Tepai River and Long Gelaat Indigenous People
Community Organizer in Kutai Barat, East Kalimantan, WWF-Indonesia
If we talk about Kalimantan, what we might think is about the Dayak Tribe, the magnificent rivers, the wilderness, the wildlife and other traditional cultures. Deep far away in the Heart of Borneo area, there is Long Tuyoq village, located at the upper Mahakam River, in Mahakam Ulu District, East Kalimantan.
Our journey began from Mahakam Ulu, where most of the villages there had limited transportation access. The only access is by the Mahakam River which has very challenging and dangerous cascades. While there is a land route recently, it can only be passed during the dry season. Since if the rainy season starts, the roads cannot be crossed because of the thick mud and the absence of ridges connecting the road, thus requiring more effort to reach Long Tuyoq Village. It was a really exhausting journey!
Other access is through the air line, which uses pioneering airlines with limited 12 seats that can be reached through Melak - the capital of Mahakam Ulu District or through Samarinda - the capital of East Kalimantan.
We flew to Datah Dawai Airport, a small airport located deep inside in the jungle of the Heart of Borneo area in Long Lunuk village, Long Pahangai Sub-district, Mahakam Ulu District, and then we continued our journey using ketingting (long-engined boats) following the river flow (commonly called milir) for approximately three hours. The river strong currents did not deter our intentions and efforts to reach Long Tuyoq - a village assisted by WWF-Indonesia East Kalimantan.
For Dayaks, especially those who live in East Kalimantan, rivers are the main source of life. Local communities cannot be separated from the river, starting with the Mahakam River, the largest river in East Kalimantan which ended at the Makassar Strait, as well as thousands of other tributaries that becomes the heart of indigenous peoples in the upper river areas.
The Dayaks in Long Tuyoq are originated from Dayak Long Gelaat Tribe (Bahau sub-tribe) who usually call the river in their local language ‘hangui' (means water). There is a river called Tepai, which is one of the tributaries of the Mahakam River - with 920 km long river crosses the area of Kutai Barat District in the upper reaches, to the Kutai Kartanegara District and Samarinda downstream.
In the past, the Dayak Long Gelaat Tribe was a nomaden tribe, moving from one place to another. The Long Gelaat originated from the mainland of Apo Kayan (Malinau District), moving from place to place following the instructions of the 'hipui' (king) to move and fulfil food needs, avoid diseases and other threats, and the area is always on the edge of the river and finally settled on the side of the Mahakam river and became a legitimate village as it is today.
Tepai River is a source of clean water for the people of Long Tuyoq and including freshwater biodiversity in the lowland hills of Mahakam Ulu. For generations, indigenous people in there have tried to always maintain and protect the Tepai River for the survival of the people. Every day, they are looking for fish only for daily consumption needs at home. But if they get more fish, they will sell it to someone else. Because of the preservation of the environment around the Tepai River, the fish are also abundant enough to meet the needs of around 439 people living in Long Tuyoq.
The people there have belief that in daily life they should not be excessive in taking things from the forest. This philosophy is held firmly by the residents of Long Tuyoq. They believe that if there are any of their citizens who take excessively anything that has been created by the Almighty, it will be a disaster for families who violate that belief. In this way, together, the people of Long Tuyoq protect the Tepai River to keep it clean and beneficial for the surrounding community.
In the watershed hydrological system, Tepai River is in the ecosystem area with local terminology, which they call tene' legaat (inherited land) and tene' begaiit (cherished land), tene' pehau loong gliit (land of the Long Gelaat tribe). The strong customary law and tradition beliefs to protect the forests make the forest around Tepai River as a pure primary forest. No one dared to violate the customary rules, both the villagers and the forestry companies in there.
For immigrants, Long Gelaat communities are very friendly people. WWF-Indonesia's presence is considered in accordance with the breaths, souls and traditions of the villagers in caring for and conserving the forests and building the lives of the people who live alongside the rivers and alongside nature.
Local communities are the main actors in conservation work, joint activities encourage the creation of an environmental and social order without leaving the tradition and culture as well as knitting dreams of remaining prosperous together with nature continues to be built in a participatory and sustainable manner.