Help Communities in Borneo Protect their Heritage

 
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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

Links:

Mt. Kinabalu, sacred to Dusun communities
Mt. Kinabalu, sacred to Dusun communities

On 1 & 2 December 2012, Kakakapan id Gayo Ngaran was celebrated for the third time. Community members from 14 villages took part this year, including my village, Bundu Tuhan, and Kiau, the two villages that have acted as the main hosts of the event since it first started in 2010.

When Kinabalu Park was gazetted in 1964, communities living nearby lost access to Mount Kinabalu and all of the natural resources that were depended on. Kakakapan id Gayo Ngaran, meaning Return to the Mountain in our native language, is an annual pilgrimage to Mt. Kinabalu. The event was borne from pleas of our village elders to Sabah Parks, the park authority, to gain access to the mountain to revitalise our connection with this sacred site. We believe it is sacred because it is where the spirits of our dead stop to rest as they journey to the afterlife.

Community Day, run in tandem with the pilgrimage, continues each year. This year’s celebration carried the theme “Communities as Catalysts for Conservation of Kinabalu Park”. Above all, it aims to strengthen relationships and collaboration among communities living adjacent to Kinabalu Park, and the park authorities. After three years, I can honestly say that this is something that works well. Each year, our community has gathered together with other communities and the authorities to plan the event. During the event, community members of all ages get together as one to celebrate our heritage.

On a daily basis, Mount Kinabalu attracts climbers from all over the world. For almost 50 years, we have taken the backseat and learned to adapt to the restrictions imposed by park regulations, ignoring and losing (especially among those in my generation) the spiritual significance of the mountain. Together, the annual Kakakapan id Gayo Ngaran and the Community Day celebrations remind us of (and allow us to share with others) our heritage, and motivate us to be champions of our natural environment. 

*story shared by Remmy Alfie in the national language, Bahasa Malaysia.

I am filming the monolob ritual
I am filming the monolob ritual
Communities at the start of pilgrimage
Communities at the start of pilgrimage
At the peak of Mt. Kinabalu
At the peak of Mt. Kinabalu
Colouring activities held for children
Colouring activities held for children
Local produce for sale.
Local produce for sale.
Young Dusun girls in traditional costumes
Young Dusun girls in traditional costumes
Organising Chairman, Johnny Ghani, shows 3D model
Organising Chairman, Johnny Ghani, shows 3D model

Links:

Learning how to make community films
Learning how to make community films

I am a Dusun from Sabah who lives in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. The village I am from, Bundu Tuhan, sits on 1,255 hectares of Native Reserve, two-thirds of which has been set aside as a community forest that is governed through a village management plan. With its natural surroundings and the majestic Mount Kinabalu, the view from my village is always serene. Historically, our community depended on the forest as a source of food, medicines and building materials. Presently, our village leaders, and community as a whole (there are approximately 3,400 people living in Bundu Tuhan now) continue to protect the forest as part of our heritage.

As someone from the 'younger generation' and in my role as a community researcher, I am involved in many activities to protect our community forest, and the cultural heritage and traditions of Bundu Tuhan. Our leaders play a strong role in inspiring us, encouraging us to work with external partners such as the Global Diversity Foundation who provided technical training and advice.

In a team and with other members of our community,

- We created a 3D map of our village, with help from secondary school students, using research results (borders were identified through GPS readings and GIS application)

- We continue to create interesting outreach materials about our connection with the environment - for example, a short video, brochures, photos (an awareness exhibition was held in a shopping mall in the State's capital in July 2010 to showcase these photos). *please follow the YouTube link of a video we made recently on our cultural heritage and traditions

- We create awareness about the conservation status of our community forest while conducting household interviews.

As a community researcher, I have been trained in various research and outreach techniques - photography and participatory videography, household interview techniques, and community mapping (application of GPS and Participatory 3-Dimension Modelling (P3DM) - which help us produce results useful for our community. The thing I am most interested in is research methods involving photography and filmmaking. This allows us to develop attractive materials to raise awareness about our valuable biocultural heritage.

