Help Communities in Borneo Protect their Heritage

by Global Diversity Foundation
Youth engage in preserving their environment
Youth engage in preserving their environment

The DISSOLVA 2016 Borneo Project, Gakushuin University’s Overseas Outreach Programme, is about to start with a fresh new group of students. With thanks to community leaders and youth from Ulu Papar, in early May this year we conducted a study tour to Kinabatangan to learn about the essentials of community-based ecotourism and also had a meeting in Buayan in preparation for the summer.

The inspection visit to Sabah, held 2 - 9 May, provided an opportunity for the Buayan community to learn from the community in Mukim Batu Puteh and to prepare for the future. 'For us the timing was crucial', says Shinobu, 'as from 2017 onwards, Gakushuin’s formal involvement through our outreach programme ends so we would no longer be able to support such experiences anymore."

To help the community start up community-based eco-tourism (CBET) in Buayan, we envisage 11 interrelated projects to be pursued during the project this summer (from 4 - 22 August): tree planting; waste water treatment; office renovation; signage development; society registration; homestay registration; handicraft-making; mapping; oral history publication; a CBET study tour; and a CBET exhibition.

In relation to the oral histories publication project initiated by local community researchers, we met with Imelda and Jenny, who are now leading the project, discussing details of the Ulu Papar folklore storybook publication in four languages and a Sabah community-based ecotourism exhibition in the local district library. The manuscript of the folklore tales is now with Buayan-born UMS history researcher Imelda who is working to complete translations into English, Malay and the Dusun dialect used in Buayan. When the basic translation is finished, it will be translated into Japanese by Gakushuin University students, with the aim to make the end result a quadrilingual publication.

To kick off efforts using this meaningful cultural outreach tool, we are planning a presentation of these stories this summer to the students of SK Buayan, the primary school in Buayan. One possibility is to do this in the form of a play. Combined, arts and culture are a powerful force that can change the reputation and the trajectory of a community.


Photo caption:

An eight-year collaboration among Dusun communities, local government authorities and NGOs fostered the emergenceof youth as community researchers with the capacity to actively engage in efforts to preserve their environment. Jenny, one of them from Buayan, co-led the GlobalGiving project on oral histories, building on intensive efforts carried out during the earlier collaboration.

Learning about camera handling and sound checks
Learning about camera handling and sound checks

In our previous update, we wrote about plans to publish a booklet on the oral histories of Ulu Papar. Plans and progress continues: translating interviews to enable the production of a multilingual publication (quite possibly into four languages: Dusun, Japanese, Malay and English), designing the booklet and complementary posters as well as discussing with local KadazanDusun language experts to engage in a collaboration to ensure language accuracy of these publications. 

Let us take a step back and look at the skill set needed to reach this point. In particular, that of one specific tool: participatory video. Participatory Video (PV) is described as “a set of techniques to involve a group or community in shaping and creating their own film as it enables a group or community to take action to solve their own problems and also to communicate their needs and ideas to decision-makers and/or other groups and communities” (see here). It is through the use of this very tool that indigenous researchers in Ulu Papar and Bundu Tuhan have unearthed, documented and showcased stories of their livelihoods and culture, through interviews with community elders.

Participatory video, locally more commonly known by the generic term 'community filmmaking', has become a popular method to engage communities in conservation efforts particularly among local research teams in Bundu Tuhan and Ulu Papar. Being trained in PV has enabled these two communities to collaborate in applied research initiatives, attaining insight into their interconnectedness with their traditional territories and then using their filmmaking skills to showcase their stories. Several short films were developed, including a three-part documentary-style series showcasing the Buayan-Kionop communities’ connection with their land and resources, the issues that threaten their access to these resources and potential solutions that balance the conservation agenda of protected areas with the sustainability of community livelihoods. The indigenous Dusun in Bundu Tuhan produced a film about their cultural and traditional heritage to ‘encourage everyone living in this generation to work together and begin taking the steps needed to conserve and protect the heritage of our ancestors, especially our culture and our traditions.’

