The Dayak Iban community should be proud, because a traditional elder has received an international award.
Bandi anak Ragai or who is fondly called Apay Janggut (Pak Janggut) who is a Dayak Iban Sungai Utik lamai rumah panjai (head of a long house), Kapuas Hulu District, West Kalimantan, received the 4th Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity award from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon , Portugal, on July 19, 2023.
Apay Janggut together with Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet, campaigner and agronomist from Cameroon, and Lélia Wanick Salgado, environmentalist , designer and scenographer from Brazil received the award given by António Feijó, President of the Gulbenkian Foundation and Angela Merkel, Chair of the Jury for the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity , in an event held attended by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
The three of them were selected by a jury chaired by Angela Merkel, former Chancellor of Germany, from 143 nominations from 55 countries for their leadership and hard work for decades to restore important ecosystems in the form of forests, land and coastal ecosystems and protect land with and for the benefit of local community. Their efforts are locally important for the world’s ecological balance and mitigating the impact of global climate change
Apay Janggut is widely known as the guardian of the Sungai Utik forest area in Batu Lintang Village, Embaloh District, Kapuas Hulu District, West Kalimantan, for decades defending the environment from illegal logging, forest conversion, palm oil production, and corporate interests.
Because of this effort, the Dayak Iban Sungai Utik indigenous community received the Kalpataru award in the category of Environmental Saver from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in 2019. Apay Janggut has also received the 2019 Equator Prize award from UNDP.
In conferring the 4th Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity in Lisbon, Apai Janggut was accompanied by Raymundus Remang, as Head of Sungai Utik Village, Joni Manehat from the Sungai Utik Community, and Yani Saloh, Friends of Sungai Utik , and was attended by the Indonesian Ambassador to Portugal, Rudy Alfonso.
For the Sungai Utik Iban Community, the Forest is Mother
It’s hot outside. The weather is suitable for the residents of the Betang Sungai Utik house to dry clothes, rice, and also kratom. Kratom is a type of tropical evergreen in the coffee family that is native to Southeast Asia. Also known as Mitragyna speciosa.
Betang house is a communal building belonging to the Dayak Iban community in Kapuas Hulu District, West Kalimantan. To be precise, in Sungai Utik Hamlet, Batu Lintang Village, Embaloh District. The highest district in West Kalimantan is a conservation district. It is located 846 kilometers from Pontianak, the capital city of West Kalimantan. Towards Sungai Utik, you still have to travel 75 kilometers towards Lanjak.
Dayak Iban, part of the Ibanic ethnic group spread across Malaysia. They came to Kapuas Hulu, where the majority are the Dayak Tamambaloh sub-tribe. The two made a peace treaty and lived in harmony.
Rumah betang or rumah panjai [long house], has an area of 216 meters, with 28 rooms or doors. Each door is inhabited by a family and its descendants. Previously, several generations had settled in several places, until they found this hamlet which is also known as the land of hope.
Based on the 2015 Sungai Utik Hamlet monograph data, there were 89 heads of families occupying 28 cubicles along the betang house. Around the betang house, there are 40 houses which are all related.
In the betang house, several elderly residents mingle in the inner hall. Ruai is a verandah, there are inner and outer ruai. The shape is elongated with a width of one meter, its function is to supervise the clothesline, where farming tools and relax.
Ruai Dalam is a communal space. A place for traditional celebrations, deliberations, or eating together. This time, the Sungai Utik community discussed the news brought by Indonesian hornbill friends. They received international awards, because of their commitment to protecting forests as a source of livelihood.
“Outsiders don’t appreciate us. The government here doesn’t care,” said Bandi, son of Ragai, head of the panjai house [head of the long house] of Sungai Utik. Bandi’s age is 80 years.
This community won the 2019 Equator Award , along with 22 local and indigenous communities from around the world from the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]. Assessment based on innovative, nature-based solutions, to address climate change, environment and poverty challenges. “We never thought it was this big. We do this according to what our ancestors recommended. Taking care of the forest means protecting life,” said Bandi.
“The goods don’t exist yet, so we consider it normal. What we expect is the government’s commitment, we want a Ministerial Decree for the recognition of the Sungai Utik Customary Forest. It’s been a long time coming,” added Bandi. As reaper of the house, Bandi replaced his father who died in 1982. Together with the community, they protect the virgin forest area of 9,453.5 hectares from corporate threats.
