POST D: The Dayak People & the Forbidden Forests of Borneo

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I have been fascinated by Borneo since watching the Borneo episode of Eliza Thornberry as a kid, and have wanted to visit since I found out that large tracts of the forest are disappearing forever. It is an island of dense tropical rainforests where orangutans, clouded leopards, pygmy elephants, sun bears and rhinos roam wild. A treasure trove of exotic species and biodiversity, Borneo is divided by three countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. These three countries share the responsibility to conserve and manage Borneo’s rainforests (sometimes called the Heart of Borneo) and protect the many endangered animals, which live there. Just as Borneo’s flora and fauna it’s indigenous people are similarly varied. The indigenous peoples who live in the heart of Borneo’s rainforest are commonly known as Dayak. There are over 50 ethnic Dayak groups speaking more then 170 different languages.

In the past many of these ethnic groups rely on the rainforest’s abundance to survive, however with changing agricultural practices logging of the rainforest has been on the rise, with big tracks of the Heart of Borneo being destroyed. Many tribes in the area have felt the economic pressure and incentives to allow companies to log on their land. And if trees are not being felled for timber big sects of the rainforest is being cleared to allow rice farming as many of the local peoples income relies on rice farming.


However one tribe of the Dayak Kenyah has been noted for how they are managing to combat deforestation. The Oma’lung tribe in Setulang village have been fighting to preserving their rainforest for decades. Their Rainforest is aptly named Tana Olen, which means forbidden forest as the traditional laws of Setulang prohibits the cutting down and damaging of trees in Tana Olen. The village of 900 people has a written policy signed decades ago decreeing that anyone who logs or damages trees in Tana Olen will be punished. Kole Adjang the Head of the Setulang Forest Management Agency, it is his job to preserve and look after Tana Olen. Kole Adjang talks about an agreement made by the villagers 2 two generations ago to preserve the forest, and he is proud that it is succeeding and bringing eco tourism as a result which is more money for the villagers.

However like many of the surrounding villages Setulang also relies on rice farming for income, so to avoid the fate of many neighboring tribes (whose forests have been torn down to make room for rice paddies), Setulang has arranged a system where each family gets 10 lots of land, which each gets used once in a ten year cycle. This has been highly successful as there is enough farming land without encroaching on the rainforest.

For more information you can watch a video here


Title images sources clockwise; http://news.nationalgeographic.com

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