I know I’ve done a terrible job at regularly updating this blog during these
first 20 days in Borneo, but we have been in the bush and so often we
haven’t had Internet.
Currently I’m sitting in the longhouse at Ensaid Panjang where we have been
living with the Dayak tribe for the last five days. Time passes slowly
here, helping the women in the kitchen, playing with the children, swimming
and bathing in the river, and hiking in the nearby virgin rainforest. The
first few days here no one explained to our group what was going on with
this particular tribe. We spent our days with them in blissful ignorance,
believing that their life was as beautiful as it appeared.
A few days ago, the tribal head took us into the peet forest. It was two
hours of intense hiking where Willie or the village head would stop every
few minutes and explain the medicinal value of various plants. Pointing to
poisonous trees, they explained that, if it rained and you were standing
under said tree and the water dripped off of the leaves, it would burn holes
into your skin. To my untrained eye, I just saw green–green trees, peet
swamp, beautiful ferns and bushes. But, to the Dayaks who work this land,
pouring their sweat into this place, it is an overflowing medicine cabinet;
it is a giant grocery store. It is their entire life. These people are not
wealthy with money’ this rainforest is their livelihood. Without it they
In the middle of our hike, the village head stopped and pointed to a nearby
tree. A fierce red slash was cut into the side–a screaming sign to the
village that “they” had been here and were coming back.
The red slash is proof from the palm oil company that they are marking the
land they are preparing to steal.
So how is this happening? It’s hard for me to grasp too. In America, the
issue of land rights is much more clear cut. The rules of Indonesia are
blurry and grey, and the corruption runs so deep on every level.
Essentially, the most common story we are told as we travel from village to
village is that the palm oil companies will bribe a few members of the tribe
to “sell” the land of the entire village– land they have no authority to
sell and certainly no permission. Sometimes the company will take certain
tribe members into Pontianak (the city) and secretly videotape them to use
as leverage later. The company creates tension among the tribe, hoping it will become broken and lack unity. Then they make their move, tossing in an embarrassingly small amount of money as a bribe ($50 Euros for one hectar), and take the land–the
livelihood of the community.
I don’t feel like I’m explaining it very well. But I can share that these
communities are devastated. They are hopeless and broken. We see it in
their eyes, their dejected body language, their pleas for us to help.
It had been said that just having us here is giving them strength. Many of
these villages have never had foreigners come to their community. They beg
us to tell their story to the world.