Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Highland Tales In The Heart Of Borneo - Oral history of ancient Borneo now in a book

Shrouded in mist and mystery, the highlands of Borneo is home not only to indigenous folk but also myths and legends harking back centuries.

These stories are often told around campfires in villages, where people gather around the elderly storytellers weaving magic with their words, and reminisce about a time long past but not forgotten.

“When I was young, every longhouse had some sort of a fireplace. We would gather around it every evening to warm ourselves and to listen to stories. Storytelling is part and parcel of our life,” shares John Tarawe from Bario, Sarawak, during a storytelling session and book launch at Silverfish Books in Kuala Lumpur recently.

“My favourite story,” adds Pangiran Salutan from Long Pa’Sia’ in Sabah, “is of the legendary giant Upai Semaring who was tall and very strong. He roamed the lands a long time ago, leaving behind traces of his journey that we still see today, like in the stone carvings scattered around the area.”

It is stories such as these, and many more, that have been captured in Highland Tales In The Heart Of Borneo, a book put together by Alicia Ng, WWF-Malaysia senior community engagement and education officer.

It documents the oral history of the communities of Long Pa’Sia’ in Sabah and Ba’Kelalan, Bario and Long Semadoh in Sarawak, as well as heritage sites and places of interests such as megaliths, ancient burial grounds and settlements.

The book was published by grassroots initiative Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands of Borneo (or Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi Borneo, Formadat) with support from the Forest Department Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia and the Ministry of Tourism Sarawak. Written in English and Malay, Highland Tales comes with a CD highlighting the importance of the highlands as watersheds and water catchments area. The formation of Formadat is also covered in the video.

Interestingly, Highland Tales initially started out as an idea for a pocket guide book. But over time, it transformed into something more substantial, boasting some 24 stories accompanied by maps and colour photographs.

Ng, whose work focuses on enhancing the relationship between WWF and local communities as well as building capacities towards conservation and sustainable development of the local communities’ land, explains how the little idea grew.