LEK Project
"The adaptive nature of culture: A cross-cultural analysis of the returns of Local Environmental Knowledge in three indigenous societies”
Fr | Es |Ind
LEK Project
FP-7-261791-LEK
Dr. Victoria-Reyes García

Tsimane, Bolivia

Baka, Cameroon

Punan Tubu, Indonesia
Sites: Indonesia

a) General description

The Punan Tubu are one of the groups of former nomadic hunter-gatherers of the interior of Borneo. They are now settled in villages along the Tubu River, located  near the Kayan Mentarang National Park.  Today, approximately 800 Punan Tubu live in 5 villages in the new District of Tubu (established in 2013 during our field work), Malinau regency, in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan.  Malinau regency is a new emerging sub-district rich in natural resources, also home to 11 customary societies of 6 different indigenous tribes still living in/around the National Park and highly dependent on forest resources for their subsistence.  The villages consist of permanent settlements made available due to the support of government housing program.  The Punan Tubu rely on shifting cultivation of rice and cassava for subsistence, but still engage in short to medium travels to the forest, to hunt and gather wild products for subsistence and sale.

b) Geographic situation

The territory inhabited by the Punan Tubu is located in the upstream of Tubu River, bordering with the Kayan Mentarang National Park (N03º03'123'', E116º03'925''). Two villages, Rian Tubu and Long Titi, are located within the traditional use zone or ‘zona adat’ of the National Park. The climate of the region is equatorial, with regular precipitations all year round and a more humid season in December-January. The forests inhabited by the Punan Tubu range from lowland Dipterocarp forests to mixed Dipterocarp/oak forests, and are home to an outstanding biological diversity. The Malinau regency constitutes one of the biggest remaining old-growth forests in Southeast Asia.

c) Brief History

Contrary to other groups of Punan, the Punan Tubu have always remained in the margin of the system master-slave used by Dayak groups (farmer indigenous peoples of Borneo) to expoit valuable forest resources. However they traded these forest products with several Dayak groups (Merap, Kenyah, Abai). Until around the 1970s, when the government of Indonesia enforced the National Park Kayan Mentarang as a protected area zone, the Punan of the Tubu River were still hunter-gatherers living a nomadic life in the forest.  The government then restricted the entry to the protected area, including areas in the Tubu River, and encouraged Punan people to resettle downriver, in newly-built resettlements close to the central town of Malinau, like Respen Sembuak  People who did not resettle in Malinau are now living in 5 villages along the Tubu River:  Long Nyau, Long Ranau, Long Pada, Long Titi and Rian Tubu.

d) Main Economic Activities

Today, most of the villagers are subsistence farmers practicing shifting cultivation of upland rice and cassava, and planting as well a range of vegetables (e.g. eggplant, squash, cucumbers, etc.) and fruits (e.g. pineapple, rambutan, papaya, banana, etc.). Hunting remains the main source of meat for the Punan Tubu.  Although most of the food is produced by farming or obtained in the forest, people are increasingly dependent on cash to buy commercial goods such as coffee, sugar, salt, etc. An important source of cash income is the commercialization of non-timber forest products (NTFP) such as gaharu (Aguilaria spp.), head of hornbill, or bezoar stones (intestinal concretions found in several animal species and valued for traditional medicine). However, nowadays, the salaries given by the government for state imposed village leaders represent significant and regular incomes for many of the villagers.

e) Social organization

Unlike fellow neighboring tribes, the Punan Tubu society is highly egalitarian.  Although formal community governance exists, such as village head and customary head, these positions are imposed by the government.  For example the Punan customary foundation or Yayasan Adat Punan was established in the 2000s, when the collaborative management of the National Park was introducedThough such authority exists, it does not hold strong leadership over the Punan Tubu.

f) Current challenges

The Tubu River is located in the Malinau regency, an emerging region extremely rich in natural resources, especially forest resources.  In the last decades especially in the last few years, the Malinau regency has experienced vast changes due to development.  One among several reasons for these changes are the commitment of the regent government of Malinau to spend ca.100.000 USD for each village in the district, with no exception.  The arrival of large amounts of cash had consequences for the local population’s socio-economic situation as well as for their cultural life. In addition, the rapid development of Malinau also poses a threat to the Kayan Mentarang National Park.  It is said that the regent government of Malinau, with the help of loan from the central government, will build 12 rings of roads, including 2 passing through the Tubu villages of the Punan, and one of them is planned to enter the National Park. Compared to other neighboring tribe, elements of Punan Tubu culture are quickly disappearing. Some said that in the upper Tubu region this loss is even more drastic since many elders have resettled close to the town; as a consequence the best blowpipe manufacturers and traditional healers are found in Respen Sembuak and not in the upper Tubu.  This is yet to be revealed in our study.

Location of the study sites in Indonesia. Source: Kaskija 2002



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