river. The finding suggests that this site (Waekahitnangan) has a strong historical relationship with the area of the origin around Mount Date and Lake Rana. The concept of environmental understanding is not only considered as a magical-spiritual thing, but also a source of life.


Geographically, Maluku has a small land area (14%) spreading over relatively small total area. The land is often viewed in union with the sea. This is due to the fact that adat[1] rights (dati) can be applied not only for the land area, but also for the sea.

Generally, agroforestry system supports family incomes continuously without having to depend on income sources from single commodities. Certain groups of society in Maluku still practise the agroforestry system in their agriculture. This system is well-known as dusun in Ambon and Lease Islands. Other terms are used in different places such as lusun in Seram Island, and wasilalen in Buru Island. Under the wasilalen system, farmers grow mixed plants, including wild, domestic, and introduced plants in a single piece of land.

Interestingly, adat (social-cultural aspect) still plays important roles in many agricultural activities. The main reason that adat rights are still maintained is to protect personal and group rights to cultivate certain agricultural crops during certain periods of time.

This research covers both the ecological system of the geba Bupolo[2] and the semantic categorical system of plants. The geba Bupolo select certain commodities for their daily needs based on certain considerations, which depends on their ecological understanding and held traditions.

The ethnobotanic research is an interdisciplinary research which examines the ecological system of particular community groups, and at the same time attempts to understand their semantic categorical system of plants. Semantic category is used to express the kind of plant on the basis of language expression used in a particular community (Friedberg, 1993).

An ethnobotany expert will therefore deal with both traditional and modern culture.  Ethnobotanic research will improve the understanding of social and cultural systems of certain community groups, and help to understand social value hierarchies held by certain ethnic groups.


The term geba Bupolo in this study is suitably used to illustrate the original identity of the group studied, i.e. people originally from the area around Lake Rana, Buru Island.

The term geba Bupolo is used by people around Lake Rana to name their settlement and jurisdiction. The area around Lake Rana covers Mount Date, i.e. a mountain close to Lake Rana.

The geba Bupolo in this research include those not only living in the centre around Mount Date and Lake Rana, but also those living outside the centre, for example those living in the slope of the mountain and coastal area.

These people proudly call themselves the geba Bupolo since that name or term contains the greatness of their region. As a result, they do not have a special term to distinguish their groups from the others. However, within their own group, they have different noro (their interior name) and leit (their exterior name). The term noro is a lineage group of the geba Bupolo.

A unique characteristic of noro and leit of the geba Bupolo is that each noro uses one leit name, in Buru language. For example, noro Waekolo has a leit name: Waemese and noro Nalbesi has a leit name: Tomhisa. There are around 57 noro in Buru Island. This is indeed an identity which can be used to distinguish geba  Bupolo from newcomers, especially coastal dwellers and immigrants.  This identity also implies that Bupolo land belongs to geba Bupolo.


The story of Bupolo or Buru Island cannot be separated from the sacred places it possesses.  The sacred places indicate worship places, respected by the geba Bupolo.  The most respected worship places are those in the area around Lake Rana, where the geba Bupolo live.  Area surrounding Lake Rana is considered to be the centre of Bupolo. Mount Date and Lake Rana are also considered sacred places.

The term date ahen (heart of Date) is a term used by only a certain group of people, i.e. those having a particular position in the structure of adat institution. This term is considered to be a koin (taboo) or pamali by Ambonese.  Ahen means breath, and the breath of life comes from the heart (poson).  Mount Date and Lake Rana are considered to give an identity story to the hierarchy of the geba Bupolo. It is clear that Mount Date and Lake Rana are also considered to give life (newen) and fertility (tuben) to the geba Bupolo.


The analysis developed for this study are “from outside” which is focused on seeing characteristics and developing concept in the society, and “from inside” analysis which examined the relationship among correlated variables. Data collected consist of botanical aspects and social aspects, which are subsequently analysed in relation to the interdependence between human and agroecology.