In 2011 and 2012, community researchers from Ulu Papar were invited to pass on their knowledge in filmmaking through peer-to-peer sharing and learning sessions held as part of the SUARA community filmmaking programme, an important component of the Borneo Eco Film Festival. Through the sessions, they reached out to indigenous and local communities from around Sabah, encouraging them to discover the power of storytelling and filmmaking. We are truly inspired that participatory video is a concept that continues to grow in Sabah, catalysed by the annual Film Festival's spotlight on community filmmaking. 

Photo by Inanc Tekguc (BEFF, 2011)


[1] Why Kadui and Sidui?
[1] Why Kadui and Sidui?

Oral histories are loosely defined as stories that living individuals, often older members of a family or community, tell about their past, or that of others. The State Library of Western Australia, discussing Aboriginal knowledge systems, calls oral histories the “bridge between oral tradition and written history”. Worldwide, efforts are escalating to capture indigenous oral histories through interviews with community elders, building their voices by sharing their memories, ensuring unique stories are not forgotten.

In Sabah, three consecutive co-inquiry projects with Dusun communities living in the Crocker Range produced research on patterns of local resource use, valuation of landscapes, transmission of indigenous ecological knowledge, and the impact of subsistence strategies on areas adjacent to, or inside, protected areas. Community elders, prompted by local researchers trained over the 8 years of the projects, came forward to reveal tales of heroism and describe events explaining the origins of place names and sacred sites.

Jenny, a community researcher from the remote village of Buayan in the Crocker Range who participated in the projects, continues to advocate for the wellbeing of her community and the preservation of her heritage. Around two years ago, she developed an initiative to add to the list of oral histories already documented through the earlier projects. She interviewed community elders and transcribed these interviews. Armed with three additional stories, she then set out to design multi-lingual posters for each story and a booklet compilation of the stories, using artwork created by Imelda, a university student who also hails from Buayan.

Here are a few short glimpses of two of the oral histories. Interviews were carried out and first documented in the Dusun language; some have already been translated into Malay and English.

"Why Kadui and Sidui?"

[1] “During a time of war between the villages of Kionop and Tiku, two brothers from Kionop village, Sidui and Kadui, were known to be the strongest and most feared warriors.”

[2] “Kadui and Sidui hid themselves and watched quietly, letting Lumingou and Binagal pass them without making any contact.”

[Told by: Angeline Dingon; Documented by: Jiloris Henry]

"Liwat’s Stone"

[1] “Three people – a man named Liwat, the woman he was recently engaged to, and her younger brother, were traveling one day a very long time ago from Kosungu Village, where Liwat was from, to Tudan Buayan, the village of his fiancée.”

[2] “Sudden flashes of lightning occurred, followed by very loud thunder. Liwat and his fiancee turned into stone, as did the equipment they had with them.”

[Told by: Gorumpang Matanggim; Documented by: Jenny]

"How did Buayan get its Name?" (draft poster)

[Told by: Linggui Lunduan; Documented by: Therisia John; Artwork by: Imelda, Anne Sipanis; Poster design by: Jenny]

Jenny’s work on her mini-project was exclusively supported by donations made through GlobalGiving. She is now working with Imelda to see this initiative through to its publication, facilitated by Shinobu Majima from Gakushuin University, Japan, through their outreach programme, DISSOLVA. For the last four years, Shinobu has led visiting student groups to Buayan who participated in Dusun community initiatives. DISSOLVA has pledged to support the printing costs of an oral histories publication for the Dusun communities in Ulu Papar.

[2] Why Kadui and Sidui?
[2] Why Kadui and Sidui?
[1] Liwat
[1] Liwat's Stone
[2] Liwat
[2] Liwat's Stone
How did Buayan get its name?
How did Buayan get its name?


