Remembering Anye Apuy, Dayak Kenyah Customary Chief of Bahau Hulu, and his environmental lessons
Amay1 Anye Apuy, the customary chief of Bahau Hulu, passed away on June 7th. A life devoted to protecting the forest and securing the wellbeing of his people in the interior of North Kalimantan, Amay Anye Apuy will be sorely missed, his leadership, wisdom and strength.
There is a special bonding between WWF Indonesia and Amay Anye Apuy that goes back many years when WWF first visited the village of Long Alango in the upper reaches of the Bahau River in 1991. At that time, much of the area was under Nature Reserve status, but the communities did not know about it. All they knew was their traditional land, forest, rivers, rice fields they had taken care of for centuries, and the enduring traces of their ancestors who first settled the area.
When the WWF team first arrived in Long Alango after navigating the dangerous rapids and strong currents of the Bahau River, it was Amay Anye Apuy who welcomed them. As he writes in his autobiography, “WWF wanted to build a ‘camp’ along the Nggeng River in what used to be my father’s tana ulen. They said that this would help the people in Long Alango take care of the good forest in the Nature Reserve and also improve the welfare of the people. After I agreed, the team built a research station with all the necessary equipment (solar power, radio, etc), a dormitory, a kitchen and dining room for people to stay.“ With the steady support and engagement of Amay Anye Apuy, the Tropical Forest Research Station ‘Lalut Birai’ was operational for more than fifteen years, hosting many researchers and providing training and opportunities to local people. It also attracted important guests, like the US Ambassador to Indonesia and the Minister of Forestry in 1994. “I gave the Minister a traditional Kenyah name, the name of a fighter for the good of his people: Bawe Sigau Lian Bulan. He donated a hydroelectric power unit to our village,” said Amay Anye Apuy. And he concluded: “I did not realize how well known the place had become internationally until one day someone gave me copy of the New York Times with my interview and photo, at a time when people here and around the world were concerned about plans for oil palm development along the border between Indonesia and Malaysia.”
The dilemma of conservation versus development is never far away from the circumstances of Indigenous communities, especially when threats in the form of mining, infrastructure development, and forest conversion happen around and inside their areas and territories. Communities aspire to economic development but also have the right to choose which development path to follow, including the choice for sustainability through community initiatives that add conservation and social value to forest commodities and natural resources to increase benefits for those communities.
WWF presence was regarded as a promise to “help the people” by the traditional owners of the land in Hulu Bahau. Local people were concerned about the Nature Reserve in the nearby forest. The status of Nature Reserve did not allow people to live in the forest nor use forest resources in the area. They were excluded. What would happen to the people who had been living there and managed the forest for a very long time? WWF supported research, capacity building, community initiatives like handicrafts, ecotourism. More importantly, WWF helped the communities map their territory and tana ulen areas, areas of forest traditionally protected by Dayak Kenyah people. WWF tried to listen to the aspirations of the communities and heed to the advice of Amay Anye Apuy.
The change of status from Nature Reserve to National Park in 1996 was a big step forward to accommodate the rights of local communities. Amay Anye Apuy endeavored to help establish and lead FoMMA (Alliance of the Indigenous People of the Kayan Mentarang National Park or KMNP) and advocate for shared governance and a stronger role of the Indigenous people in the management of the park. KMNP eventually became the first national park in Indonesia to be co-managed. But promises were also taking long time to realize. The values of conservation and the needs of development remain difficult to harmonize. Economic benefits of the presence of a national park covering more than half of the territory of Bahau Hulu are not yet felt by local people. Yet Amay Anye Apuy never gave up and continued to remind us to integrate conservation and defend development, and both need to be inclusive. He saw this as part of his responsibility as an Indigenous leader. Amay Anye Apuy was the real environmental hero.
Now, a new generation of young leaders from Bahau Hulu will continue the legacy of Amay Anye Apuy. Conservation of the forest is key to sustainable development and wellbeing of the people. WWF owes Amay Anye Apuy a lot: his welcome, support, advice, constructive criticism, friendship, teachings in environment and development over many years, and much more. With him, WWF probably learnt its most important and humbling lesson, that it is Indigenous leaders like Amay Anye Apuy who lead the conservation and sustainability battle, and that without their partnership and wisdom we will not succeed in leaving a healthy planet for the future generations.
 Amay is a traditional way of addressing an elder (man) in Kenyah communities. Literally it means ‘father.’