Siripok Bilou : Mentawai Gibbon Friends

by Arif Setiawan

Bilou (Hylobates klossii) and the Mentawai Islands since the first time I breath the air on Sikerei’s land in 2010, have their own charm always to re-visit, not just to see but have to continue to contribute to participating in conservation efforts, in a modern cultural wave that rolls forge these islands on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Since the first time Bilou’s research activities in the Mentawai have become an identity, my colleagues  and I in South Siberut, especially the Malinggai Uma ( a long house) Mentawai team, have at least been known for Bilou’s conservation activities, so we met many people in Mentawai villages. called us by the name of Si Bilou. This nickname has now stuck and has finally made us proud of what we have done.

In Mentawai culture, if there are people from outside the tribe who can then be accepted and become part of the tribe, there is the term “siripok”, which means more or less like a friend, close friend. I, Pak Ismail, and Dami  (both of them from one of the largest clans in Mentawai) seem to have gone through various dynamics since the first time we met them more than 13 years ago. Starting from research and survey activities in the Mentawai Islands, they are the spearhead, not just being guides, pompong drivers, and language translators, without them current activities would not be what they are today, they are lead Malinggai Uma, a local community organization based on cultural activities, and long time workin in the gibbon related activities, this organization have their own role to conserve nature as part of their cultural identity.

Togather with malinggai Uma team, we have done activities to mainstream the value of Mentawai nature and culture. Targeted younger generation and educators and teachers series of books and all availabe online for purchase, and training activities have done already since 2017. Mentawai primate field guide book, Mentawai Bird Guide Book, we created also quartet game for education purposes.

Series of training was done for the teachers in Mentawai with the aims to : 1. Introduce to the current generation of local teachers of Mentawai culture the local flora and fauna, especially our primate species;2. Enable teachers of Mentawai culture to spread the conservation message to their students; 3. Allow teachers to inspire the next generation to contribute to conservation at a local level; 4.Bring together Mentawai biodiversity and cultural conservation activists.

Siripok bilou has become a new spirit for us, which complements Mentawai nature conservation efforts, especially primate species at the grassroots level. The calling of the bilou then becomes a source of pride that we have done something for Bilou the Mentawai gibbon.

We tried to visualize this bilou philosophy , based on the pictures at Uma Malinggai where there is a pair of bilou holding hands. Reading this picture, one can see that Bilou is very close to daily life in Siberut, many research results have stated that gibbons are primates who always live in pairs, the size of the arms that are longer than the body is also clearly depicted in the ornaments at the Uma .

Keep up with Mentawai field works, of swaraowa and Malinggai , with #siripokbilou on social media. Apart from continuing to encourage capacity building for the Uma malinggai team, this siripok bilou logo is a medium to introduce the gibbons, nature and native Mentawai culture, hopefully it will continue to be sustainable.

To support activities in the Mentawai, we made a Siripok Bilou calendar, t-shirt and goodybags which was sold at a price of 100 thousand, you get 1 pack of Owa bilou coffee. For orders, please contact IG @swaraowa or @owacoffee or for those in Mentawai, you can contact Malinggai Uma in Puro2 hamlet, Muntai village, South Siberut. Other previous published books and mentawai biodviersity posters also can be purchased, shipped worldwide through contact us at swaraowa at

This year we the activities in Uma received more support fund from Arcus Foundation through great ape and gibbon program grant, we will continue activities in the 3rd teacher training in Siberut, bring them in the field to learn about mentawai nature and culture. Gibbon spotting and bird watching will be main field lesson in the training event. Coming soon for the event in this end of March 2023.

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