During our time in Belantikan we were also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to have some long conversations with some of the older villagers about their way of life. We visited the ladang of Pak Taryom outside the village of Nanga Matu, to see the new crops he is cultivating with Yayorin’s help and find out how their new methods are bringing benefits to the area.
Pak Taryom in his ladang near Nanga Matu, cultivation here has been much changed with Yayorin's help
Pak Taryom also explained to us about the traditions and ceremonies of the Dayak people. His brother, Pak Maju, is the last man of Nanga Matu refusing to convert to one of the five state approved faiths of Indonesia and still clinging to Kaharingan – the traditional Dayak religion. He is also the father of Yayorin’s cook Ani, the youngest of his seven daughters.
Pak Maju lives outside Nanga Matu and, on our last day in Belantikan, we went to visit him at his ladang tucked away inside the forest. He’s 58 years old and still working in the fields. We found him sat under a tarpaulin sheet in the centre of his ladang, a thin line of smoke twisting to the sky from the fire he was sitting by chewing tobacco rolled in leaves, a rifle and a long knife by his side. I got a little perturbed at one stage during our conversation when he turned to me and mimed pulling off my head and drew his knife. Although it turned out, via translation, that he was just explaining that when a Dayak is angry they can pull off an enemy’s head with their bare hands without recourse to a blade.
Pak Maju - Nanga Matu's last adherent of the Kaharingan religion in his ladang
Pak Maju also told us how the villagers of Nanga Matu and Bintang Mengalih still come to see him and ask him to summon the spirits to grant their wishes. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that he could accept the end of the Kaharingan culture, religion being in his mind a matter of personal choice. He could not, however, accept the destruction of the forest. When we asked him what he thought of it he told us that the balance of life has been upset and ‘when the trees and the hills are all gone [to logging and mining] the people will all die.’. The world around Pak Maju is changing so fast that his fears for the forest, and everything that lives within it, could be realised within his lifetime.
We left Belantikan full of great memories. The work of the Orangutan Foundation, Yayorin and the local communities to protect this area for the benefit of people, orangutans and the forest continues.