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The Longhouse of the Tarsier: Changing Landscapes, Gender and Well Being in Borneo


Carol J. Pierce Colfer

Price $45.00


ISBN 1-929900-10-4



Change has been a central feature of life in Kalimantan during the last half of the 20th century, and the analyses in this collection reflect that reality.   The landscape has been nearly totally transformed and the people have both adapted to such changes and been among the actors creating them.  This collection, which begins with analyses performed in the 1980s, continues throughout the 1990s, and ends with perspectives from the 21st century, captures the phenomenal changes, both environmental and social, that have characterized these people’s lives.  Yet, there remains a core of behaviour and beliefs that makes the Uma’ Jalan the people they are. 

Several chapters examine the differences between life in Long Ampung, a tiny community in the Apo Kayan from which the Uma’ Jalan have spread across eastern Borneo, and life in Long Segar, technically a resettlement community in central East Kalimantan.  These early comparative analyses were undertaken in an attempt to capture the changes that had occurred as the people moved from their remote location to a more accessible area with more services.  Another effort to capture change involved a series of land use histories that began in 1962, when Long Segar was initially settled, and continued through 1997.

Repeat visits to Long Segar have provided a third perspective from which to assess changes—through direct observation over time, focusing on the various aspects of Uma’ Jalan lives and their resource management practices (see Annex 1, for the schedule and purposes of repeat visits).  Finally, there have been significant changes in the policy questions or issues of concern over the years.  Such broader scale observations capture the changes in the national context, in the landscape, and in people’s lives (summarized in Chapter 16).

There are three central, conceptual reasons for putting these articles together into one volume.  First, as global environmental awareness has increased, the issues addressed in the research reported here have become even more critical.  Shifting cultivation and forest use and abuse are even more important now than when most of this research was conducted; yet the pool of detailed and systematic information available remains inadequate.  Meanwhile the degradation, radical and probably irrevocable, of Borneo’s environment continues steadily, with ever more disturbing results.  As the world begins to acknowledge and try to deal with global warming, its causes and possible amelioration, the importance of the actions of forest peoples are likely to gain recognition.

Second, the approach taken in this research, subsequently labeled “progressive contextualization” (Vayda 1983), was unusually productive.  It allowed me to focus on specific, policy-relevant issues, without ignoring the context (or systems) of which those issues were a part.  This approach, in my view, represents a step forward in making crucial ethnographic information more available, in a real sense, to policymakers (see Walters et al., 2008).  It does, however, complicate the effort to reduce duplication in the chapters that follow.    

Third, the importance of women’s behaviour and beliefs in tropical rainforest agroforestry systems has been largely ignored.  This is puzzling in light of the widely recognized connections between population increase and rainforest destruction.   Women are the bearers of children, a critical component of population increase.  Because of this a full understanding of their behaviour, perceptions and motivations is essential; yet few researchers expend much effort documenting the aspects of women’s lives that affect the forest.  Indeed, one finds a curious reticence on the part of many biological scientists to deal with the population issue at all, beyond the sweeping recognition that population is abstractly important.

Additionally as over half the global population, women like men represent a human resource with knowledge, energy, and organizational ability to contribute.  Many would argue that women’s rights have also been fairly consistently trampled.  Women’s significant involvement in Bornean forest management will become clear in the following chapters.  If we are to incorporate people into conservation planning and policy (as I believe, in recognition of their rights and their well being, we must), women’s participation is, if anything, even more important than men’s.

Only in recent decades has anthropology begun to make a substantial contribution to natural resource management, as the conceptual links have become increasingly obvious.  Natural resource management seeks to rationalize the human use of resources.  Anthropology has, for decades, looked at the ways people use their resources.  But practitioners of the respective fields have tended to talk past each other.  This volume provides anthropological findings pertaining to natural resource management, in the hope and belief that greater collaboration will result in improved analyses, and thus greater utility, for both disciplines.  A more effective mesh between these two fields should yield information that is directly useful for understanding people’s lifeways, for protecting the global environment and for making “development” more beneficial for rural people.



Chapter 1 – Introduction 


Chapter 3 – On Kenyah Dayak Tree Cutting in Context 

Chapter 4 – On Resettlement:  From the Bottom Up 


Chapter 5 – Some Observations on Home Gardening in East Kalimantan

Chapter 6 – Change and Indigenous Agroforestry in East Kalimantan

Chapter 7 – Uma’ Jalan Nutrition 

Chapter 8 – Food, Forests, and Fields 


Chapter 9 – Women, Men and Time in the Forests of East Kalimantan 

Chapter 10 – Gender, Rice Production and the Subtleties of Culture


Chapter 11 – Female Status and Action in two Dayak Communities 

Chapter 12 – On Circular Migration: From the Distaff Side 

Chapter 13 – Uma’ Jalan Perceptions of People and Forests 


Chapter 14 – Uma’ Jalan Responses to El Niño, Transmigration and HTI 

Chapter 15Fire in East Kalimantan: A Panoply of Practices,

Views and [Discouraging] Effects Introduction and Study sites 

Chapter 16 – From National to Local Scales: The Uma’ Jalan in

Temporal Context 







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