Indonesia’s Cultural Tragedy: The Tragic Loss of Ulu Palin Cultural Heritage
Fire engulfed world’s former oldest, tallest and longest longhouse from 23:00 on Saturday, 13 September 2014. Caused by a fire coal for smoking meat that a resident had forgotten to bank, in a few short hours the longhouse’s entire 53 apartments and the surrounding villagers’ huts had been burnt down to the ground. Although no loss of human life occurred, nearly a hundred of exotic birds perished during the tragedy, The compound’s 538 residents that include babies and young children lost their homes and their entire belongings.
Perhaps, the saddest thing of all is the loss of the irreplaceable Sungulok Palin Longhouse. On 4 March 2003 the Indonesian Department of Education and Culture had declared this longhouse as a national cultural heritage site with registration number KM.10/PW.007/MKP/03, while the Regency’s registration number of the site is N0.212/2012 Ref: UU RI No. 11/2010 on Cultural Heritage. The plan had been to relocate the occupants in order to preserve the original longhouse as a cultural museum.
It’s still very hard for me to imagine that this place, that I had visited as recent as a few months back, is no more.
Situated in the fringe of conservation zone Heart of Borneo in Kapuas Hulu, the 240-meter longhouse was traditionally built near the embankment of Ulu Palin River and 1.7 km away from the road towards the regency town Putussibau, located some 38 km away.
Constructed on stilts, the floor of the longhouse was 7 to 8 meters high above the ground for safety reason. The longhouse occupants belong to the Dayak tribe Tamambaloh. Their headhunter ancestors regularly engaged in tribal wars with their surrounding neighbours, and keeping the floor high kept them safe from enemies’ spears during sleep. The longhouse had three entrances that used long, solid round ironwood carved with steps, which occupants in ancient times hauled upstairs during the night.
The entire building uniquely did not use nails or modern metals. The giant beams had been hooked to each other at the ends, while smaller parts had been tied together with rattan ropes.
Each time this longhouse needed renovation, the Tamambalohs worked together dismantling it and rebuilt at an adjacent location by the river. They habitually recycle the woods, and had been re-using the giant long poles of round ironwood for several hundreds of years, making Sungulok Palin’s the world’s oldest longhouse. Ironwood itself is the world’s strongest wood species that doesn’t get destroyed in water. Even after the fire when everything else had perished, the ironwood poles stood eerily against the backdrop of world’s oldest rainforest.
A forest community near an orangutan conservation habitat, the Tamambalohs of Ulu Palin are hunter gatherers. They grow their own rice and traditionally live a self-sustainable existence, taking forest products only for their personal needs. They chew sugar cane to brush their teeth, and chew betel leaves to strengthen them. They hunt with their local dogs, fish, collect non-timber forest products, build their own boats and fishing traps, weave their own textiles and jewelries, concoct their own medicins from local plants and produce other daily needs by themselves. Occupying a long row of apartments off the longhouse’s very long corridor which was the common area, almost everyone is a keen craftman or craftwoman.
I had been fortunate to visit this longhouse through WWF”s Kompakh, the sole ecotourism “operator” of Kapuas Hulu. On the night we arrived, the clan was observing mourning as a young resident had passed away. We were told to remove our jewelries and to keep very silent. However once the morning was lifted the people had been friendly, although remarkably shy. I had been weaving their stories in my WIP before the fire struck. Hopefully, my humble effort would preserve a little bit how they had lived.
A Call To Help The Fire Victims
As they are currently living in temporary shelters after losing their homes, I call on everyone who is able to help relieve their pain. To make a donation, please contact WWF West Kalimantan through Kompakh. Thank you.
I was away only for a few days and managed to miss joke of the week: PM Tony Abbott calling timber companies ultimate conservationists.
To the joy of Australia’s forestry industry, our PM has declared no more Australian forests will be locked up by national parks and he is committed to remove 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest from World Heritage listing.
PM Abbott has earlier submitted the proposal to delist the zone from World Heritage, rebuking the move by the previous government to list the area as a conservation zone. Australia’s laughable request will be considered in the June’s meeting of World Heritage Committee in Qatar.
I guess he thinks you can easily replant trees, but forgets that it takes many long years, and meanwhile wild animals are left homeless and the earth rapidly warms up. I wouldn’t comment about Prime Minister’s stand today, but on this occasion I want the world to know that most Australians don’t agree with him. In my few days away, three friends managed to mention forestry as pertaining to Australia to me, and I commented based on stumbled-upons I have kept encountering during my research for my WIP Heart of Borneo. Here they are,
- Sandra, a Sydneysider who is a foster parent of orang-utans said, “I recently asked my home builder not to use Indonesian merbau because that’s the wood taken from orang-utans’ forests, but he ignores me saying that’s what’s available.”