T-shirts for sale are available in blue and red.
T-shirts for sale are available in blue and red.

The youth from Buayan recently embarked on a fundraising drive, selling t-shirts to the Ulu Papar community and the general public in Kota Kinabalu. Proceeds from the sale will be channeled to the TAKADA taskfoce to cover activity expenses to fight the proposed Kaiduan Dam, which would flood Ulu Papar traditional territory. Indirectly, this drive is also an opportunity to carry out a peaceful campaign to raise awareness, particularly among government authorities responsible in preserving and conserving sacred and cultural sites in Ulu Papar that are important features for the state of Sabah. It demonstrates the power and strength of a united community that does not agree with the proposed dam.

Anne and Khairulfattah volunteered to design the t-shirts, with full support of other Buayan youth, and are also spearheading the sales of the t-shirts. The youth are hopeful for both advice and financial support from concerned parties, enabling them to continue efforts to object to the construction of the dam. Jenny, who has been involved in research activities and outreach efforts highlighting the biocultural heritage of Ulu Papar, says “We need to stand together to fight for our land; our traditional lifestyles are strongly intertwined with nature.”

The printing of the 200 t-shirts available for this drive was made possible through the generous support of GlobalGiving donors.

Dusun mountain guides help a young injured climber
Dusun mountain guides help a young injured climber

Dusun communities living in the hilly district of Ranau bore the brunt of the earthquake, measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale, that struck the Malaysian State of Sabah early in the morning on June 5th. Local and international attention quickly focused on climbers at the peak of Mount Kinabalu, trapped due to the destroyed trail caused by the earthquake. With the experience of having scaled the mountain countless times, local mountain guides emerged as heroes, braving risky conditions to lead and assist scared and injured climbers back to safety. However, alongside tales of heroism came deep tragedy. Eighteen lives perished at the hands of the quake, four of whom were Dusun guides from the nearby villages of Kiau, Bundu Tuhan and Kundasang.

Robbi, Joseph, Valerian and Ricky are among many from the local community whose livelihoods depend on Mount Kinabalu and its surroundings. As families and friends continue to mourn the loss of their loved ones, their immediate future is dismal. Livelihoods of Dusun mountain guides and porters (there are 250 mountain guides and 50 porters registered under the Kinabalu Mountain Guides Association) were crushed as climbing activities were brought to a grinding halt. While preliminary announcements have indicated that the mountain will reopen in September, the absence of climbers for three months translates to an absence of income for the community.

To the Dusun families, the natural environment is intertwined with their culture and traditions. Many of them play active roles in preserving this heritage which includes the revered Mount Kinabalu, a place deemed sacred as it is believed to be the site where the deceased rest before making their way to Libabou, their eternal resting place. Faced with disaster, this community has risen above all expectations. Those on the risky pathways put their own safety aside for others. Those at the foothills banded together to source and prepare food during search and rescue efforts. 

Adding to the immediate and severe impacts of the earthquake are the landslides and mud floods following heavy downpours of rain in the following weeks, causing further damage to property and the unavailability of clean and treated water. In the three weeks since the earthquake, the Meteorological Department recorded one hundred aftershocks. Life is, in a word, unstable. 

Earthquake affected communities are now challenged with restoring their lives and carving out a living for themselves. We channelled a modest amount of funds to support initial search and rescue efforts immediately following the June 5th incidence. We now urge you to consider making a contribution to ease the hardship felt by these communities in the aftermath of the earthquake.

* Note: All donations made to this project during the month of July 2015 will be channelled to support grieving families, families of those dependent on Mount Kinabalu who have lost their source of income, and other affected families in the process of recovering from the devastating effects of the earthquake.

* Photos courtesy of Julia Chan.

Local guides instrumental in search and rescue.
Local guides instrumental in search and rescue.

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Global Diversity Foundation

Location: Bristol, VT - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Susannah McCandless
GDF International Program Director
Bristol, Vermont United States
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