Prayer of the Last Forest Guardians


Originally posted by WALHI Kalimantan Tengah on August 10, 2018.
Written by Ayu Kusuma.

Indigenous people have been living under the threat of losing the forests. However, just like a burning fire, the fighting spirit of these people never dies. The tradition on living up the traditional practices and rituals provides infinite source of strength and courage.

A Dayak Tomunt woman was filling the offerings inside anca during the ritual. Photo by Ramiasi Novita (Dayak Voices).

That Saturday afternoon, 7th of July, the village street at Kubung Village, Delang Sub-District, Lamandau Regency, Central Kalimantan Province, Indonesia, looked a little crowded than usual. Four elders wearing the traditional head-wrapped hat descended down from Rumah Betang (Dayak long house) while holding anca.

Anca is an offering place made from bamboo. It is divided into two parts, the pole and the container at the top. The bamboo used as anca have been specially chosen and cut down through a ritual on the day before. In that ritual led by Mantir Adat (traditional leader), they also cut bamboo for cooking lemang (glutinous rice) and nasi kuning (yellow rice).

Some groups of people followed Mantir Adat heading to different directions. Their destinations were Mencara River, Batu Batongkat Hill, village territory border, and Sandung (a place where bones of the ancestors were buried).

Even though there were four different locations for placing anca, Mencara River was the main location of the ritual. For on the bank of Mencara River, the first staked pole of Kubung Village was located. Despite covered in moss, the pole still stood firm. About 30 cm from the left side of the pole, anca bamboo was placed.

After anca was staked, the women filled anca’s basket-like container with offerings, such as grilled pig and chicken, grilled pig and chicken heads, lemang, and nasi kuning. The elders also staked a short bamboo which tip was burnt and emitting smoke on the ground below anca. A handful of white rice was spread before spiling tuak (traditional alcoholic drink) from a bamboo. After that, the people took turns to drink the remaining tuak.

The ritual process was carried out while the elders were enchanting prayers in Dayak Tomunt language. And the people would occasionally reply the prayers. This ritual was the climax of the entire traditional ritual named Babantan Laman held by Dayak Tomunt who live in Kubung Village. This Babantan Laman ritual was held for two days since Friday.

Babantan Laman is an annual traditional ritual to celebrate New Year by cleaning the village (laman) from any kind of negativities. Babantan Laman is also a form of gratitude towards Sangiang (The Deity), ancestors, and the mother earth for the good they have bestowed with. It also shows hope of grace, protection, security, and safety for the next year. It is however, not only meant for Kubung people alone, but for all people around the world. Prayers will be kept being enchanted during the entire ritual that requires the elders to fast from eating.

Any kinds of prayer asking for goodness and refusing badness are besought. Not to mention the one asking for unity of the people. Since Kubung community still live in a commune. They work together in taking their daily activities, and especially ritual practices. This harmony among the people does not only protect the people, but also the forest where they come from, grow, learn, and work.

Dayak Tomunt people in Kubung village have hereditarily been living by managing the products of forest resources. Many forms of activity are taken place in the forest, such as farming, honey, vegetables, traditional herbs/medicines and fruits gathering, rubber tapping, and of course ritual practices. The people’s dependency on the forest demands them to make sure that the forest will always be available. This eventually has designed the behaviors and traditions of the people in carrying out their lives according to the forest preservation practices.

The environmental-friendly way of living practiced by the people has caused the people not to act spoiled even though they live very close to the forest. Similar to other indigenous communities, they will only take what they need as much as they needed from the forest. It can be confirmed by looking at how beautiful the forest is without any significant disturbances. That is why the forest is also claimed as one of the last forests in Indonesia. Therefore, probably without anyone realizing, this indigenous community in Kubung Village has taken a huge role in maintaining a suitable life for all living creatures in this earth.

Although, being one of the last forests and a life support for the people does not make Kubung forest secured from the possibilities of being destructed. In the early 2015, a HTI (logging and industrial timber plantation) permit was given by the government of West Kalimantan Province on that indigenous peoples’ land. The area that was reached over 8000 hectares is administratively a part of West Kalimantan’s territory.

In mid-2015, the company was ready to begin working on that area. The entrance way to the operation location was already opened and heavy equipments were able to enter. Knowing there was a foreign activity in their managing area, the people immediately held a community meeting. Then, they collectively agreed to stop the company’s activity on their land. After successfully driving out the company’s workers from their land by coming together to the location and boldly asking the workers to leave, the people sealed the area.

But, the effort of these indigenous peoples from Kubung Village to ensure they can protect their land did not stop there. They also visited the company camp to meet the head of the operation. The people firmly stated that they reject any forms of activities on their land. Even though there was no one from the company who were willing to say they were responsible for the company’s activity on that land, up until now the company has never tried to start any activities on the indigenous peoples’ land in Kubung.

These steps taken by Dayak Tomunt peoples reflect people’s awareness and knowledge about their rights. These people realized they must defend the forest that supports their lives. They also understood very well that they must maintain the existence of protected and sustainable forest as a legacy to the next generations.

We cannot deny this key in building people’s awareness came from their knowledge on the importance of sustainable forest. And the traditional rituals that have been hereditarily carried out by the people also created unity among the people. The belief of the strength in the connection with Sangiang, ancestors, and the ancient warriors becomes the fundamental source of indigenous peoples’ power.

That fact is in accordance with what Mantir Adat of Dayak Tomunt, Tirbong, stating, “We get the answers of our prayers from the rituals. If we could not perform the rituals any longer, we would not only lose our traditions, but also our hopes.”

The challenges that Kubung community will face in the future, if not all indigenous peoples, are related to the government’s regulations, which have not yet showed support to the community’s activities in protecting the forest. Even so often, the regulations only provide benefits for the companies. It goes without saying that for indigenous peoples like the Kubung community, losing the forest means losing the life sources. Losing the life sources equals to death. Nothing will remain for the future of their children and grandchildren, not to mention the loss of their traditions rooted from the forest and their freedom.

It is probably not exaggerated to say that when we destroy a forest; we also destroy the whole community that depends on that forest. As the prayer chanted by the people in Kubung Village that afternoon, “We pray for our forest not to be disturbed, nor destroyed. For the forest is our mother.” A prayer that is full of hope and love for the sustainable earth.


The Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia/ Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) – Central Kalimantan is a forum of non-government and community-based organisations in Indonesia. It stands for social transformation, peoples sovereignty, and sustainability of life and livelihoods. WALHI works to defend Indonesia’s natural world and local communities from injustice carried out in the name of economic development.

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