Environment Day: Celebrating Nature and People in the Heart of Borneo
Deputy Director for Governance and Social Development
In welcoming the World Environment Day - 5 June 2018
On Environment Day, we should not only celebrate nature, we should celebrate nature and its guardians, the most powerful partnership for the sustainable future of our planet. Environment day can be a time to remember that the long-term sustainability of nature, the basis of our life, also depends on the practices and values of people who have been interacting with nature, used, valued and safeguarded its resources and services for time immemorial. Indeed, the guardians of nature.
The natural connections between humans and the environment are most evident in those geographies which store high biodiversity and are also the territories and homelands of Indigenous peoples. Take the example of the Heart of Borneo, its natural capital is interlinked with the social capital of the conservation practices and values of its native people, collectively known as Dayak.
In times of rapid development, big infrastructure building, growing population and escalating consumption and unsustainable lifestyles, taking care of the environment, and re-valuing its many functions, is even more urgent. In this effort, the practices of protection, conservation, sustainable use and management, restoration of the environment by Indigenous and local communities are a vital dimension we can learn from and help empower. Local people have an invested interest in maintaining the resources and continued provision of ecosystem goods and services of their land.
The Dayak indigenous people in the Heart of Borneo have for centuries managed the forest in sustainable ways. Their practices, supported by customary regulations and traditional knowledge, have contributed to the maintenance and preservation of the rich and extraordinary biodiversity of the Heart of Borneo. Throughout Borneo, these systems of customary laws are known as adat. Adat was developed collectively in the absence of written documents, was transferred through generations and modified or adapted to changing circumstances. Customary law is an ideological and ethical statement by the community on natural resources and the environment, part of the founding constitution of the guardians of nature.
The practices that have cared for the environment of the interior of Borneo include customary regulations, environment-based agricultural traditions, culture, high index of agrobiodiversity, protection and sanctions, and a strong, unique bond between nature and the community. The example of the Penan, described by Jayl Langub, compellingly illustrate the kind of bond: “The Penan have a word, tawai, that expresses in a particular way their sentiment and attachment for the landscape. Tawai is an expression of nostalgia, fondness and longing for the landscape, its wholeness and memory of events, important or inconsequential, that took place there, of groups activities, of life in general, with food aplenty or not, successful hunt or not, sad times and happy times. Tawai binds the group and individuals to the landscape” (Human Heart of Borneo 2012:33)
On the day we celebrate the environment, we cannot forget its guardians. The future of the environment will depend on building stronger natural connections between people and nature, on creating acceptance and support for the environment, on forging new alliances. The future of the environment will rely on local guardians and normative order to strengthen collective responsibility to safeguard the environment against rising resource values and destructive development.