Tana’ Ulen: The forest owned by Indigenous People of Dayak Kenyah

Now, Tana’ Ulen has become our communal forest. We protect, we preserve and we secure this land.

The people of Dayak have never been living without forest. They generally live alongside the forest. Forest utilization is one of characteristics that grow in the life, the culture, and the custom of Dayak tribe far since the era of their ancestor. The people of Dayak Kenyah for instance, who perceive conservation and natural resources utilization through tana’ ulen. Tana’ means a land, ulen means the responsibility for property/ ownership. In a petty interpretation, tana’ ulen is a term to called something that acknowledged as a property, or something that has been authorized and utilized and limited access, and converted to assets. Broadly, tana’ ulen is a forest area which reorganize as a local property and protected forest where its management and utilization collectively arranged, so that it will be sustained for the current and future generations.

Tana’ ulen is commonly a forest area rich in natural resources like rattan (Calamus spp), sang (Licuala sp), hardwoods, fish and preys. These natural resources provide economic values with high profit for the people. From the inherited oral stories, tana’ ulen was formed as a forest management activity in Dayak Kenyah related to the local custom and the power of nobility (paren). In the days of yore, villages and the nobles in, such as Bahau river area and Pujungan river have always owned a land or set aside a land in their areas for tana’ ulen.

Its provenience was grounded in aspirations of the tribal leader or head of custom, or the mutual interest of the people to own a spare area which can be utilized anytime for a certain interests, including in behalf of the noble and their family. General interests or the nobility’s interest, namely a wedding party, funeral, party, guests’ arrival the village, etc.

In the past, the arrangement of tana’ ulen by the authority or the indigenous people of Dayak Kenyah around Bahau river and Pujungan river was not conducted offhanded. Its existence has always related to the power of local customs and regional potential which would be determined as tana’ ulen. An area which elected as tana’ ulen generally has superior potency of forest’s crops and beneficial wildlife for the people’s interests. The various allotment is based on the society’s requirement and development.

For the people or the owner of primary forest (mba’) in tana’ ulen, mba’ has a role as a source of forest’s products, such as rattan, resin, eaglewood, ketipai, honeybee, building materials, including essential goods required for hunting. While the river belonged to tana’ ulen has a role as a source for fish and other river outcomes.

In its history, Desa (Village) Long Alango consists of sub-tribe Dayak Kenyah from Lepo’ Maut as the majority, it transferred in 1957 from Long Kemuat .At that time, it was led by Kepala Adat Besar Apuy Njau. Except for getting an easier access of transportation to reach the dangerous downstream of Giram Kerabang, the transfer was also based on the people’s pretentious in order to get closer to a better quality of land for crop field and rice field. To organize the forest utilization, Customary Leader (Kepala Adat Besar) then regulated tana’ ulen. The area had acknowledged at that time was Sungai (River) Nggeng Biu’, the stream of Sungai Bahau. In the beginning, this area was in the authority of Kepala Adat Besar, it couldn’t be farmed out by other inhabitants without getting his permission.

Generally, tana’ ulen cannot be cleared for agricultural field. The area is around 12,000 ha. Tana’ ulen Sungai Nggeng even reaches 11,000 ha. The area which stands in the elevation of 400 – 1,500m, serves as a fine hunting ground. This area contains many hardwoods, in addition to many non-timber forest products. The area is considered as significant for the history of its indigenous people and many stone burials as an evidence that this area has dwelled and governed by their ancestors for more than 400 years.

Tana’ ulen has a dual benefit for Dayak Kenyah community. The concept is as an area (storage) for mutual interests, e.g. village’s occasions and it is unavailable for agricultural or exploitation purposes, has a strategic values for the people’s importance based on their dependency on forest products and natural environment where they reside. In a particular things, when other regions are are difficult to get forest crops, tana’ ulen can be functioned as a ‘barn’ for the village. The forest’s potential that stays in the area will provide a sense of security and guarantee for the viability of the people, either economically or socially to support the existence of indigenous people of Dayak Kenyah.

Short in length, tana’ ulen is a restricted area, a protected forest in customary land that inseparable from the land itself, and from the tradition and culture of the people. Why does tana’ ulen become very important for the people of Dayak Kenyah?

In days of the yore, their custom and belief demanded to perform all-year-long ritual to celebrate agricultural and life cycle or the return of military forces or the wanderers. Kepala Adat held a responsibility to be the host as to serve the visitors or guests. Kepala Adat also had to provide dishes for the people who work in his field or plantation. He had to ensure that the meals provided were sufficiently available for all the guests, especially fish and meats. From this habitual custom, tana’ ulen then emerged.

This is appropriate with the tenet of management area of Dayak Kenyah inhabitants that sustainable and that is utilizing forest products as necessary. With the presence of tana’ ulen, the forest area can be utilized limitatively, well-regulated and appropriate with custom ordinance. Dependent on natural resources, the rules regulated a certain quota for forest crops or a certain period for harvesting (‘buka ulen’) or the way to crop has to be concerned with the sustainable of natural resources. Through these procedures, land conservation and crops utilization can be run continuously.

In order to maximize the forest products and tana’ ulen management, there are rules that have been compromised through a conference and now it has put in writing. As well as the period of hunting or fishing or harvesting, these all require a permit. Those who contravene the rules of tana’ ulen will be charged with fine or goods, e.g. chopping knife or gong. Lately, somebody had to pay 1 million rupiah to the customary institution as affine because he logged a tree in tana’ ulen.

Now, the responsibility of tana’ ulen management   has transferred to customary institution. Together with the people, Kepala Adat and customary institution manage tana’ ulen under   customary laws. The mastery pattern of tana’ ulen was not owned by the aristocrat any longer, rather it was under a mutual governance of customary institution for the sake of mutual interest. But Kepala Adat is still a part of paren or noble, or the heir of noble family – the former proprietor of tana’ ulen.

In 1991, for the first time, WWF Indonesia arrived in Hulu Bahau and discussed a plan of constructing Tropical Forest Research Station in Hulu Bahau (Lalut Birai) as an effort to assist tropical forest conservation in Kayan Mentarang National Park. Kepala Adat Besar suggested that the station has to be established in Sungai Nggeng under a condition that the construction is appropriate with the customary laws, the tenet and the practice of conservation in tana’ ulen. The station then was constructed by WWF near a stream (Lalut Birai) and became the center of research activity and forestry survey for 10 years, before the station management was transferred to the community in 2007.

In the progress, the people of Long Alango established Management Committee of Tana’ Ulen aka BPTU. This committee functioned as to reinforce protection and management of tana’ ulen, and to assist customary institution. The duty of BPTU is organizing visitors, including researchers and university students who come to Lalut Birai and determine the cost for a research period in tana’ ulen area. The expenses allocate as local fund for various necessities of the people. In 2011, BPTU has been integrated with local rules of Long Alango village as the organizer of tana’ ulen in the name of the people.

For the future, indigenous men plan to establish youth organization to support customary rights and acknowledgement of tana’ ulen. Re-mapping process of customary area that is being held also a part of acceleration process of indigenous people and customary land acknowledgement, including tana’ ulen in Malinau. As it agrees with mandate and enthusiasm of the verdict of Constitutional Court number 35 and implementation of Regional Regulation number 10/2012 on acknowledgement and protection for indigenous people in Malinau Regency, North Kalimantan.

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