Story by Enggi Dewanti
Edited By Ranjit Jose and Tomi Soetjipto
“We were born from the seed of the water, we play in the river, we play in the forest, we play in the fields, Hurray! How happy we are,” a passage of a lullaby from the Dayak Iban community in West Kalimantan.
Nobody saw it coming, particularly the elders of the Dayak Iban Sungai Utik community in the remote jungle of Indonesia’s Kalimantan island. But last year the soothing lullaby was serenaded at the United Nations General Assembly 2019, when the community received the Equator Prize for their work in protecting indigenous forest.
The indigenous community was among several recipients of the Equator Prize which recognises grass-root efforts
In addressing the pressing issue of climate crisis. The Equator Prize is awarded annually to outstanding local community and indigenous peoples initiatives that advance innovative nature-based solutions for sustainable development.
While global leaders and climate change activists have talked about rising temperatures and environmental issues for more than two decades, local communities have been working silently all along employing age-old traditions that provide solution into the global crises.
Bandi Apai Janggut comes from one of those communities. He is the chief leader of 270 people living in a community space called a long house, or rumah betang, a traditional house where the Dayak Iban live in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan.
“At home, I am surrounded by huge trees. Here [in Jakarta], I am besieged by tall buildings”, he said during the UNDP’s SDG Talks 10 in Jakarta recently. The discussion focused on sustainable forests and climate change and it was held in collaboration with the Kalimantan Forest (KalFor) project, SDG talks is UNDP Indonesia’s monthly discussion for the Indonesian youth where they can learn the most pressing development issues faced by Indonesia.
Sitting next to the Mayor of Sintang, Mr Bandi was more at ease to speak in in his native language than in national language Indonesian, a testament to his seldom interaction with the outside world.
“We should live in accordance with what is sufficient for us. Not more, and not less,“he told the crowd of enthusiastic youth. “The law we uphold will sanction those who take more and disturb the sacred part of the forest,” he continued. Community members are repeatedly told to respect the land and to ensure that future generations will be able to inherit the forest.
Also at the discussion was Kristiana Banang, an elder from the Sungai Utik community, explained, “everyone in the community is taught from a young age about the customary laws and the life in Sungai Utik.”
Jarot Winarno, the head of Sintang Regency, noted that “to achieve sustainable development, we should include local communities, those who live close to nature and work with nature. Conservation will work if we respect the culture, the people, and the environment.” he noted.
Laksmi Banowati, the national project manager of Kalimantan Forest Project added, “Customary forests are one of the safeguards to protect the non-state-owned forest zone. KalFor whose objective is to increase strengthening forest area planning and management in Kalimantan supports indigenous people in their endeavor to protect their customary forests.”
The Dayak Utik Community has held their legal right of ownership towards estimated 9,504 hectares of customary forest from the Indonesian government. Indeed, as the lullaby concludes:
Tanah leluhur jangan pernah kita gadai demi untung sementara, Tanah leluhur sungai ini, rimba ini, hidup kita selamanya (Our acenstral land will not be traded for a fortune; Our ancestral land, this river, this forest, our life, forever)