The Tale of The Two ‘Hearts of Borneo’
By: Cristina Eghenter
In October 2004, elders and representatives of communities from the Highlands in the Heart of Borneo in Malaysia (Bario, Ba’ Kelalan, Long Semadoh, Ulu Padas) and Indonesia (Krayan and Krayan Selatan) met in Long Bawan (Krayan) to establish the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands of Borneo (FORMADAT). The chosen logo states: People in the Heart of Borneo. This is the most important message that the communities wanted to get across: there are communities who claim the highlands as their ancestral land, there are people in the Heart of Borneo at the border between Indonesia and Malaysia who have been conserving and managing the forest and rice fields in sustainable and traditional ways. It was the beginning of the FORMADAT tale to “…increase awareness and understanding about the highland communities, build local capacity, and encourage sustainable development in the Heart of Borneo.” (from FORMADAT declaration, 2006).
In February 2007, the ministries of the governments of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia signed the declaration on the Heart of Borneo Initiative to protect and manage sustainably the forests in the heart of the Borneo. It was the formal start of the tale of the three governments’ commitment to “….promote people’s welfare, we will cooperate in ensuring the effective management of forest resources and conservation of a network of protected areas, productive forests and other sustainable land-uses…”
It was only at the recent 7th Trilateral Meeting in Brunei, 4-5 September 2013, that the tale of the ‘two Hearts of Borneo’ found a stronger, common narrative. For the first time, representatives of FORMADAT Indonesia and Malaysia (Lewi P Gala, George Sigar Sultan, John Tarawe, and Gat Khaleb) were invited as observers to the Trilateral Meeting and the Ministerial Meeting on Sept 7th. This was a major milestone for the Indigenous Peoples of FORMADAT who, over the last two years, had asked for recognition of their trans-boundary community initiative in the Highlands and the seal of a formal partnership with the Trilateral HoB Initiative in support of sustainable development in the Highlands.
“We are the people who live in the Heart of Borneo where we have lived for centuries and taken care of the fragile environment of the Highlands. We are happy to be here with you today, and we want to extend our cooperation and support for the HoB Initiative,” affirmed John Tarawe addressing the delegates of the three countries on behalf of FORMADAT, on the first day of the meeting. For the first time, an item on the agenda specifically regarded communities. The Indonesian delegation presented the proposal, A Network of Local Communities to Promote Sustainable Development and Conservation in the Heart of Borneo for discussion and invited FORMADAT to address the Meeting. The proposal will be refined and submitted to member countries before the next Trilateral Meeting for consideration.
The process and formalities of a government meeting, the close-door sessions probably appeared a bit arcane to the FORMADAT representatives and certainly felt miles away from the open and seemingly unregulated community assemblies. But the fact of being invited at the Trilateral for the first time, and being recognized as FORMADAT, opened new doors. The representatives were able to mingle and discuss with the members of the delegation, and share stories from the Heart of Borneo. This trilateral event was more inclusive and meaningful. It confirms the beginning of what has to be a common journey, and a shared tale from one Heart of Borneo.