The Ancestral Forest in Sanjan Land
This article comes from our partners Institut Dayakologi and is taken from an original article by Dominikus Uyub in the Kalimantan Review magazine, in November 2010.
Long before Indonesia declared independence from colonial rule, Dayak Kodatn had been in possession of forests. And while the world is busy talking about global warming resulting from environmental destruction, Sanjan has been saving forests in its own way.
From a distance, a heavenly beautiful melody arose, resonating to the bottom of one’s heart, and drawing in all those who heard it. The bamboo tube from which the music was flowing made people reminisce about their past. Unfortunately, not all young people of today are able to play the kind of traditional song that emanated from the bamboo flute of the Dayak Kodatn sub-ethnic group in Sanjan Hamlet, Sungai Mawang Village, Sanggau Kapua Sub-District, Sanggau District.
On the morning of Wednesday on September 22, 2010, rainclouds loomed in the sky over Sanjan Hamlet. Pupils of the elementary school had been given a day off, but they still came to the school in their white and red uniforms. “We have been given a holiday, sir. Our teacher told us that today the deputy district head would be coming here,” said one of the kids among a number of pupils surrounding the Kalimantan Review Magazine crew in the middle of the field of Sanjan’s State Elementary School Number 32.
As people came together at the State Elementary School, traditional music was rehearsed once in a while with gongs, bamboo flutes, kettle drums (gendang), kolintang (percussions) and other instruments, in anticipation of the arrival of distinguished visitors from Sanggau District administration. One by one, villagers young and old began to gather at the State Elementary School, established in 1976.
The village meeting was an initiative of the people of Sanjan, coordinated by the Association of TOMAS. TOMAS was accompanied by West Kalimantan’s Alliance for Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN Kalbar) and Institut Dayakologi (ID) (previously known as IDRD), an institution that has worked in support of Dayak culture for almost 20 years. One of the outputs of Institut Dayakologi – which is one of Pancur Kasih Foundation’s institutions based in Pontianak city – is the book Dayak Mosaic, which presents the findings of research carried out on the diversity of Dayak sub-ethnic groups and languages across West Kalimantan.
ID’s concern for the Dayak peoples has encouraged a partnership between them and the indigenous peoples of Sanjan to conduct follow up mapping of their ancestral territory. This is not the only activity that has been carried out in this regard - back in 2004, ID also partnered with the Sanjan people through the local Elementary School to formulate local curriculum teaching that introduces and promotes the art and culture of the Dayak Kodant, a sub-ethnic group of Bidayuh to which belong some of the school’s pupils and members of the younger generation.
On the day of the visit, most of Sanjan Hamlet’s 130 family heads and 425 residents stopped their rubber tapping and farming chores. The organiser was preparing to welcome the visit of the deputy District Head and his staff to Sanjan, a hamlet that has been inhabited since around the 15th century. Housewives and men together with a number of youths were busy preparing food and drinks in a building not far from the State Elementary School, the venue for the meeting that day.
The Anticipated Moment
By noon, the Deputy Head of Sanggau District, Poulus Hadi and his staff had arrived in the land of Sanjan. Poulus Hadi’s staff that day comprised representatives from the Transportation Office, the Regional Secretary, the Forestry and Plantation Office, the Hygiene Office, the Education Office and the Agency for Environment, as well as legislators from the Regional House of Representatives of Sanggau District.
The Director of Institut Dayakologi – John Bamba – was seated in one of the cars in the convoy. At that instant, custom and tradition could hardly be ignored. A rooster and an old mandau (customary machete) were there to welcome the ‘number two’ figure* of Sanggau. The Dayak Kodatn’s customary ritual for welcoming visitors was then performed for all the visitors. The wings of the rooster were fanned out over the heads of Poulus Hadi and John Bamba who were standing next to each other, and a fencing of young bamboo was laid out before them. Slash…! The old mandau in the hand of Poulus Hadi slashed at the bamboo barrier laid before all the visitors. As Poulus Hadi and the staff stepped in, youths, trained at a performing arts gallery co-founded by the local people of Sanjan and Institut Dayakologi six years ago, welcomed them by performing a dance.
Despite the glaring sun, lively expressions were reflected in the faces of all the people of Sanjan. Longing to see the deputy head of district in person, a large group of housewives carrying children in their arms, smiled in a friendly manner as they shook hands with Poulus Hadi and his staff in the front yard of Sanjan’s State Elementary School. “It is great to have been able to shake hands with the deputy head of district, and that he was able to come to our place.” said one housewife.
The cheerful mood of the people meeting with Poulus Hadi was not without reason. To them, this represented the most precious opportunity offered to them to share all the constraints and obstacles they suffered. Among those voiced by community members to Poulus Hadi were the restricted access to Sanjan Hamlet, local teachers’ high rates of absenteeism, high rates of illiteracy, customary forests being divided into land plots (kavlings) by oil palm companies and many others.
The former member of the previous term’s Regional House of Representatives of Sanggau and Board Chairman of Kusapa Credit Union, who is now the Deputy Head of Sanggau District, was not taken aback by the grievances of the people of Sanjan. Instead, he challenged them to stand by his side and commit to improving all the issues voiced by the communities. As a former activist himself, the Deputy Head felt a particularly strong commitment to the customary forest territory belonging to the Sanjan people. “Indigenous peoples must be able to manage the customary forests that they have rights over. The only pristine forest left in Sanggau is that of Sanjan,” said Poulus Hadi, to the enthusiastic applause of the people.
DOMINIKUS UYUB / Kalimantan Review Magazine No. 183 / Year XIX / November 2010
* The number one figure is the Head of Sanggau District, and Poulus Hadi is the number two figure as he is the Deputy Head of Sanggau District.