A small voice from Pulau Patai village: silent movement to protect the ancient forest


On a sunny morning at the end of October, our team prepared to visit several Indigenous communities in Barito Regency. We will stay for four days with the Ma’ayan Indigenous people to connect and learn from the elders about local wisdom in protecting the forest. 

We went with five selected young people, out of 76 youth who received invitations to take part in the leadership program of the third generation of green warriors. A day before our departure, we gave them a briefing about some of the do’s and don’ts when living with Indigenous peoples. 

The first village we visited was Pulau Patai in East Barito. This is a remote village that still adheres to Dayak customs and culture. It takes eight hours to travel there by car, through many potholed roads. When we arrived at Pulau Patai, the elders warmly welcomed us by performing the Natungkal, a welcoming ritual that aims to rid people of evil spirits or bad things that follow guests.

We then continued our trip to the planting site with the villagers using a small boat. While paddling the wooden boat, we were mesmerized by the beautiful view of the village, with big shady trees growing proudly along the left and right of the river. In every confluence tributary, we could see the encounter of black peat water and yellow river water. It seemed like a metaphor for the traditional village encountering modern life. Two different things, trying to coexist with each other’s boundaries.

After 30 minutes of travel on the wooden boat, we finally arrived at the tree planting site. In the past, people used the location for farming. But when the buffalo population exploded, destroying the rice paddies in the area, they eventually chose to move their farms to other locations. The degraded site resembled a dry savanna. That’s why the Indigenous people of Pulai Patai chose the location for restoration – to re-green the area and protect it from erosion.

This tree planting activity was carried out following a ritual to ask permission from the forest spirits to protect and bless all of our activities. Using sharpened logs, we dug holes and started planting the 200 tree seedlings, one by one, along the side of the river. Because of its beautiful flowers, the tree species we chose is known as the Kalimantan cherry tree. It offers a number of other benefits – for instance, the roots can be used as medicine and the leaves as a natural dye.

The tree planting coincided with the Youth Pledge Day on October 28. Ginter, one of the initiators of the tree-planting movement in Pulau Patai village, hopes that through this movement, young people in his village will come to care more about the forest, especially now that their forest area is being threatened by oil palm expansion.

This movement is one of the many silent grassroots movements across the Earth that struggle to protect and maintain the forest in their territories.

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