Kalimantan – why care?
Looking for Borneo is wrongly titled. It should have been called Looking After Borneo – because it’s really – as veteran travel writer Bill Dalton says in the foreword – “a call to action, a plea to save this special place from the ravages of development.”
Fair enough – the lush photos and quirky paintings, the splendid layout and care for detail make this a fine addition to Green literature. The plight of orang-utans facing fast death by firearm or slow extinction through loss of habitat is reason enough for attention.
But if these things are so important, why are the Australasian contributors to this lovely book living in Bali and Lombok? Their commitments to Kalimantan are genuine, but like US forces in Syria, their boots aren’t on the ground where their talents might be even more effective.
Readers who can’t get to Borneo, the world’s third largest island can maintain their concerns by buying this book, as the author cheekily suggests, though not for personal gain.
None of the contributors got paid. Should there be any profits these will go to three charities – two of them in Kalimantan.
Looking for Borneo is also a handy resource with a list of internet links under the heading What Else Can You Do? Good idea, but how effective are these likely to be against the big dollar developers clearing the bush for palm plantations, deaf to the conservationists’ concerns.
Here’s an answer, though hopefully more a reinforcement for urgent action than passive acceptance: This review was written under a blanket of haze blown across the Java Sea from the illegal burning of forest trash in Kalimantan, a practise that was supposed to have been halted long ago, yet continues every year to smother this country and its neighbors.
Another reality: Borneo, Asia’s largest island, is shared by three nations – Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, the latter controlling almost three quarters of the land mass. In 2007 the tripartite Heart of Borneo Conservation Agreement was declared at the urgings of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Splendid decision - but this year the WWF reported that 10 per cent of the supposedly protected forest cover of what it calls ‘Asia’s last great rainforest’ has been put to the chainsaw since pen scratched paper.
Last year education consultant Dr Mark Heyward published Crazy Little Heaven, an account of a 17 day cross-Kalimantan journey with a few mates taken almost two decades earlier. Looking for Borneo is an extension and enlargement, embellishing Heyward’s earlier prose with photos by David Metcalf, landscapes so juicy the sap runs, portraits so clear the sweat has odor.
Then there’s Khan Wilson’s surrealist artwork featuring manga-eyed maidens, their tilted heads resting on well-upholstered bosoms,
These are also supposed to have been inspired by Heyward’s words, though the link is tenuous and the colors more interior than exterior. The style is Bali-spa hedonistic and repetitious, but the pictures are joyous enough even though out of place.
Another addition is a 14-track CD featuring the skilled guitar work and composition of polymath Heyward, mainly in what Dalton labels ‘kampong folk rock’. Party stuff rather than gentle listening, though the ballads, when allowed to rise above the backing, encourage contemplation.
So altogether a substantial package assembled for good reasons. The problem is structure. The early parts of the book don’t coalesce despite Borneo being the central theme. The words are about a man’s brief mid-life venture into the heart of the unknown (real and personal) with a few mates last century – a tale already told in his earlier book
It’s a pity that Heyward didn’t revisit his walkabout and record his impressions anew now his vision has matured and understanding broadened. Then readers would have before and after examples to aggravate their wrath at the despoliation.
Towards the end we get the hard update: “East Kalimantan is the province with the highest gross regional product in Indonesia, yet a quarter of a million of its people are classified as poor.”
Heyward canvasses eco-tourism, a ban on new plantations and boycotting palm oil products as possible solutions, but rightly recognizes there’ll be no change without “strong political will … and better law enforcement.”
Looking at how national parks are managed in the rest of the world might help, but not all overseas strategies survive transplantation to countries where the politics are brutally corrupt and where personal gain regularly trumps national interest.
Indonesian solutions have to be found for Indonesian problems – and if the powers in Jakarta don’t care about their environment and citizens, then why should others?
Maybe it’s too late. Heyward says the Dayaks are already divided between urban dwellers and bush people; missionaries have planted alien faiths; technology and a cash economy are impacting on forest folk along with cultures everywhere.
No doubt some will prefer clicking files in air-conditioned offices to blowpiping proboscis monkeys in the dripping canopy, but if their environment is preserved the Dayaks will have the chance to choose how and where they live, a basic human right.
It’s not just the traditional occupiers and users of Borneo’s riches who will then benefit. The whole world will literally breathe easier if this great green lung survives. That makes it a matter too important to leave to the cabals in Menteng, so they also need to read this book.
Looking for Borneo
by Mark Heyward, David Metcalf and Khan Wilson
Published by Creatavision Publishing 2014 168 pages
(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 November 2014)