I said to Sandra, “Australia is a primary market for smuggled illegal timber. WWF has been complaining that every year Australia imports over $400 millions of illegally cut wood from unapproved sites.”
- Patrick, a naval officer, said, “Forest Crime is something I have seen first hand. Way back in 1986 I was involved in rescue and recovery of bodies from a hillside village on Solomon Islands after rain from Cyclone Namu caused a mudslide. Timber companies rape the hillsides without care. Was still happening when I was there in 2006. I wonder how many people stop to consider that the cheap meranti timber at Bunnings was once the jungle trees of Borneo and Sumatra.”
I said to Pat, “After Aceh’s tsunami, WWF campaigned for Timber for Aceh because Indonesia simply didn’t have wood to rebuild 250,000 houses unless they hack conservation forests. Norway, Germany, and Australia agreed to help. But, WWF discovered AusAID was going to donate timber from disputed Solomon Islands’ forests that had been forbidden to Australian logging companies. Masking under timber for charity, Australian companies imposed their will on the locals and decimated their forests. WWF Indonesia then rejected this timber because they only accept certified wood from undisputed sustainable source.”
- Roxane, the kids’ French teacher said a few days ago a TV program showed that wood from Indonesia in Australia is mostly illegal. Heck yes, of course, while Indonesia has been at pains trying hard to eradicate illegal logging, Australian vast housing industry buys timber from the forest criminals. Unlike European countries that demand certified wood from sustainable forests, Australia accepts crime proceeds.
This is a blog hop on the writing process of which I’ve been tagged by the multi-talented artist and author Uvi Poznansky.
First, let me introduce Uvi to those who haven’t met her, and then please visit her blog and have a look around.
Uvi earned her B. A. in Architecture and Town Planning from the Technion in Haifa, Israel, and practiced with an innovative Architectural firm. She received a Fellowship grant and a Teaching Assistantship from the Architecture department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. There, she earned her M.A. in Architecture. Then, taking a sharp turn in her education, she earned her M.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Michigan.
During the years she spent in advancing her career—first as an architect, and later as a software engineer, software team leader, software manager and a software consultant (with an emphasis on user interface for medical instruments devices)—she wrote and painted constantly. Her versatile body of work can be seen online at http://uviart.com. It includes poetry, short stories, bronze and ceramic sculptures, oil and watercolor paintings, charcoal, pen and pencil drawings, and mixed media.
Uvi has published a poetry book, Home, and two children books, Jess and Wiggle and Now I Am Paper. Apart From Love, her novel, was published to great acclaim, as were her recent novels A Favorite Son and Rise to Power.
I will now answer the questions Uvi has asked me.
What am I working on?
I’m writing “Heart of Borneo”, a forest crime.
Much like Sydney’s Song, this Work In Progress is a real-life socio fiction, except, instead of portraying a vibrant metropolitan as massive as Sydney, I’m visititheme around a love story, “Heart of Borneo” focuses on conservation works, particularly environmental economy.
Heart of Borneo itself is a conservation initiative to slow down the rapid deforestation of one of the world’s few remaining natural rainforests. Covering an area of 220 million hectares, two-third of which is in three Indonesian Kalimantan provinces, this program identifies and develops sustainable ways to empower the local residence and to protect the area’s threatened rich biodiversity.
A lawless no man’s land which is 2004’s ultimate illegal logging heaven awaits Lance Knox, an environmental economy fresh graduate assigned by WWF to promote community livelihood in Kapuas Hulu Regency of West Borneo. To prevent further deforestation, Lance must show the indigenous people how to develop alternatives and more sustainable income sources. However, Kapuas Hulu is wilder than his dreams.
How can a conservation program work, when the boss of Malaysian logging mafia sleeps in the house of TNI’s Regional Military Cests have brought in obscene wealth to their personal pockets? It doesn’t help at all when the central government insists on developing an oil-palm plantation along Malaysia-Indonesia border, which necessitates demolishing virgin forests in three huge national parks.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I have read some excellent works by Indonesian and European anthropologists, economists, journalists, and travelers on Kapuas Hulu (Upper Kapuas), but each of them describes only a portion of a complex land with massive issues. They are like vivid portraits of esent, hopefully, the complete picture. I’ve been lucky to receive guidance from my personal contacts, insiders who are highly dedicated professional conservationists, including one of the world’s most respected environmental experts, as well as indigenous scientists. Let’s hope I can do them justice.