The settlement area of the geba Bupolo in Waekahitnangan, Buru North-South regency, close to the transmigration area in Waeyapo plain was chosen for the research location. The Waekahitnangan[3] is the name of the river.

The purpose of this article is to show that this site (Waekahitnangan) has a strong historical relationship with the area of the origin around Mount Date and Lake Rana. The geba Bupolo were excluded from the area of origin since fifty years ago, and they were nomad in many places, and finally lived in the north-east of this island. However, their orientation about  Mount Date and Lake Rana, Buru North-West regency, remains the same. The capital is still in Aerbuaya (see map for details).

Interviews with local people, including some elders of the adat were undertaken to collect the plant data. Local plant names, the use of the plants and growing site were recorded and the herbariums were set up as a result.


In Bupolo, a particular garden/field is normally cultivated by a group of people called hawa tabasat. This group consists of several families which are usually relatives. The agriculture system developed by the geba Bupolo was not a shifting cultivation, but a long fallow cultivation system with a period of 8 to 9 years. A hawa (garden) is fallowed after being cultivated for 3 – 4 years.  After a fallowed period of 8 to 9 years the field (called wasi) can be reopened as a new hawa.



Figure 1.  Map of Buru Island.

The cultivation period does not occur all year round.  It was found that cultivation activities were carried out from mid July to the beginning of October.  Since their agriculture system is dependent largely on natural condition, it may change regularly.  The sign used for the beginning of agriculture activities in the hawa was emteda or lisa (Terminalia sp.,Fagaceae).  This means that hawa has to be ready prepared , i.e. opening new field or utilizing wasi field since the raining season is expected to come during that period of time.


In relation to a garden field (hawa), several terms may be used for identification as stated below:


Humalolin (huma=house, lolin=circle) is a small residential area or hamlet, where one noro from the same lineage group (bialahin) live, consisting of three to five houses only.  Behind the houses (humamori), there is a development of a garden of fruit trees, such as coconut, mango, pineapple, papaya and bananas. In addition, pigs (fafufena) and local chicken are also raised in here.  Pigs have a high social value in the life of the geba Bupolo.  A pig is also served in every ritual ceremony to the ancestor.  No garden exists in front of houses.

Hawa Fehut

Hawa fehut (hawa=garden, fehut=new) is a newly-cultivated garden whose yields have not been harvested. Thus, the term hawa fehut is used for a field during the period since land clearing, planting, until the first harvesting. Crops grown in hawa fehut are warahe (Arachis hypogaea Linn, Fabaceae), feten (Setaria itallica, Poaceae), and hala (Oryza sativa, Poaceae).


Hawa is a garden which has been harvested.  The term hawa fehut is no longer used after the first harvest. The term hawa is usually used for garden in general. There are hawa hala (field of rice), hawa magat (field of Ipomoea batatas, Convolvulaceae), and hawa kasbit (field of cassava, Manihot esculenta Crantz, Euphorbiaceae).

Hawa wasi

Hawa wasi is the term used for a garden which has been cultivated for several years, and is about to be fallowed. Yields have declined, and therefore this field is likely to be abandoned.  However, its products (such as bananas, pineapple, and cassava) can still be harvested.


The term wasi is used for a field/garden which has been fallowed for several years.  The geba Bupolo like to call it wasa-wasi. There are some perennial crops which they still cultivated, which include nakan (Arthocarpus integraifolia, Moraceae), nakan dengen or campada (Arthocarpus champeden, Moraceae), waplane (Mangifera indica L.Anacardiaceae), hosi roit (Citrus nobilis Lour.Rutaceae), hosi hat (Citrus grandis L. Osbeck, Rutaceae), kopi (Coffea spp. Rubiaceae), warian (Durio zybethinus, Murr., Bombaceae), biafolo (Arenga pinnata, Arecaceae), pala (Myristica fragrans Houtt., Myristicaceae) and cengkeh (Eugenia aromatica O.K., Myrtaceae). After a wasi is left or fallowed for 8 to 9 years, it can be reopened as a new cultivation field/garden again but the geba Bupolo usually tend to protect some perennial crops.  The field belonged to the geba Bupolo is called wasilalen (see Figure 2 and 3).


