Over the past few months, emotions have been running high among the Ulu Papar community as news of plans to build the Kaiduan Dam once again reared its ugly head. For those new to the scene, the proposed project, as outlined in earlier terms, severely threatens several of the Ulu Papar villages by essentially putting them under water. Should the plans proceed, the community would be forced to move. In 2009, the people of Ulu Papar united in a fierce fight to voice their opposition to the project, stating that no amount of compensation would make up for the loss of their homes and ancestral lands should their villages end up submerged.
Their fighting spirit clearly has not faded. The community, once again, is proving that they are up for the challenge to protect their homeland. Through the Task Force Against Kaiduan Dam, their protests are widely witnessed, both through physical presence (community members blocking access to their villages after hearing of plans by project consultants to survey the area) and online (actively creating awareness through the Save Ulu Papar Facebook page).
It is with this at the top of our mind that we hope the Bio-cultural Heritage Centre in Buayan, a communally owned and managed resource centre, will serve its original plans, as a:
What does this mean, exactly?
Putting it simply, this means the Ulu Papar community can use the Centre to promote the biocultural significance of Ulu Papar. Research results obtained through collaborative initiatives between the community and both government and non-government agencies clearly define the inextricable links the Ulu Papar community have with their environment. Links that define their culture and traditions; links that should never be broken.
Progress, to date.
The construction of the community centre has progressed well over the past month, heightened by the arrival of a group of energetic young Malaysian volunteers earlier this month (read Tom’s latest blog on Buayan Work Week). Work on site continues.
As part of the outreach microprojects developed earlier, community researchers are currently converting historical stories told by Ulu Papar’s elders into exhibition materials that will feature prominently at the Centre.
Descriptions of Photos
The design of the Centre: Exhibition, performance and meeting spaces are available to carry out outreach programmes.
The 3D model of Ulu Papar: Created through community participatory research techniques, the 3D model of Ulu Papar shows the location of sacred and other important sites in Ulu Papar.
The Gayatas Stone in Kalangaan Village is derived from a legendary female warrior during long ago wars. The stone is protected by the Ulu Papar people due to its cultural and historical significance.
Last month, I had a wonderful opportunity to spend a few days in the beautiful, remote village of Buayan. I set off on the 2-hour road trip with Ching, an Arkitrek volunteer, both of us putting our trust in James, who skilfully manoeuvred his 4WD along the muddy, gravel road, and landed us safely in Buayan. With the back of the car packed with building supplies, we were greeted by Tom, who continued on in Buayan even after the departure of the rest of his team of Arkitrekkers to push for the completion of the community bio-cultural centre the team co-designed and built with the community.
I pitched in to help. It was my first experience in ‘construction’, and I have to say that I have a renewed appreciation and admiration for the Ulu Papar community and the group of Arkitrekkers who have worked so hard to get the Centre to where it is today. I was completely exhausted at the end of each day from the physical effort it took to paint timber frames and cut bamboo; I cannot even begin to imagine carrying 12-foot long bamboo the half-mile from the river!
While basic creature comforts are all available in Buayan (including satellite dishes marking the existence of cable TV in some of the houses), one quickly gets used to the Buayan way of life, a life independent of much of the modern technology we are all so accustomed to. It is a life that puts relationships with family and friends first and foremost; a life that depends on the rich resources of the area to stay vital.
Communication with the outside world is possible via mobile phones, but only if one stands at specific ‘spots’ and holds very still so that the connection does not get cut off. My addiction to being glued to a smartphone was replaced by total serenity during my time in Buayan.
The Buayan lifestyle, and that of those living in the other villages that make up Ulu Papar, is one that many will never experience, even those of us living within the boundaries of Borneo. As I listened to the passionate words of my host mother, Angela, describing her love for Buayan, I deeply understood the implacable objections that the Ulu Papar community have towards the planned development of the Kaiduan Dam. The proposed megadam would flood and displace most Ulu Papar residents, unmaking communities whose lifestyles and traditions are completely meshed with the place they have called home for so long.
Descriptions of photos
Treating bamboo: Treating the bamboo that was cut and carried from the riverside by the community. Tom and Ching fill the bamboo with Timbor to prevent the bamboo from rotting.
The roof goes up: Tom works with Alex, a skilled roofer from Buayan, to set the sustainable roofing materials (onduline) in place.
Traditional cooking hearth: Our host mother Angela’s kitchen; using firewood to boil water. (Photo by Ching)
Local vegetables: The vegetables prepared during our stay were either grown in the garden, or harvested from the forest nearby. (Photo by Ching)
The Crocker Range: The scenic view of the Crocker Range during our journey to Buayan. (Photo taken by Ching)
* information taken from the Project Proposal on Community Biocultural Heritage Centre: in support of sustainable livelihoods in Kg. Buayan, Crocker Range, Sabah (prepared by Agnes Lee Agama)
The construction of a new building in Buayan village is now underway. While physical work began only last month, the concept of this building, what will soon be the Community Biocultural Heritage Centre, has been long in the making.
