OUR LAND Michael Eko

“Kill me if you want, just shoot me!” Mrs. Singko recalled a terrifying event in 1990’s when armed thugs attacked and tried to detain her husband. They were hired by a palm oil plantation to bully and terrorize her village, located in a remote area of East Kalimantan in Borneo. Fighting to preserve their way of life, her husband refused to sell their ancestral land to the company because they wanted to tear down the forest to build a palm oil plantation. On this typical day, gunshots brought violence and chaos upon a peaceful morning in Borneo.

Borneo is the third largest island in the world. It has rich biodiversity and it is home to many indigenous groups. However, exploitation of the island runs rampant with little effort from the government and stakeholders to preserve and protect the environment and the rights of indigenous people. According to WWF, satellite studies show that around 56% of protected lowland tropical rainforest in Kalimantan were cut down between 1985 and 2001 to supply global timber demand. While the primary forest have been cleared cut for timber industries, the secondary forest have been converted to palm oil plantation. Illegal logging, land conversion, forest fires, land grabbing and massive mining are frequent occurrences.

While the global industries extract natural resources from Borneo, local inhabitants are left on the sideline as spectators, and they work as low-paid laborers in their own land. Agrarian conflicts between indigenous people and companies like Mrs. Singko’s story are common occurrences on the island. Fueled by greed and facilitated by corruption, this precious island is in danger of extinction, both in terms of cultural and ecological degradation. With increasing deforestation, which causes man-made disasters such as forest fires, flooding, land slides, species extinction, global warming, water contamination, and air pollution, indigenous people suffer the most socially and economically.

(Longer text is available by request)

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