They have high hopes for state recognition of customary forests. In addition to carrying out the mandate of SK MK No 35 of 2012 which stated that customary forest is not state forest, Sungai Utik Customary Forest was the first to receive an ecolabel certificate from the Indonesian Ecolabelling Institute in 2012. When MS Kaban served as Minister of Forestry, this village was also lined up as custodian of customary forest.
“This forest is our mother. If not guarded could get angry. If you are angry there are many disasters. Global warming, said Bandi, agreed by others. Bandi pretty much mastered environmental terminology. Not surprisingly, because he received many awards for protecting the forest. In front of booth number 16, there are several photographs and awards.
Many articles have written about the story of Bandi and the Sungai Utik community against corporations. Their ancestral philosophy of protecting the forest is extraordinary today. “For us this is normal, and it is an obligation,” added Apai Kudi.
Kudi said they have an obligation to protect their ancestral heritage, namely nature. If nature is used without limitation, disaster is bound to strike, sooner or later. It could be caused by nature itself, or by diseases suffered by residents. Their natural indicator is that what they need is available. “Dry season, the water keeps flowing. Clear. In the rainy season, the water does not rise,” he added.
The Utik River is in the upper reaches of the Embaloh River. This river is one of the four tributary rivers of the Kapuas River. It is located in the buffer zone of the Betung Kerihun National Park. Status as a Conservation District was obtained through District Head Decree No 144 of 2003.
Utik means white, or clear in the Iban Dayak language. The water is as clear as glass, revealing the natural stones at the bottom. Emerald green water signifies a deep river.
For a long time, customary rules in Sungai Utik sub-village required that logging be limited to the utilization zone. Each family head may not cut more than 30 trees per year. A fine is determined if there is a violation. Including if done by neighboring villages.
The conversation closes at sunset. The lights are on. Each booth prepares dinner. There is smoked fish, the result of yesterday’s hunt. There are umbut or parts of young palm plants, cassava leaf vegetables, chili paste, pindang fish vegetables, and fried fish.
Lidia does the farming every day and looks for vegetables around the forest. Also, grow cucumbers, eggplants, and a little pepper. He has a rubber tree to support a child. His eldest son is married.
When I visited Sungai Utik on 10 June 2019, the people of Sungai Utik were grieving. One of the female elders in the betang house died. In the customary rules, if there is grief, people cannot travel far, receive guests, weave, and make noises or music.
He said he had to undergo a traditional ritual because he cleared certain land in the utilization area. “So we make customs [permits] there. In farming, we don’t just clear land,” he explained. Lidia is an example of a woman who plays a big role in caring for nature. Knowledge about plants is passed on to their children orally.
Communal management of land. Lidia came down early in the morning with the other women. This time, the location was right behind the longhouse. They use a rotational system for farming. However, still using customary rules. “Not in the woods. There are places. Farming is also a way to preserve adat,” he said.
The rotation technique is a natural way to restore soil nutrients. Based on knowledge from their ancestors, Lidia stated that there were more than 40 types of local rice that they often planted. Annual rice types that are suitable for the local environment, resistant to pests and according to the tastes of the residents.
Opening land was not just like that. Land that has been used is reused for at least three years after being abandoned. The irrigation system is rainfed. Several types of rice must also be planted for ritual purposes, namely glutinous rice, red rice, black rice, and sangking rice.
This crop is used throughout the year. Even excess. In carrying out agricultural activities, the community has many stages and customary rules. August is the schedule for burning the land, which was preceded by slashing in June and logging in July.
Before burning, the residents make a firebreak, a small ditch filled with water. The goal is that the fire does not spread everywhere. The fire was lit from the edges to the center. Cannot follow the wind. If the fire grows, residents anticipate. From the river side, residents will spray water with bamboo. There are also those who are in charge of guarding the burnt land. If negligent, they get customary punishment.
Previously, they performed a prayer ritual. At the ceremony, it will be answered which land can be used, when is the right time, the direction of the wind, and the type of rice plant.
Lidia closed her story by attaching a mosquito net to the nails on the wooden posts in the corner of her house. The natural way to avoid mosquitoes. Usually, they also do fumigation. If it’s the rainy season, certain leaves can be used to avoid mosquito bites. The leaves are crushed, smeared to open body parts.