Liu Mulang villagers embrace ecotourism to protect forest

A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil
The Jakarta Post

Mahakam Ulu, East Kalimantan/Sat, January 4 2020

For the 196 Bahau Busang Uma Lakwe people who live in Liu Mulang village of Long Pahangai district in East Kalimantan, along the Danum Usan tributary of the Mahakam River, the river is more than just home.

It is also the Dayak subethnic group’s source of livelihood, a pathway that connects them to the world outside the 27,064.95-hectare forested area that they call home, 80 percent of which is old-growth rainforest.

Danum Usan and the surrounding area are still pristine old-growth forest, and part of the forested area that makes up 80 percent of Mahakam Ulu regency. The local activities still maintain the traditions of forest production, hunting and fishing.

Instead of leaving their customary forest untended or worse, used mainly for extractive exploitation that would harm the unspoiled environment, the villagers plan to turn the area into an ecotourism destination.

For the Liu Mulang villagers, the river and the forest are part of their cultural heritage. They visit the area at least once a year to celebrate the harvest or just to have a picnic.

“Since I was little, this area has always been where we relax in our free time. I will be happy if the area becomes a tourist attraction. We’re proud to have a natural environment that is as beautiful as this,” said Liu Mulang villager Veronica Lawaq, 31.

Veronica said the villagers would come to the area to have a picnic, when they would cook local dishes liked rice steamed in bamboo, and vegetables foraged from the forest or freshly caught river fish.

Liu Mulang village head Hendrikus Helaq confirmed that the village administration already had plans in place to turn the area into a tourist destination, not only to attract visitors to the village but also as way to conserve the area. The villagers and the village elders had agreed that the area should be protected as part of the 6,000-ha customary land that was under ownership and protection of the village’s tribal council.

Hendrikus said aside from developing infrastructure such as the village’s roads, his administration realized that Danum Usa had tourism potential.

“The area can be for nature tourism, like rafting, hunting and fishing. There are also ancient cemeteries that we haven’t [looked at] yet,” he said.

He said that the river also had close ties to the village community, and that it was the site of the annual harvest festival called Petapa Baha. The village’s biggest event of the year was usually held in February after the rice harvest.

“In our custom, every harvest must be brought there for a ritual ceremony and prayer before we eat it together. After that, we may share or sell our harvest,” said Hendrikus.

As a Dayak subethnic group, the Bahau Busang Uma Lakwe believe that protecting the river is their duty.

Liu Mulang tribal council head Gelung Ding said that the area was also sacred, as it was the home of plants and animals that the tribe revered, and also provided the materials for traditional ceremonies.

“We can find the materials for [our] sacred rites here,” said Gelung, adding that these materials could not be found elsewhere.

Liu Mulang village also held a great festival called Dangai every five years to celebrate marriages and childbirth, when the villagers would don traditional clothing and accessories made of wood, rattan or bamboo that was harvested from the forest.

Meanwhile, Yosep Liling, the head of the Liu Mulang Village Consultative Body (BPD), said that the village still presented difficult access for tourists.

“We do not have adequate access yet, so we will develop a program to ease access for tourists and visitors who want to come here,” said Yosep.

He said that the village administration would be working closely with the village elders on regulations to maintain the pristine forest, since tribal councils still held sway in Mahakam Ulu regency. Moreover, the tribal councils representing at least 11 Dayak subethnic groups in the regency had compiled their customary laws as a legal reference.

Mahakam Ulu regency is more than 300 kilometers from the East Kalimantan capital of Samarinda and Balikpapan’s Sepinggan International Airport. Because of the hilly forest terrain, Liu Mulang is primarily accessed by sailing the Mahakam River to Tering dock in West Kutai regency.

Mahakam Ulu regency marked its sixth anniversary this year, after it was separated from West Kutai regency.


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