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Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Spiritual Relationsip With The Land-- The Penan and Kedayan of Brunei

The Penan of rural Brunei have great regard for the forest. This is manifested in their perceptions of their forest environment, especially their prevailing 'Molong' concept of natural resource conservation. 'Molong' gives the Penan a sense of caring and stewardship over their forest resources. This involves responsible and moderate use of forests, so that they will continue to be sustaining for future generations. Greed has no place among the Penans. In practice, this means that when they harvest a clump of sago or rattan, they use only the mature stems, and leave the young shoots for harvesting in a few years time.

Penans also greatly respect and protect the diptercorp trees which produce the seeds that the wild boar eat. They do not pollute the rivers because they also know that wild boars eat the plants that grow by the river banks. They also let the boar get their share of the sago trees and protect the acorn-producing trees which the boars also love. The Penans have a great fear of tree-fellers who cut the trees indiscriminately in their jungle because they are afraid that the disturbance will decrease their food supply. The forest seems to be everything to the Penans. They feel an affinity with it and are thankful for its supply of staple foods, building materials, medicines and raw materials for their handicraft. The forest is their world and they live in harmony with it and so guard it tenaciously.

Until the last few decades, the Kedayans, another rural people of Brunei, have survived by carefully utilising forest, land and wildlife for their livelihood. Through their day-to-day activities of agriculture and hunting, they utilised and extracted forest resources to produce food and manufacture materials for their consumption and tools for their survival activities, respectively. They have been practising this way of life through many generations, using a complex and highly adaptive system, such as cultivation of hill and swamp rice. To cultivate their staple food, rice, they used different agricultural techniques, both shifting and permanent, depending on the different types of padi (such as, tugal, paya, hambur, tanam) they were growing.

Well into the 20th century, the Kedayans were traditionally shifting agriculturists, felling, burning and planting hill padi in successive hillsides in succeeding years. An example of areas subjected to this method of rice cultivation is the very rural parts of Temburong, such as Kampong Piasaw-Piasaw. Today, a large part of Temburong is still covered with forest - evidence that the Kedayans have not over-exploited or misused their forest environments. In short, it has been their harmonising and systematic methods of using their environments (particularly land and forests) that have enabled them to practise similar economic activities through many generations to produce food and manufacture materials, not only for themselves but also to sell the surplus to non-agricultural people in the country.

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