Figure 2.  A wasilalen and the geba Bupolo conserved cengkeh (Eugenia aromatica O.K.).

A new field that is just reopened on the previous garden is called nogit hawa (nogit=to cut a tree of a middle size).  In cultivation a new field /garden, the geba Bupolo are also familiar with the term latak which is used to name the activity of cutting trees of middle sizes, especially in field/garden from wasilalen.  This activity is a second activity of forest clearing for cultivation field/garden after bush clearing/pioneering.

Tahak is used to name an activity of cutting larger-sized trees. This is usually carried out for opening field/garden from secondary forest area, where large trees are found. In this tree-cutting activity, ladders are usually established beside large trees if higher parts of the trees are difficult to cut.

The clearing of primary forest into a cultivation field/garden is usually accompanied by an adat ceremony which is conducted before the commencement of clearing activity.


Figure 3.  A wasilalen where we see that the geba Bupolo reopened field and they conserved for example biafolo (Arenga pinnata).  The geba Bupolo will plant warahe (Arachis hypogaeae Linn) as the primary plant in their agricultural activities.

The field/garden adat mentioned is strongly related to the process of opening new field/garden established from a primary forest area. This field/garden adat is concerned with several adat ceremonies related to field/garden cultivation processes. These processes started from selection/ownership of forest area/lands to harvesting. The adat consists of restricting adat (sihit), cutting adat (latak/tahak), burning adat (pefak), harvesting adat (degen) and offering adat (tema).



The settlement area of the geba Bupolo in Waekahitnangan, prior to resettlement by the Indonesian government, was identified as a remote area in the interior locations of forest.  The space of their movement was unlimited since they live in a wide and free nature.

Considering that their distribution was not concentrated in a certain location, their activities to exploit their natural environment are carried out according to the needs of members.  Meanwhile, it is clear that the bearing capacity nature does not increase to balance their activities which have taken place from generation to generation.

The Geba Bupolo are certainly familiar with boundaries of their zones which become the object of their activities in their environment. This is where they establish signs and names.  Types of zones that they are familiar with include huma elen (former residential areas), huma lolin (hamlet), hawa (cultivation field/garden), wasi (former cultivation fields which are being fallowed), gelan lalen (cajuput “Melaleuca leucadendron” forest area), mua lalen (secondary forest area), mua lalen emkelet (hunting area), and iwang (primary forest).

Technological system in the live of the geba Bupolo is developed in harmony with their agricultural activities as their family income source. Todo (chopping knife), nhero (spear), and gomi (axe) are three majors’ tools to deal with forest products. The two tools (todo and gomi) can be purchased in the market from after the sale of their agricultural products.

In addition, they are familiar with household tools such as plates, cups, spoons, and other kitchen utensils, which are used by general community.  All those tools/utensils can also be obtained from the market.

To get energy source for cooking, woods obtained/collected from the forest around them were collected.  A house for the geba Bupolo is a place for protection from ever changing natural conditions, i.e. rain and sun heat.

These people have been familiar with a more proper function of a house.  This is reflected by the construction of their buildings.  In general, their houses are not completed with a windows and living rooms. There is only one separated room from the others, which is used for the couple (husband and wife). This room is separated by bark weavings from the biahut (Shorea sp, Dispterocarpaceae). Materials for building houses consist of bialahin (Metroxylon sagou., Arecaceae ) leaves for roofing and biahut bark for the walls. The floor is usually made of soil.