We are all proud of the acknowledgement given - during the Sabah Environmental Awards in September 2011, we received the Ministers Special Award from Datuk Masidi Manjun, Sabah Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment. This was in recognition of our collective efforts as a community in preserving the environment and establishing community forests. We are happy and proud to help in conservation efforts and hope that these efforts will grow from strength to strength; in my hope, particularly among the younger generation. That includes me.

Creating 3D model of Bundu Tuhan
Creating 3D model of Bundu Tuhan
Video editing and data input
Video editing and data input
Household interviews
Household interviews
Taking GPS readings at forest border with leaders
Taking GPS readings at forest border with leaders
Capturing significant features of Bundu Tuhan
Capturing significant features of Bundu Tuhan

Links:

Uploading GPS points
Uploading GPS points

My name is Jenny Sanem. I am an  indigenous Dusun from Buayan village.

In 2007, I started working as a community researcher. At the time, I was only 21 years old, and was working as a shop attendant in Donggongon town. Although I was born in Buayan, I did not know much about Buayan except that is one of the nine villages that, together, is known as Ulu Papar. It is located in a remote part of the island of Borneo.

As a community researcher, I started to learn about my village and gained skills I had never even heard of before. Alongside other community researchers from Ulu Papar (we are called the Community Researchers Team), I learned how to create maps by collecting GPS readings, use different research techniques to understand the relationships that exist between my community and the environment we live in, monitor how my community use and manage the resources found in the forest, and share the story of our lives through photography and community filmmaking.

There are so many things about Ulu Papar that I was not aware of until I became a community researcher. The last few years has been challenging, and at times, scary. For example, in August last year, I delivered a presentation entitled “A Biocultural Perspective for Heritage Conservation in Ulu Papar, Sabah” to an audience of around 300 during the Asian Wetlands Symposium. Earlier this year, we had dialogues with high-level government officers to deliver the results of our research. As a group, we have stood up to defend our land. It has definitely been challenging, and through it all, I have learned to appreciate all that Ulu Papar has to offer.

I hope these photos give you an idea of my journey so far as a community researcher. 

  1. Uploading GPS points: Community mapping is a participatory method whereby communities are involved in creating maps of the area we live in. Here, I am showing community researchers from Bundu Tuhan how to upload GPS points on the computer. 
  2. Developing a Community Protocol: The Ulu Papar Biocultural Community Protocol was produced after 18 months of dialogues and workshops with the Ulu Papar community. As part of the process, we took the draft protocol back to the community to explain its contents and to get feedback.
  3. Conducting household interviews: We conducted interviews in all the villages in Ulu Papar to learn about how  households interact with the plants, animals and landscapes around them. 
  4. Zoning workshop discussions: A zoning workshop was held in Buayan in August 2008 to discuss how Community Use Zones in the Crocker Range could be established. Here I am presenting the results of a group discussion held during the workshop.
  5. Community filmmaking: Participatory video is a technique where communities are taught skills in filmmaking so they can use this to share the stories of their lives and the issues they face. We shared the skills we learned with the community from Terian village, another village in Ulu Papar.
  6. Taking GPS readings: Our team spent a lot of time in the field taking GPS readings of important sites. This included  forest types, farms, resource harvesting sites, historical sites and graveyards.
  7. Creating a Participatory 3D Model: This is a group photo taken with the 3D Model of Buayan-Kionop. We worked together with other community members and partners to create this scaled model.
  8. Having dialogues with the Government: Early this year, we started having dialogues with government and non-government agencies to share our findings and promote the unique values of Ulu Papar.

* story told by Jenny in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language of Malaysia.

Developing a Community Protocol
Developing a Community Protocol
Conducting household interviews
Conducting household interviews
Zoning workshop discussions
Zoning workshop discussions
Community filmmaking
Community filmmaking
Taking GPS readings
Taking GPS readings
Creating a Participatory 3D Model
Creating a Participatory 3D Model
Having dialogues with the Government
Having dialogues with the Government

Links:

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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