In 2004, the community of Ulu Papar started working with a group of partners in a project to document key ethnobiological resources important for their livelihoods and how these resources are used, managed and protected. Since then, through several projects and a series of activities – fieldwork, workshops, community exchanges, training courses, expeditions and travelling roadshows – community researchers have been trained to work with their community to map key resource areas and mark them on 3D models, conduct livelihoods assessments, record oral histories, collect botanical specimens of useful plants, and produce a series of participatory videos that share the concerns of their community. These collaborative initiatives, which carried on for 8 years, have been critical in promoting the role of the community in the conservation and management of Ulu Papar. The community thus launched a process to establish Ulu Papar as a Biocultural Heritage Site for Sabah, advocating for the long-term protection of the Ulu Papar landscape and the indigenous people who live there.
The Community Biocultural Heritage Centre, its first stage targeted for completion by the end of this month, will enable the community to establish Buayan as a hub for community-based conservation and environmental education for the people of Ulu Papar as well as for visiting groups such as students, field researchers, and tourists. Its design stemmed from the concept developed through earlier consultations with the community. Arkitrek, a local social enterprise focused on sustainable design, leads the project through its design and construction stages. The community has participated in different stages of its implementation since then, through initial gatherings with representatives from Arkitrek to discuss plans, roles and responsibilities, and the approval of the building design. Community members have also participated in the preparation of woven bamboo panels that will be used as building components, and the collection of natural resources that serve as raw materials for the building.
We wish to thank GlobalGiving donors who have contributed to the ‘Help Communities in Borneo Protect Their Heritage’ campaign facilitated by the Global Diversity Foundation, as funds have provided the means for community members to expend their expertise and time towards the project. This ties in with current efforts to revive and promote traditional handicraft among the Ulu Papar community as a potential alternative livelihood, and to record and showcase oral histories of the community.
As reported by Patricia John and Jenny Sanem, edited by Marina Aman Sham.
With the intention to revive traditional handicraft making in the Buayan-Kionop area, Patricia John and Jenny Sanem included it in their plan to interview experienced members of their community. In June, they conducted interviews with En. Sabatin Logunsing from Tiku – Buayan village and Puan Binjani Gorumpang from Buayan, with the key objective to collate a list of the types of traditional handicraft that are made using natural resources found in the area. As expressed by Patricia and Jenny, conducting interviews was a suitable method to use because it allowed them to interact freely with the interviewees, without any interruptions. Through the interviews, they learned about the various types of handicraft of the Buayan-Kionop area. Unfortunately, as they found out, not all of these crafts are still being used in their community.
En. Sabatin and Puan Binjani were very helpful and agreed to become trainers to teach the younger generation as well as any adults who may be interested in learning how to make the traditional handicraft found in Buayan. The interviews proved to be fruitful. Not only were Patricia and Jenny able to list down the types of handicrafts made, they also included the ‘ingredients’ (raw materials) used to make each one.
En. Sabatin Logunsing and Puan Binjani Gorumpang described 17 traditional products each, all made from resources found in the forests. These products consisted of equipment used in homes on a daily basis, fishing equipment, hunting equipment, musical instruments and traditional games. After a quick comparison, it was discovered that the total number of items listed was 27.
Two more community members have been identified as trainers – En. Joiwit Sabandok dan En. Peter Lasa. Once all interviews have been completed, plans will move ahead to conduct the training workshop.
Community researchers from the village of Buayan in Ulu Papar worked together to develop proposals in a bid to learn more about the cultural treasures that have remained concealed within the minds of the older generation in Buayan and the villages nearby. Two activities have been planned involving interviews with village elders to discover the legends that once governed the actions and behaviour of their Ulu Papar ancestors, and learning from skilled handicraft makers the techniques used to produce traditional crafts.
Building on the 8 years of work that began in 2004 in Sabah to increase the knowledge and appreciation of the biocultural and historical significance of Ulu Papar among the Ulu Papar community and beyond, the planning process used by this small group of researchers can be said to be an achievement in its own right. With increasing autonomy from the Global Diversity Foundation, the NGO that worked closely with the Ulu Papar community to build their skills in research and outreach, the community researchers showed promise in their ability to plan their own activities to promote the preservation of their biocultural heritage.
These proposed activities are tied in with the Buayan Biocultural Heritage Centre, the construction of which should be underway by July as part of a project facilitated by Arkitrek, an organisation of experts in sustainable design that is engaging with students from Malaysia, the U.K. and Japan, and the community of Ulu Papar throughout the planning, design and construction stages. Expected to be completed in August this year, the centre will become the focus for the community researchers’ activities, serving as a venue that allows information to be shared among the community as well as to those who venture to the scenic village of Buayan.
Images (by Inanc Tekguc)
Village elder: Village elders in Ulu Papar hold the key to a vast amount of traditional knowledge which needs to be passed down to the younger generation.
Ulu Papar natural environment: The environment in Ulu Papar is not only a source of raw materials to make local handicrafts, but a source of food, irrigation and medicine for the local community.
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GDF International Program Director