Nature and the Dayak People

Nature and the Dayak people.

Nature and the Dayak people are forever inseparable. Therefore, nature, as an integral part of their lives, must be treated and utilized with respect and tradition.

Respectful and traditional treatment and utilization of nature are necessary because, first, the Dayak people are intertwined with it, dependent on it, and live in harmony with it. Second, the Divine (Petara Nan Agung) is present in and through nature. Nature is sometimes experienced as something with "magical" power, which not only engenders respect from humans but also fear.

The purpose of wise

The purpose of wise, respectful, and traditional treatment and utilization of nature is none other than to establish and maintain a harmonious relationship with nature itself.

Such efforts are not without challenges and obstacles. The slash-and-burn farming system poses a real challenge for farmers. Forest and land fires pose a real threat if they are not wise and careful in managing agricultural land.

The Inhabitants of The Hearts of Borneo, Krayan, North Kalimantan: The Dayak People.

Therefore, to prevent forest and land fires, there are rules that must be obeyed by all residents. In these rules, every resident is strictly prohibited from burning their land alone. Regardless of the size of the land they own, residents must inform the villagers if they intend to burn their fields.

A Case Example

Rules indeed exist and are obeyed. However, calamity sometimes lies beyond human control. Such a calamity befell my uncle in the middle of 2019. Precisely in August. For farmers, August, if rain is infrequent, usually presents a good opportunity to burn land.

My uncle happened to open a field near our ancestral burial ground. The burial ground (known as "gupung" in the Dayak village) is a customary forest. In our village itself, there are quite a few "gupung." As customary forests, they must be preserved and protected by all community members.

All village residents, without exception, are strictly prohibited from clearing fields or gardens in these "gupung." "Gupung" is considered sacred ground. There are dangers threatening the safety of the inhabitants if this prohibition is ignored.

In each "gupung," usually, large and lush fig trees (known as "kiarak" in the local language) grow. These trees are believed by the residents to be the dwelling place of ancestral spirits. Therefore, they must not be disturbed. Even if residents want to cut them down, a special ritual must be performed to avoid unwanted consequences.

My uncle knew well that the burial ground was sacred ground. This was not the first time he farmed there. He always remembered the advice that anyone farming near the "gupung" must be extra careful, especially when burning their fields.

Aware of this, my uncle involved many people when burning his field to prevent the fire from spreading to the burial ground. However, fate could not be avoided. The strong winds seemed to be the main factor causing the fire to spread to the "gupung."

This incident naturally saddened and deeply affected my uncle. There was indeed no intention or negligence involved in the incident. However, this was not a reason for my uncle to escape from the consequences of customary law.

The consequence is known as "Adat Pati." "Adat Pati" can be interpreted as customary fines imposed on those who have caused harm to fellow humans or nature.

How is this "Adat Pati" ritual ceremony carried out? This customary ritual ceremony is centered around the fig tree inside the "gupung."

In this ritual, residents must prepare offerings (known as "pegelak"). These offerings will be placed in a special container made of woven bamboo ("ranccak"). This container is then hung near the fig tree.

This ritual is led by the most respected person who understands well the invocations (requests) that will be conveyed in the ritual.

Signs of Remorse and Request for Forgiveness

"Adat Pati" truly represents a tangible manifestation of reconciliation between humans and the Creator, with one another, ancestors, and nature. It becomes a tangible manifestation because one of the conditions for reconciliation to occur is when the party that has made a mistake acknowledges their actions and is willing to apologize.

In this case, the residents truly realize their mistake in disturbing the peace of ancestral spirits by allowing their dwelling to be engulfed by fire. Although, once again, there was absolutely no intention, the living residents humbly regret their actions and ask for forgiveness for what they have done.

This request for forgiveness must be conveyed so that in the future, all their efforts and hard work in farming are blessed and approved by Petara, ancestors, and nature. Thus, their lives will be prosperous both materially and spiritually.

Preventing Catastrophe

The implementation of the "Adat Pati" ritual in the "gupung" is the deepest desire of the villagers to avoid catastrophe because they have harmed the forest where the ancestors reside.

Perhaps some may wonder whether the burning of the burial ground can bring calamity or catastrophe. If it can, who can be affected by such catastrophe?

The answers to these questions can only be understood in the context of the cosmic perspective embraced by the Dayak people.

A perspective that believes in the inseparability of cosmic reality (humans and their world) with transcendent reality.

By embracing this perspective, the Dayak people hold high respect for the supernatural powers and ancestral spirits believed to reside in large trees, rivers, large stones, and sacred places.

From this understanding, harming the burial ground can certainly bring catastrophe. This catastrophe can affect not only the landowner and their entire family but also the entire village residents. To prevent such a catastrophe, the "Adat Pati" ritual must be performed.

The continued existence of "Adat Pati" in the farming wisdom of the Dayak tribe aims to show how much they respect nature. This respect guides them to always treat nature as wisely as possible to maintain a harmonious relationship with the Most High, fellow humans, ancestors, and nature.

--Gregorius Nyaming

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