The human side of the Heart of Borneo
Two recent HoB Initiative international events, one held in Singapore (Roundtable on Protecting Nature in the Heart of Borneo, held by the Institute of Southeastern Asian Studies) and the other in Kuching (the 6th HoB Trilateral Meeting) marked a more definitive concern with communities and the socio-cultural aspects of the Heart of Borneo.
While the natural wealth of the HoB is locally and globally known, and has been celebrated, less attention has been given to the human side of the HoB, and one which makes HoB such a unique and rich place: the interconnections between the land and its peoples, between natural resources and traditional knowledge of the Dayak Indigenous groups, between the fauna and flora of Borneo, and the cultural and artistic heritage of the communities.
The history of the natural landscape of the Heart of Borneo is deeply intertwined with the history of its people who have been managing it for centuries. Extensive archaeological remains in the area are silent witness to a long history of human settlement on the island.
It is in a way expected,and certainly critical for the Heart of Borneo initiative to speak the language of emotions and feelings, and highlight the human side of the island. The Heart of Borneo’s vision of sustainably managed landscape and ecosystem services will not be successful nor lead a transformation towards sustainability and prosperity unless it recognises and engages the communities in the HoB. For the green heart to live, we need to listen to the Borneo’s human and social beat.
Dayak ethnic group in the Heart of Borneo regard it as their homeland. The sense of belonging and closeness with the environment is the main reason indigenous peoples have looked after their ancestral land and devised ways to exploit its resources in a sustainable manner, based on traditional knowledge and experience. Over generations, they have developed practices to grow crops, experimented with new cultivars, used forest products, hunted and fished in the forests and rivers of the interior.
During the roundtable in Singapore, the importance of listening to and engaging communities in the Heart of Borneo and along the international border that cuts along the region was strongly expressed by some of the panelists who reflected on the role and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples in Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan.
Similarly, it is the views, history, and hopes of local people for sustainable development in the Heart of Borneo that are recorded in the collection of short writings by local peoples and Indigenous leaders, and excerpts from studies of researchers that comprise the Human Heart of Borneo report.
The perspective of the report however is not only the past. It is also very much about the present and future of the communities in the Heart of Borneo especially those living along the long international border between Indonesia and Malaysia. Over time, the border has done little to divide communities and families. It has not separated but rather brought together the ethnic groups living on both sides of the border. The border has facilitated movement and crossing of people along natural passages between the eastern and western parts of the island in the Apau Kayan, the Krayan Highlands, and other areas in West Kalimantan.
It is the linkages between the natural and social capitals that have shaped Borneo over time. It is the ‘open’ border and dynamic engagement of the communities that are also key to the sustainable future of the island of Borneo.