Help Communities in Borneo Protect their Heritage

 
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Treating bamboo
Treating bamboo

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)

Treating bamboo
Treating bamboo
The roof goes up
The roof goes up
Traditional cooking hearth
Traditional cooking hearth
Local vegetables
Local vegetables
The Crocker Range
The Crocker Range

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View of the Crocker Range, Sabah
View of the Crocker Range, Sabah

* 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.

Generating concept ideas during
Generating concept ideas during 'what if' workshop
Concept drawing
Concept drawing
Bamboo harvesting
Bamboo harvesting
Bamboo weaving workshop
Bamboo weaving workshop

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Interview with a handicraft maker from Ulu Papar
Interview with a handicraft maker from Ulu Papar

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.

Listing resources used in handicraft making
Listing resources used in handicraft making
Village elder, a holder of important knowledge
Village elder, a holder of important knowledge

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. 

Raw materials for handicrafts come from nature
Raw materials for handicrafts come from nature

Links:

An interview with Dumi Bte Koriki
An interview with Dumi Bte Koriki

Told by Remmy in Bahasa Malaysia (the national language of Malaysia)

Late last year, I had the exciting opportunity to work with fellow Community Researcher, Henry Roger, and other members from my community to produce a short film entitled “Cultural heritage and traditions of the indigenous people of Bundu Tuhan Village: Conserving and strengthening cultural and traditional heritage sites”. I would like to share our experience with you in making the film, which took us 10 days to complete.

We used community filmmaking, an approach that enables communities to present our point of view through the medium of film, to develop a grant application to First Peoples Worldwide (FPW). We realised very early on that the personal stories and knowledge of our community is what we needed the most to create an interesting film, and we wanted to be sure that everyone would be satisfied with the outcome of the film.

After working with Henry on the overall framework for the story, we sought approval from our village leaders and members, a process made easy because of the rapport we have with them. We then developed a storyboard which was reviewed by our leaders for accuracy and to ensure that it would not be the cause of any controversy.

An interesting turn of events occurred while interviewing my grandmother, one of the storytellers in the film. Her sudden decision to sing an olden day traditional wedding song prompted the idea to ask her to narrate her whole story in song. To me, this was instrumental in producing an interesting film, proving that the experience of our elders stimulates creativity, which in this case affected the entire style of our film. We decided to apply this ‘narration through song’ to all the other interviews in the film as well.

Although community filmmaking is not something new to us anymore, we are constantly learning more. As community researchers, we were first trained in the art of filmmaking by the Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) as a tool to document and highlight the lives of our community. Since then, through hands-on experience in our village and as participants of the SUARA Community Filmmaking Programme, a programme that has run for two consecutive years now, we have enhanced our filmmaking skills with new techniques and knowledge.

During the making of this short film, we learned: a short film can be successfully made by two people as long as there is enough determination to create something beneficial for our community; proper planning is needed in all steps of filmmaking to ensure that time is not wasted; and, involving people of all ages can bring different perspectives and ideas to a story. With our limited crew, we found we took more effort in understanding the entire storyline and gained more experience in all aspects of filmmaking. However, we also realised that with a small crew, we each had to take on many roles. This caused constraints - for example, we could not film from many different angles at a time. This restriction was magnified by the lack of equipment available.

To complete the film and ensure its suitability for First Peoples Worldwide, we sought help from GDF who assisted us by preparing English subtitles and providing technical advice to improve the final cut. We are very proud with the outcome of this film. Apart from its original purpose, this film is being used to create awareness among our community, motivating, in particular, the younger generation to conserve the traditions and culture of our ancestors. It is also an important tool that can be used to engage others who are interested in supporting our conservation activities. We are forever grateful to our community elders for sharing their knowledge and experience. Community filmmaking is just one way in which we can ensure that knowledge of our culture and traditions is passed on.

Image Descriptions:

  1. An interview with Dumi Bte Koriki, an elder from Bundu Tuhan, is captured on film. 
  2. Storytellers have a great influence on the outcome of a film; they should be chosen based on their ability to attract attention and tell their stories in a compelling way (Storyteller: Puan Gangku Magigi, 77).
  3. I am filming a sacred site as a cutaway for the film. This site is also where I was filmed explaining how our traditional and cultural sites are protected.
  4. Filmmakers must always ensure that clarity is good, lighting is appropriate and angles used portrays the message in a clear and interesting way. Here, Henry is filming a cutaway for the film.

Footnote:

The SUARA Community Filmmaking Programme, an integral component of the Borneo Eco Film Festival, is an annual event celebrating Borneo's biocultural diversity through showcasing environmental films and nurturing local community filmmaking. GDF co-hosted the programme in 2011 and 2012.

Storytellers have a great influence on the film
Storytellers have a great influence on the film
Filming a sacred site
Filming a sacred site
Henry films a cutaway for the film
Henry films a cutaway for the film

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Project Leader

Susannah McCandless

GDF International Program Director
Bristol, Vermont United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Help Communities in Borneo Protect their Heritage