A portrait of indigenous forest management in Sungai Utik

Down to Earth No. 70, August 2006

The following is adapted from an article by Yuyun Indradi which first appeared in Forest Watch Indonesia's publication Intip Hutan in February 2006 and was written after a visit to this West Kalimantan indigenous community in May 2005

Getting there

Visiting Sungai Utik is an unforgettable experience. The journey is not easy and needs a lot of stamina. It is a rough ride, whether you travel by air, land or river. I was fortunate in taking the easy route: a two-hour plane trip from Pontianak to Putu Sibau, followed by 3-4 hours by road from Putu Sibau to Sungai Utik. Going overland can take two days; going via the Kapuas River can take as long as a week by boat. Back on land after the flight, the sight of tropical rainforest on either side of the road offered calm and comfort, although it was sad to see occasional piles of logs by roadside, which had been confiscated under the government's anti-illegal logging operations. We were relieved when the heavy downpour of rain didn't last long enough to affect the road. We reached Sungai Utik towards early evening. The first thing we saw was an impressive long house (rumah panjae) and several dump trucks, excavators and bulldozers parked alongside it.


The general picture

Sungai Utik is in the administrative area of Embaloh Hulu subdistrict, Kapuas Hulu district, West Kalimantan province. To the north, Sungai Utik borders directly with Sarawak; to the east is East Kalimantan province and to the west is Sintang district.

In indigenous terms, Sungai Utik belongs to the Jalai Lintang customary area (Ketemenggungan), along with four other areas, Kulan, Ungak, Apan and Sungai Tebelian. The majority of the inhabitants are Iban Dayaks. Most Iban in Jalai Lintang make a living as farmers, both from dry-field (umai pantai) and wet-rice (umai payak) farming. They maintain customary rituals connected to the relationships between people (birth, marriage, death) as well as the relationship between people and nature. This relationship with nature is vital as it forms the basis of Iban management and use of natural resources to sustain their lives.


Natural resources management in the Sungai Utik Indigenous area

The Iban of Sungai Utik have followed rules for managing their customary (adat) area, and have managed and benefited from their natural resources for generations. The community divides the area into 15 allocation and management categories as follows:

  1. Rumah Panjae: The residential area
  2. Taba': Area allocated/chosen as the location for the rumah panjae
  3. Temawai: Former location of a rumah panjae or hut (langkau)
  4. Damun: A former field. There are several types of damun, based on appearance and how long the field has been left. Ownership is individual and it may be bequeathed
  5. Tanah Mali: Forest area which may not be opened for fields. Nothing in this area may be harvested or taken. Usually this area is used as a place for slaughtering chickens/pigs for funeral ceremonies.
  6. Kampong Puang: land/forest owned collectively by the Iban Dayak community.
  7. Pendam: an area reserved as a funeral/burial ground.
  8. Penganyut Aek: area allocated and managed as a source of water. Usually located along a river. Usually also used for transport.
  9. Pulau: an area of forest reserved for its special qualities. Includes fruit, honey trees, timber and so on. Ownership status may be individual or collective.
  10. Hutan Simpan: customary forest area protected as a reserve, no fields may be opened. Ownership is collective.
  11. Redas: area allocated for growing vegetables.
  12. Tapang Manye: Honey tree (the person who finds the tree owns it and may bequeath it).
  13. Tanah Kerapa: Wetland or swamp area, usually allocated as wet fields.
  14. Tanah Endor Nampok: sacred area for meditation.
  15. Umai: allocated for dry-field farming, usually called umai pantai.


Types of customary forest

Their customary forest is of the utmost importance to the Iban of Sungai Utik. They have developed the system of zoning customary forests to maintain the balance in the relationship between people and nature and to safeguard the sustainable benefits. There are three types of forest area under the Sungai Utik Iban system:

Kampong Taroh: a forest area that may not be used for fields or collecting/cutting timber. Kampong taroh are protected forests, aimed at protecting the water supply and the breeding of wildlife.Kampong Taroh are usually in upriver areas.

Kampong Galao: a forest reserve, where medicinal plants, firewood and timber for making sampan boats may be collected. Forest exploitation is highly restricted and is closely controlled. Customary fines are payable if the rules are violated.

Kampong Endor Kerja: a production forest area managed in a just and sustainable way. Trees with a diameter over 30cm may be taken. The forest also serves as a source of seedlings.


Developing customary forest management initiatives

A range of external pressures is threatening the Sungai Utik community's forests. These include illegal logging, financed by Malaysian entrepreneurs from across the border, and oil palm plantations planned under the Indonesian-Malaysian border mega-project. These have the potential to devastate the people of Sungai Utik's forests and livelihoods.

In response, the Iban community in Sungai Utik, together with several local groups (PPSHK, LBBT, Pancur Kasih) have developed various initiatives and alternatives to defend the forests. The synergy developed between local groups working in Sungai Utik has had a positive impact on the Iban Dayak community. The initiatives developed in Sungai Utik with these supporting groups include:

  • A credit union (CU) developed with Pancur Kasih to strengthen the local economy and reduce internal pressures on the customary forests;
  • An initiative developed with LBBT to build and strengthen the political position of the Sungai Utik Iban community. A study to identify their customary/ancestral rights (hak ulayat) has been done. This has provided material for drafting a Perda (local government regulation) which recognises the existence of the Sungai Utik community and their customary area. (The Perda has not yet been passed.)
  • Several years ago, PPSHK Kalbar started a forest resources management activity together with the Sungai Utik community. This began with participative community mapping of the customary area, area planning and the development of a furniture-making business. The idea is to capture more of the profit for the community.
  • The Sungai Utik community, together with AMAN and PPSHK Kalbar, are trying to widen the scope of benefits - not only political and economic, but also ecological benefits and skills in aspects of forest management - by combining principles of conservation with a community logging initiative. This initiative requires high quality natural/forest resources, indigenous communities who have maintained their forest resources management values oriented towards conservation, plus the potential and capacity of supporting organisations. By the end of this community logging project, hopefully the production model of community-based forest management applied in Sungai Utik will be recognised by the market through the Indonesia Ecolabeling Institute's forest management certification scheme.