The History of Tangkahan
Early settlers to Tangkahan
The first settlers to the area were the people of the Tanah Karo (Batak Karo). From their original home in the Karonese highliands surrounding Berastagi, some intrepid villagers set out towards Langkat in search of new livelihoods and land in the late 19th and early 20th century. They settled in various locations near to the rivers in the region and thus founded the village of Tangkahan, where agriculture was their main source of an income.
Birth of a National Park
It was many decades later that the then Dutch government issued a new ordinance which officially named the Gunung Leuser National Park as a Nature Reserve.
In the early 1900s, Tangkahan was a forested area consisting of both protected and production forest. The traditional villages relied on these forests for their livelihoods and daily lives, using the jungle for firewood and hunting.
Chopping down a forest
However, in the 1930s, some entrepreneurs from outside of Tangkahan began to utilise the local people as a labour force to process wood and transport it by buffalo and the river. In the decades that followed, illegal logging became the main source of income for this community.
The spread of the plantations
It wasn't until the late 1970's, early 1980's that the era of large-scale plantation crops took hold in Tangkahan and beyond. This is when the government initiated the endless state-oiwned palm oil plantations (along with rubber and cocoa on a smaller scale) in the region. Not long after this came the main road connecting Tangkahan with the bigger cities. As the population increased, the clearing of forested areas for plantations became more rampant, and continued to spread into the National Park, along with the illegal logging activities.
According to historic reports, the competition between the loggers (both local and not) led to a lot of conflict within the community, and many local people were arrested and sent to jail for illegal logging.
Turning to tourism
After key leaders were freed from prisons, some of them chose to initiate tourist activiities within Tangkahan, in the villages of Kuala Gemoh and Kuala Buluh (Deso Namo Sialang). They began to sell food and beverages, river crossings, charge for vehicle parking, admission to the area and other small scale activities.
In the early 1990's, tourism had increased to around 2000 people per week.
Unfortantely, where money starts to flow, it's not uncommon for crime to follow. There were conflicts surrounding competing interests inside and outside of Tangkahan, and many individuals attempting to take control. There were illegal levies, theft and crime syndicate activities within the village, and conflict between those wanting to grow tourism and those still making a living from illegal logging. All these factors undoubtedly affected the tourism to the area and resulted in many problems for the community.
In 1999, community leaders from the villages around Tangkahan began to gather together tourists, guides and community leaders to come up with a common agenda in order to eradicate illegal logging.
In January 2000 the Environment Care Front (FPLH) was formed, and later that year there was a demonstration to the North Sumatra Forestry Office in Medan which involved dozens of tourists, foreign journalists, high school students and various student movement groups. This protest caught the attention of 29 NGOs in North Sumatra and Aceh, causing them to rise up and sue the Government.
Following this there was a period of intense conflict in Tangkahan, with fighting between accommodation operators, illegal loggers and others. For a period, all ceased for a period of time.
The Tangkahan Rangers
Finally, on April 22nd, 2001, the Tangkahan Simalem Ranger group was formed. This is the pioneering association that started to develop not only the river, but also the forest as a place of ecotourism. This youth movement spread and became a social movement, creating the Tangkahan that we know and love today.
It was on May 19, 2001 that the Rangers, the village leaders, illegal loggers and community figures came together to agree to abolish illegal activities and focus on building tourism. This was the First Congress of Tangkahan Toursim Instutitoun, where a voting process elected board of directors to create what would later become the Tangkahan LPT.
Over the next few years, the community worked hard to sign official agreements with the TNGL, National Park, and various local level agreements.
Various orgnaistaions came to the assistance of the community including NGOs, INDECON, and Flora and Fauna INternational, who assisted with setting up the elephant CRU and the forest patrols using the elephants.
In 2003, the Tangkahan Simalem Rangers were integrated into the LPT, and influential leaders were selected for the next three year period.