Editor’s Note: Be sure to tune into a LIVE webcast from Sintang, Borneo, Indonesia where Liza and the rest of the eco-warriors will report on their first week on the ground. www.livestream.com/deforestaction It begins Sunday, September 18, at 10:30 PM NEW YORK TIME.
A Dayak house by the river
I’m sitting under my mosquito net at the Kobus house, struggling with adequate words to describe the Dayak tribes I met this week. We spent four days meeting with various tribes in their villages. They live in the heart of Borneo, removed from the ways of the world but fully immersed in their rich culture and history. They depend entirely on the land, living sustainable lives in the middle of the rainforest.
We were welcomed into their tribes as though we were kings and queens. They have never experienced such a diverse group of visitors before and prepared a full ceremony for our arrival. Before we were able to enter the village, the tribal heads preformed ritual ceremonies, cleansing the space, asking the gods to protect us and chanting. We were required to drink tuwak and rub a plant-based substance in our hair.
Eco-warrior Fabrice grabbing a handful of plant mixture for his hair
Dr. Willie preformed other rituals and used the machete to ceremonially cut the bamboo divider that separated us from entering the village. When the tribal heads gave us the “ok”, we entered their village.
The dry season has left many villages struggling for food. Yet they prepared their best feast for us and used valuable resources, all to honor us. It was so humbling to know this, and I accepted their generosity with the internal promise that I will repay them with our advocacy work.
Often the tribal leaders would use an interpreter to share with us how the palm oil companies were illegally stealing their land and how helpless they felt. Their resources are so limited, and they would turn to the Eco-Warriors with tears in their eyes, begging us to tell the world, pleading with us to share with our home countries of the injustices being done to them. Soon, if the palm oil companies succeed, the Dayaks will be slaves in their own land
One day we took a longboat even deeper into the jungle and met with a tribe who was just told a palm oil company will take their land. They took us a particular spot–their ancestoral burial ground–a sacred place where 48 families are laying in rest. They have lived in this place for 200 years. And now, in the blink of an eye, the land and all the history on it will be gone forever. What can they do?
The high priestess and village head was beside himself. I stood listening to his story in complete disbelief. My thoughts turned to my own grandfather. What if his grave was just snatched away for a company to expand their product? How can this be happening?
For a society like theirs, they do not have history books printed of their culture; they must depend on places like a sacred burial ground to ensure their traditions continue. Just another devastating example, and from village to village it was the same story, just from a different mouth. Stolen land, desperation, hopelessness.
We trekked into the jungle to meet one Dayak on the plot of jungle land he has owned and worked for the past eight years. The surrounding trees had blue spray paint on them, and he explained that a palm oil company had been there days earlier to survey the hectares of land and would be back in several weeks with equipment to clear it out. I will explain later in more detail how the companies are stealing the land. It’s all quite complex, and I’m still working to understand it myself.
The final village we visited told us again of their desperation. They shared how they had been praying, and, when we showed up, they thought we must be angels. Angels? This is hard for me to stomach because I am part of the problem. I would be appalled to read the backs of the various containers, makeup, foods, lotions, and drinks, and I believe it would be fair to say most, if not all, would contain palm oil. This trip is enlightening me and expanding my world view yet again. When I am at home in America, I am so deeply disconnected to the source of the products I consume. With every purchase I make, I submit a vote. And unknowingly I’ve been voting for the palm oil companies.