After the Rain Falls: the Impact of the East Kalimantan Forestry Industry on Tribal Society

Rimbo Gunawan • Juni Thamrin • Endang Suhendar
Book AKATIGA • Maret 1999 Indonesia


The exploitation and destruction of forests have reached such a critical level that the consequences have attracted the attention of the wider community. The resounding response, however, has been to highlight the problems of the environment rather than the humanitarian aspect of the elimination of the tribal and indigenous people who live in and around the forest. For generations, tribal and indigenous people have depended for their livelihood on the generosity of the forest but now, with the arrival of large capital which exploits the forest, their sovereignty over and access to forest resources have been stolen from them. This phenomenon is intrinsically connected to forest management policies which emphasize efforts to obtain foreign exchange by exploiting economically valuable forest products and in particular timber. The large profits which can be reaped from the forestry sector, the increase in foreign exchange and the ability to absorb labor are the aspects put forward to legitimize large capital operations. The forest is seen as a natural resource which can be exploited to obtain surplus. In terms of foreign exchange these policies have been successful. In 1994, for example, the forestry sector contributed US$ 7.7 billion to foreign revenue. Conversely, this success has come at a high cost with the destruction of the forest ecosystem and the way of life of local communities. Ecologically, the destruction of the forest results in interference with the global ecosystem. In socio-cultural terms, a conflict of interests occurs between local culture and the forms of modern culture associated with forest industrialization. On the one hand, modernization sees local culture as an obstruction which must be “swept aside” or “replaced” so that the development process, meaning the acquisition of surplus from forest products, is not seriously disturbed by local tribal communities. On the other hand, the tribal and indigenous people see industrialization and all its values and apparatus as a threat to their customary rights over the forest.


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