Why do I write what I do?
I have many reasons, among others:
- I have deep respect for those who work hard to get things done in conserving the environment. The conservationists I’m writing about are noble people who have striven to preserve wildlife and safeguard human dignity. This is their story.
- I’m passionate about forest conservation (although, I will also write about marine conservation in my next book). I wish very much that the forest criminals stop for a moment and think about the helpless animals that are losing their homes with nowhere to go. Of course, decimating the forest itself of protected trees can only bring natural hazard to the local as well to the international communities. Hopefully, more hearts will come to care through my writing.
- The most valuable asset of Kapuas Hulu is its people, and I would like to introduce the Borneans to more people, because, hey, guess what, the world owes them. They are unique communities who are blessed with a rich land. They live in pristineeart of Borneo zone will slow down global warming. The whole world depends on their forests, and on them to save our planet from harmful climate change that can only lead to grave natural disasters. Climate change is dangerous for people’s health and economy. By not cutting their trees — like all other people of the world have done — the indigenous people of Borneo are rendering a most noble sacrifice for the good of mankind.
How does my writing process work?
Ideas normally come to me when I do my walks, but I need to be passionate about what I write. This WIP was triggered by the environmentally depressing state in my birth country; a state that had been at the back of my mind and brought hich was a 50-km road trip. But Sumatra today is no different from Java. How would you feel, if the tall canopy of your jungle disappeared and replaced by potato fields? And it is so much more than the loss of the magnificent beauty. How would you feel when you think of the protected animals that must face extinction because they are endemic to their forest condition?
A few months back my dear friend Allan Howerton reminded me of my (now gone) forests, and that opened the pandora box.
There is so much to write and so little time available. And then there’s so much to learn from my conservationist mentors, from books and from the internet. I’ve been busy studying and interviewing. In the process of my research I frequently stumble upon ut facts that I had learned during my life journey — facts that assist me to understand pieces of a few puzzles. In other words, more information turns up from nowhere and everywhere prompting me to write and rewrite. I will also travel to the locations, as I’ve only been to a few oil fields in Borneo, to make sure I don’t make mistakes.
And of course, that’s before throwing my manuscript to the wolves for critic! I have been known to heed my opinionated assessors, as many of them as I can get, the sharper their claws the better.
The author I tag for next week’s blog hop on The Writing Process
J Lenni Dorner began publishing poetry at age eight, and won several awards before turning eighteen. Education includes the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Excellence in Creative Writing semi finals and Penn State University’s Honors and Scholars program. Tragedies and personal traumas took the writer away from the modern world for a while. While embracing the ancient tribal traditions, J Lenni Dorner discovered a story worthy of the ancestors- one that no other could tell. J is happily married and living in Pennsylvania (USA) on the original lands of the Lenni Lenape people. When not reading or writing, J enjoys video games (such as The Sims and Civilization V), amateur photography, and watching movies.
I would like to end this post by calling all readers to make donations towards wildlife conservation. Click the following logo to donate. Thank you.
Have you done your part to be environmentally responsible?
10 countries with most threatened species on our earth:
Signs pointing to the fact that a global climate change is happening increase every day. Shall I tell you how massively furious I am about the sad, sad deforestation of my birthplace, Sumatra? Massive jungles used to cover the land everywhere, lush and green and soaring high, but when I showed my husband the land where cars used to stop to allow tigers and the cubs to pass in my childhood, the trees were no more. We traveled from the south to the north of the island, and the only forests left seemed to be the ones deep down inside the canyons where bulldozers couldn’t go.
This is a heads up about my work-in-progress, Heart of Borneo, as I’m very passionate about environmental issues and would love to contribute in raising environmental awareness.
I hope to release Heart of Borneo in 2014. For now, let me just say that I’m deeply saddened that my home Australia, one of the world’s developed countries, made the above list. Mr Prime Minister of Australia, please, please, please stop that plan to build a new coal port in Queensland. You will be dumping over 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil on corals and reef water of The Great Barrier Reef, our world heritage. Your descendants will not forgive you, just like I will never forgive the people who have bulldozed my forests in Sumatra.
And readers, may I call you to please do your part in saving the environment. Thank you.