By Yeryana

The Indigenous community of Haringen – part of Indigenous Peoples of Dayak Maayan – in East Barito, Central Kalimantan don’t reject improvement and development. We are citizens of this nation who are trying to become food sovereign through the utilization and management of natural resources according to ancestral wisdom which has stood the test of time and honed by everyday experience. It is based on the principle of sustainability for the next generations.

We create food sovereignty through traditional farming practices with limited burning on small plots of land. We do this not because we reject modern agricultural technology, but to protect our ancestral heritage. Farming by burning is not a selfish act in destroying the forest, but it requires careful and responsible land management.

Stages of Dayak Maayan Cultivation

We don’t destroy the forest by farming. We cultivate land in unproductive forests into plantations. Before the land in the forest was cleared and cultivated, we asked for permission from the forest guard entity by doing a ritual called Nyuwuk Jumpun. We prepare offerings in the form of rice, metal, free-range chicken eggs, and rirung leaves. We place the offerings under the tree in the morning and say a prayer. We can only visit the offerings three days later to find out whether our solicitation is accepted or not. When the signs of acceptance appear, we will clear the ground the next day.

Nyuwuk Jumpun Ritual. Photo source: Mareta Karunia.

First, we will clear the land by cutting (tamaruh) and chopping down (neweng) the trees. The process is not arbitrary because we need to pay attention to the direction of the wind. Usually, the neweng process starts by following the direction of the sunrise (east) then to sunset (west). The neweng technique can be done by chopping down the trees one by one or cutting the trees until it’s more than enough for them to collapse only by a push to make them fall together like dominoes.

Meanwhile, the tamaruh process is carried out from a starting point called bata piharungan which is usually used as a place to sharpen tools as well as a place to rest. From the bata piharungan, the location will change and the activity will be continued the next day. Tamaruh must be carried out continuously for three days and should not be interrupted so that the paddy can grow properly. After three consecutive days, they can have a day off.

After chopping down the trees, hanradah, a process of cutting tree branches to make them dry quickly, will be carried out. Then, it will be continued with iranrang, a process of piling up pieces of wood, twigs and leaves at several points.

The cleaning of each edge of the land on the outer boundary is a technique called sekat bakar so that when the nutung, or burning process, is done the fire won’t spread. Nutung is conducted three days after iranrang when the woods, twigs and leaves are ready to be burned.

The burning is carried out in August-September and early November. Burning fields in October is highly avoided because based on ancestral experience that month has low wind currents which could make fires spread easily. If the farms are lined up, then bird pests will not attack only one farm, so there is a balance. Besides, the seeds will also grow well in neighboring farms. That's what we call babantai.

After the nutung process is complete, the next step is ipandruk, a process of piling up the burning woods. Ipandruk is usually carried out two days after nutung.  

When burning the fields, we also anticipate fires by considering the field locations that should not be far from water sources, such as rivers and springs. There is an ancestral inheritance spell called Tampajah Api which will be recited when the fire seems to be spreading. It will help extinguish the fire.

While doing ipandruk, itatak, which is a process of removing tree stumps to prevent accidents, is performed. Then, the stumps will be burned. The process of clearing and cleaning the fields are mostly done by men because they can be done more quickly.

In the second week of November, the time for muau (make planting holes) is coming, according to the calculations of the Dayak Maayan. We call that period wulan matueh (when the moon is fully shining in the sky). During this period, we believe that rice is given a spirit to thrive.

Almost the entire Dayak Maayan cultivation process is carried out in cooperation because we realize that we are social creatures. We are like one big tree that comes from the same root. We call this cooperation process ipangandrau.

 Seeds prepared by Indigenous women. Photo source: Mareta Karunia.

In the menugal process, women will prepare the seeds because the good types of seeds are chosen and saved by the Indigenous women of Dayak Mayaan. Menugal will be carried out in an organized and commanded manner by an experienced person to make sure the planting holes and planting distance of paddy are proper.

Before the muau is done, putut panunuan is made as the starting point in which a pillar is made to place the ritual offering of emptied chicken eggs. Then, we held the Pilah Wini ritual which was performed as a prayer so that the seeds could thrive, and the process of creating planting holes could run smoothly and safely.

