Cultivation and Planting

….And then at Pole 3 you will find a small "terussan" (passage) to the Government border, where our concession is located. You can leave tomorrow"…..

There was work in Indonesia in those days, and few words implied orders for years. The young employee mounted his horse, rode down the unpaved forest road, until pole 3, the old-fashioned kilometer markers, and found a small opening in the wall of green that had bordered his path on the left and right. Indeed, after some searching, there was a small hill about 2 meters high, crowned with a white-painted stone bearing a black Government number that oriented him and marked the beginning of the concession, consisting of several hundred hectares of virgin forest.

About halfway there was a spring, where it would be good to live. Several dozen natives had accompanied him to the new clearing, and in a few days, there was a hut made of bamboo poles and woven bamboo walls, covered with grass weavings that could withstand the heavy tropical rains. The spring provided fresh water, the forest provided fresh meat and vegetables… and life could begin.

Such a new clearing attracts many people, real pioneers who move from job to job, need little for their shelter, are very skilled in the "science of the forest," and could make "something" out of "nothing." Under normal circumstances, within a week, hundreds of laborers are available, usually with their own tools such as machetes and axes, to start the initial major work.

The very first task of the land developer is: the division of the terrain. In the Dutch East Indies, the Rijnlandse roe, a measurement of 3.79 meters, was used as the standard. Later, with the strict implementation of the decimal system in measurements and weights, it was converted to a "Roe" of 4 meters.

Five of these measurements were set out, measured horizontally in a pure North-South direction, and the first trench of 20 meters was drilled into the green embankment. The surveyors were at the front, and at the very back was the employee, with his square. This is a level, which makes it possible to set out lines perpendicular to each other, equipped with a compass to indicate the main directions. This way, the employee could maintain the correct line.

This marking out was repeated five times, and the first hectare line was born. The pieces of 20 meters were marked with a stake driven into the ground, which was later replaced by a very straight-growing palm species, the Hanjoewang. After measuring 100 meters North-South in this way, the East-West line was set out at right angles to it, both to the left and to the right, until the entire concession, enclosed in a band of "white stone mounds", was neatly divided into squares.

Meanwhile, the existing workforce had already begun cutting down the undergrowth. In long rows side by side, the undergrowth was attacked, bamboo bushes, rattan species, lianas, and even tree saplings as thick as thighs were cut down, leaving behind the forest giants, which reached heights of up to forty, fifty, and even sixty meters.

The second task was to fell these trees. When felling these trees, the aim was to make them fall in the direction of the slope of the terrain. After all, a tree lying perpendicular to this slope would, after planting, be able to cause enormous damage in case of any displacement caused by rain or otherwise.

Once the primeval forest has been felled over the concession covering hundreds of hectares, the work of clearing and cutting off the branches of the trees begins. It would be impossible to clear all the trees. Giants with diameters of 2 to 4 meters cannot be dealt with by simply "making a fire", nor can these trees – the only applicable force in mountainous terrain – be removed or relocated by manpower alone. The first requirement is therefore the correct felling, and the second is the judicious sawing of those types of wood suitable for later construction work.

After all this has been accomplished – if possible on the stumps – a fire must be made from branches and dried undergrowth, with great care. A forest fire in Java can destroy hundreds of thousands of hectares. A controlled fire can even damage the much-needed humus layer, the fertile top layer of soil. That is why on the day of burning, every available force is present, armed with green-leaved branches to keep jumping sparks under control and to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

And then there lies the fertile soil, waiting to be cultivated. The routes for the bandy or car roads are marked out, the small horizontal and 1/10 connecting roads are built, drainage ditches are made on the ridges of the mountains and connecting ditches are created. Then comes the soil cultivation, sometimes simultaneously... At least there is sufficient plant material.