The Mentawai Future: Malnutrition & Epidemics
Many Mentawai now suffer from malnutrition caused by their “modern” village lifestyle. Although the sago palm provides abundant carbohydrates on Siberut, obtaining enough other nutrients becomes more difficult each day. Hunting is impossible around the villages, fishing no longer provides adequate yields and fruit trees close to home have been stripped bare. Raising pigs is forbidden in the village, obliging some to continue to raise them far away in the jungle. This impractical solution prevents sufficient care of the animals and noticeably decreases their size. As this deprivation takes its inevitable toll on their bodies, the Mentawai are becoming more and more susceptible to both infectious diseases and chronic disorders.
High population density, particularly where the planning and provision of sanitation is poor or non-existent, facilitates the spread of infectious diseases. Malaria, cholera and dysentery were primary contributors to the high mortality rate in the jungles of Siberut long before the influx of tourists and the Mentawai relocation program made them worse.