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Nature Provides Our Resources

Protecting a Forest — and a Way of Life

For the Wehea community in the heart of Borneo, nature provides food, water, shelter, medicine and ceremonial resources.

Forests Sustain the Wehea Community

For most festivals, flooding on the streets would be a good reason to cancel. For the 2013 Lom Plai festival, the water just added to the fun. With the water on the village streets reaching people’s shins, the Peknai “water splashing” ritual quickly became a chaotic scene of water buckets, sneak attacks and lots of laughter. Unfortunately, the frequent flooding in the village is yet another sign that palm oil plantations continue to take the place of forests upstream.

This annual festival celebrates the rice harvest and has been part of the Wehea culture in Borneo Indonesia for generations. Lom Plai is based on rituals that rely heavily on the bounty of nature. From the banana leaves worn as costumes in the Hedoq dance to the bamboo used to cook rice soaked in coconut milk, each part of the festival pays homage to the community’s natural resources.

For village leader Ledjie Taq, the festival is a crucial piece of a puzzle to ensure the continuation of the Wehea way of life and the protection of the natural resources that they depend on for customs, food and traditional medicines.

“Nowadays with all of this modernization, most young people do not understand our culture and tradition,” Ledjie Taq said. “For this Lom Plai we have to teach them all over again so they will understand.”

Protecting Wehea Forest

Ledjie Taq has been a leader in protecting the community’s natural resources for many years. In 2004, as logging encroached on the village, Ledjie Taq realized that the long-term benefits provided by the forest far outweighed any short-term financial outcomes gained through logging, and rallied the community together.

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Working with the Conservancy and their local government, the Wehea communities have established the nearly 94,000-acre Wehea Forest as a protected area that's off-limits to logging companies. The community members able to be their own forest stewards, building on the centuries they have spent safeguarding their resources.

But the implications of these protection efforts are truly global. With palm oil plantations continuing to replace forested areas across Borneo, the Wehea Forest is a critical refuge for highly endangered orangutans and an important component in the Conservancy’s global strategy to combat climate change.

The Forest Guardians

In order to best protect the forest, the Conservancy helps villagers facilitate community patrols (known as Petkuq Mehuey, or Forest Guardians). Forty men take month-long turns in groups of 10 protecting the forest from illegal logging, poaching and other activities. For these men, spending a month away from their families and community is a small price to pay for helping protect the resources that they all depend on.

“I and all Wehean people hope that we can save our water springs and forests,” said Petkuq Mehuey member Sam Wung. “We are proud of our effort to save Wehea Protected Forest so that the next generation can see things that we have now, such as different types of plants and animals.”

While Ledjie Taq does not join the forest patrol, his efforts to protect the Wehea Forest and ensure local people feel connected to their natural resources through education and events like Lom Plai, truly make him the ultimate forest guardian.

“For me forest is very important, Ledjie Taq said. “Without forest there will be no life. We are very optimistic — that’s why we hope our younger generation can follow our example in protecting our forest.”

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[Top image: Village leader Ledjie Taq of the Wehea community in the heart of Borneo. All images © Nick Hall]


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