What I Learned Staying with a Jungle Tribe

Living in the jungle with an Indonesian tribe teaches you a lot about yourself. Obviously, lots of it is rather clichéd, but that doesn’t mean it is any less important. However, I will try and avoid being too predictable here, although I’m not how successful I am!

Indonesian Jungle

Indonesian Medicine Man



No! A few years ago I was backpacking across the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. After the hectic delights of Jakarta and touristy vibes of Bali, Sumatra felt like a world away. The transport was local buses only and we encounter few backpackers. It was glorious and a much needed respite. We had made our way to Bukittinggi and spent a few days exploring. The town is relatively small, offering a few expeditions to the surrounding areas.


We had found a tour company to hike an active volcano, which was incredible. On this trip we discussed other trips with our guide, who suggested a week-long trip to an island off the coast. Relatively cut off from the modern world, it was one of the few places you can truly experience how Indonesia used to be. He boasted that it was one of the last remaining ‘authentic’ tribes in Asia, but I’m not sure how true this is. If anybody could tell me, that would be amazing!


Sleeping with Tribe



Living in the West, it is easy to lose sight of how charmed our lives can often be. I am not belittling our suffering and I fully appreciate that our lives can be full of pain and distress. However, the nature of our worry and problems often come from a place of luxury. I frequently find myself worrying about how much I have in savings, if I can afford a night out, or if my job has enough progression.


Spending time in the jungle with a primitive tribe, I was face to face with people whose biggest concern was survival. This is clearly a far more urgent worry, and many of them just took it in their stride. It humbled and shamed me. It is often something I draw upon when I feel weighed down at work or worried about money.



Depending on where you are reading, this perphans won’t make sense to you. Growing up in the UK, I have been lucky enough to never even consider the cost of healthcare. The NHS ensures that everyone has access to medical care, whatever their circumstances. It wasn’t until I began to leave the UK that I realised this was far from universal.


While I was with the tribe, there was a small boy who had an infection above his eye. One of the people on the trip with me worked for Doctors Without Borders. He was horrified and concerned for this boy’s eye. He told our guide that this boy needed urgent care in order to keep his vision. The parents said there wasn’t a doctor on the island so instead took him to a medicine man. Here, his wound was cut open to remove the pus. As their house was mostly outdoors with little running water, it is doubtful that the wound ever healed. This is something that has stayed with me. Access to medicine is something I will never take for granted again.




Dietary issues are always causing me bloody problems. I have problems with gluten, mustard, and anything too oily or fatty. I often opt for expensive healthy foods, usually ordering online. Cronometer is my latest addiction and am always trying to ensure I get a full compliment of nutrients.


People living in less developed areas rarely have food intolerances. Well, they may have them but cannot follow them. When food is limited and locally-sourced, people tend to eat what they can get. I don’t write this to ridicule intolerances, indeed I have one!, but to highlight how lucky we are that we CAN avoid certain things without starving. I can choose from a range of gluten-free options every day.

Tribal hut

Man making poison spears



One of the things that struck me about this tribe and village was how strongly they valued community. With no television, they spend almost all of their time together. This is such a drastic difference from most of our lives in the West. I’m often so busy that I rarely see my family. Living in Seoul, I haven’t seen my mum for a year and a half.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to spend every waking moment with my family, but I am making a conscious effort to spend time with my close ones more. We often lead such solitary lives. I used to come home from work so exhausted I would literally sit alone in my room watching TV.


Living alone has also reminded me how nice it is to have friends and family close, something I think I will value a lot more when I return home.

Tribe relaxing in house

Tribe Community



Staying in a primitive house with a tribe for a week taught me a great many things. It taught me what I need for survival and what is superfluous. The experience hasn’t dramatically changed my life; I am not now a monk. But I am more conscious of what I have and what is important. Something we could all do with being reminded of once in a while.

Indonesian tribe