In the muau process, men are making planting holes using wood with a sharpened end (nuang ehek), while Indigenous women are filling the planting holes (muau wini).

In each muau, rice with side dishes of free-range chicken and pumpkin are prepared. We call it luen muau. This special cuisine has a philosophy of hope that our paddy will thrive, and we’ll have a bountiful harvest.

Role and Contribution of Indigenous Women

Post-muau, the role of Indigenous women will be maintaining the farms by doing ijajap (cleaning the grass between paddy). After that period, Indigenous women will plant vegetables, fruit, and medicinal plants. Meanwhile, the men will do other activities such as hunting and doing some work to earn money.

The daily life of Indigenous women depends on the farms. It is like a mini market to fulfill our daily needs as a source of medicine and vegetables. During the harvest time, the Indigenous Peoples of Dayak Maayan will give the crops to the Indigenous community. We also don't forget to give thanks to the ancestral spirits.

We can't cook our rice if all of it hasn't been brought into the house. When all rice has been taken up to the hut, then we will cook the rice alongside other delicious dishes. Before we eat, we will do a ritual called Nahampe. The rice and the dishes will be served as a symbol of gratitude to the ancestral spirits for their blessings and inclusion, so that our harvest is good, and we pray that next year's harvest will be as good. After the ritual, we’ll eat together with the family, neighbors, and relatives.

Ritual foods of the Indigenous Peoples of Dayak Maayan. Photo source: Mareta Karunia.

After harvesting, we will clean the land and plant productive plants, such as rubber tree, durian, cempedak, langsat, and others.

We manage the farm within the customary area. It is an investment for the next generation with sustainable principles. Even though the profits are not as much as oil palm plantations and coal mining, our method of investment has proven to be eco-friendly and sustainable.

As Indigenous women, we have a close relationship with the farm. Only women experience the reproductive process, such as pregnancy and childbirth. For Indigenous women, it is the farm that provides us a healthy source of nutrition – without preservatives, fresh and delicious. We consume our agricultural products when we’re pregnant.

We are taught not to carelessly consume food that is not sourced from the farms. We worry about things that contain preservatives and pesticides because they are not good for our fetus. Pregnant women are not allowed to eat food that is reheated; therefore, it must be fresh. During the postpartum, Indigenous women are cared for and kept in strict abstinence for forty days. We must not consume excess salt; should not be exposed to rain, wind, and direct sunlight; should not eat instant food, red meat, and fried foods. If it is violated, there is a risk of being susceptible to poisoning which we call tawen.

In addition, there is a risk of death for the mother during the postpartum. Hence, in that period, Indigenous women are obliged to eat healthy food, fresh vegetables from the farms, and fresh fish from the river. The benefits of this taboo are evident in the health of Indigenous women. We believe that people who follow the taboo will rarely have illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, blurred eyes, bone pain, and skin wrinkles when they’re over 40 years old. Meanwhile, those who disobey the taboo will be susceptible to diseases in their 30s.

We reiterate that Indigenous Peoples, including Indigenous women, do not reject improvement and development. However, we ask that our rights be recognized and fulfilled as free citizens of the living space in our customary territory which is our ancestral heritage. Through our way of life that emphasizes sustainability, we will inherit a good life for the next generation.

If our customary territories, including customary lands, customary forests, and rivers, are completely controlled by coal mining and oil palm plantations for reasons of development and welfare, it is actually killing us slowly. For example, if our river is polluted, Indigenous women can get sick. It also interferes with our reproductive health. Then, Indigenous women run the risk of conceiving a disabled baby when rivers – as our source of life – are polluted.

Meanwhile, when we are prohibited from burning land for farming, it directly prevents us from having sovereignty over food in our ancestral lands. We will lose local wisdom, rituals, traditional medicine, and woven arts.

Welfare for Indigenous Peoples is not about how much money we can have to buy modern goods that are consumable and pollute the environment, but when we can fulfill our clothing and food from the land and forests in Indigenous territories. The less we buy necessities from outside the community or customary territory, the happier and more prosperous we are with dignity.

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The writer is an Indigenous woman of Dayak Maayan and administrator of East Barito’s PEREMPUAN AMAN Daily Governing Body.