Similar to the geba Bupolo living in the centre of island around Mount Date and Lake Rana, the geba Bupolo living in Waekahitnangan lives in harmony with the natural environment. Their ways of living include hunting and cultivating. The wood gathering for house-building and for cooking are supplied by the forest around them, without destruction of natural environment. It is clear that the environmental conservation is well integrated with their daily lives.

The geba Bupolo settling in the Buru North West still maintain their strong identity as compared to those living in the other region (South Buru and North-East Buru). This is due to the fact that in South Buru there are many areas of forest exploitation (HPH = Hak Pangusahaan Hutan).

The geba Bupolo consider nature as not only a spiritual/magical thing but also beneficial source for their life. Forests, natural environment and cultivation field/garden are considered as beneficial aspects in reality. With good gardening skill and knowledge as well as hard work, the garden will yield sufficient foods for them.



This section reviews the knowledge of the geba Bupolo about plants and plant utilization in their daily lives. There are certain plants utilised the geba Bupolo by which their scientific name have not been identified, thus their local names are used.

The knowledge system about plants is very important for their survival. Their knowledge level is certainly different from other tribes. The difference depends upon vegetation environment surrounding the location of their settlement. The knowledge about plants utilization develops in accordance to the development of the culture and knowledge about processing and cooking plant materials.

The geba Bupolo classifies plant world simply into two groups, i.e. the useful and useless plants. The useful plants, based on their utilization in daily life, consist of those used for food, house construction, clothing, domestic and agricultural tools, weaving, tools for ceremonial and social events, medicines, cosmetics, drinks and arts. Anthropology experts in 19 century and the beginning of 20 century have stated that there are eight types of utilization of plants as tools and cultural elements by small nomadic and rural agricultural society, i.e. production tools, weaponry, containers, fire production, food-drink delicacy, clothing and ornaments, housing-protection, and transportation means (Purwanto and Waluyo, 1992).

The result of observation on the utilization of useful plants by the geba Bupolo in Waekahitnangan village recognises 165 kinds of plants. The categories of utilization of plants consist of food containers and food wrapping (3 kinds), traditional medicines (52 kinds), house construction materials (50 kinds), foods (52 kinds), adat ceremonies (7 kinds), roping (14 kinds), wild types (24 kinds), cigarette paper (4 kinds), firewood (24 kinds), fish poisons (2 kinds), hunting baits (2 kinds), glue material (1 kind), hand crafting materials (5 kinds), fire production (1 kind), and gardening tools (2 kinds).

For certain types of plants such as rattan (uwa), the geba Bupolo recognize 8 kinds of rattan, identified based on the shapes of leaves and spines. They recognise 8 kinds of bamboo, distinguished on the basis of internodes and leaf shapes. There are 9 kinds of mushrooms recognised; among which only one is not edible (utan kafana), while the other 8 kinds are consumable as food. The mushrooms are identified by their colour and habitats, i.e. rotting stumps.


The geba Bupolo have been familiar with inhabitants of coastal areas, and have left the tradition of their origin. Thus, they now wear clothes and are familiar with norms held by general communities, such as those norms regulating their relationship with nature and environment, despite a traditional concept.

The concept of environmental understanding is not that environment is only a magical-spiritual thing, but rather it is a source of their life. The harmony between their life and the environment can be seen from their knowledge about the utilization of plants, in which 165 are recognised by them.

The land available for each family should be sufficiently large. However, the land size that can be cultivated is only between 0.5 – 1 hectare. This is mainly grown with horticultural crops, such as peanut, leafy vegetables and fruits. Their incomes are relatively small mainly due to lack of bargaining power. The agricultural practices of the geba Bupolo are not shifting cultivation but long fallow cultivation with a period of 8 to 9 years.



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[1] Original term originates from Arab language, meaning social-cultural aspect

[2] Geba=people, Bupolo=Buru Island.  The geba Bupolo is the native people in Buru Island

[3] wae=water, kahit=dust, nangan=estuary