11 March 2020
Satwa Alam

Easily accessible from Palangka Raya, many of the communities on the upper Katingan River adhere to the ancient Kaharingan religion, described by the legendary Birute Galdikas … ‘Kaharingan is an ancient animistic religion which has a deep philosophical cosmology but acknowledges the supremacy of nature … the word Kaharingan originates from a species of fig tree, whose deep roots and enormous branches represent the tree of life, similar to the tree where Buddha found enlightenment … the heart of Kaharingan is the concept of a parallel universe, one a mirror image …. which exists in the here and now, accessible by dreams and shamans … in Dayak culture, death is an integral part of life … indeed more real than life’.

Dayak totem poles stand guard over the simple communal burial area

Rattan vines are collected and processed, employing local people in a successful small scale industry. Over the road, an enterprising local woman is weaving the dried and smoked vines into useful back packs for work in the ladangs, or rice paddies and family gardens.

Rattan is processed by hand in a series of steps designed to clean and dry the vines. Smoked with sulphur in simple stacks, each strand turns buttery yellow before being tied in bundles.

Each villager has a ladang here in a communal area, where they plant special dry rice

In this area, family mausoleums are shaped as a simple colourfully painted house. The funeral or tiwah in Kaharingan is possibly the most important ritual, where bones are disinterred, cleaned and placed in the bonehouses in long and elaborate ceremonies.

The communal ladang area is vast and needs some restoration. Dayaks are used to shifting cultivation in long cycles, preparing and burning new areas rather than sustaining the soil’s fertility. The Government has built irrigation canals but some work remains to be done on making the system work

Rattan is woven into useful baskets, broad sun hats, mats and more.

Carvings around the cemeteries are fascinating, even as they lose their colours and are weathered into artifacts with an ancient look about them. The hornbill plays a major symbolic role as a symbol of the other life, the link between the two worlds, always occupying the highest position.

‘In spite of our Western cultural armor, after living in Kalimantan for any length of time, Kalimantan reality becomes your reality. You may not believe in spirits and spells, but you forced to acknowledge how much you cannot see and how much you cannot control.’