‘Buaya tanah’ Lun Bawang’s cultural heritage still visible

Gukang Labo (left) presenting his group’s zoning map exercise during the workshop.

Workshop participants at the man-made buaya tanah or earth crocodile.

BA KELALAN: As a boy, Dadius Tangko, grew up listening to stories of the man-made earth crocodile or ‘buaya tanah’ as locals in the highlands call it.

But it was not until the ripe age of 76 that this Lun Bawang finally saw one.

Located on a hill not far from Buduk Nur village, the earth crocodile is over six feet long and today, after being in existence for over a century, it is covered with grass. However, the shape of the giant reptile is still quite visible.

The village’s earth crocodile is one of the many cultural heritage attractions found in the Ba Kelalan highlands.

“I felt a sense of pride looking at one of my community’s cultural heritage for the first time,” he said.

“I have been to other cultural sites in Ba Kelalan before except the earth crocodile. I hope the young generation including my five children will help to preserve our heritage for posterity,” he said.

Dadius was a participant of the eco-tourism zoning workshop held by the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands of Borneo (Formadat) in collaboration with WWF-Malaysia in the scenic highlands of Ba Kelalan recently.

Over 20 people comprising community leaders, local nature tourist guides and Formadat members from Ba Kelalan and neighbouring highlands of Bario and Long Pasia, Sabah, took part in the three-day workshop, which started onMay 21.

Representatives from the Forest Department Sarawak, Sarawak Forestry Corporation and Curtin University Sarawak, also attended the workshop by invitation.

The aim of the workshop was to create awareness on the importance of identifying and zoning sites of socio-economic significance that would promote a sustainable way of life and income generating activities such as eco-tourism to Ba Kelalan.

It also aims to foster goodwill and enhance unity among the highlands’ communities in Sarawak and Sabah.

WWF-Malaysia GIS and Community Engagement and Education teams facilitated the workshop which covered introduction to GPS and usage; basic mapping, field work, GPS tagging exercise and zoning of eco-tourism sites in Ba Kelalan.

Ba’ Kelalan has 13 villages in the Maligan Highlands of Sarawak.

The villagers belong to the Lun Bawang ethnic group who are known to be a resilient community. Their livelihood, customs and traditions are based on a traditional farming system using gravity-feed water from the surrounding mountain streams and rivers to irrigate their rice fields.

Formadat Sarawak chairman Penghulu George Sigar Sultan said the workshop was the first held in collaboration with WWF-Malaysia.

He hoped that more parties such as those from Sarawak Museum Department, Ministry of Tourism and Lawas District Office could also participate in future workshops with the local communities.

On earth crocodile, George shared that there were a few left in the area today.

He said these were built many years ago, probably over a century, and the rationale behind the man-made crocodile was passed down for generations orally.

“During the head hunting days in the past, our forefathers celebrated their victories over their enemies by making an earth crocodile.

“They would parade with their enemies’ decapitated heads around the crocodile and feast on rice wine with other villagers. They would also curse their enemies all night long,” he said.

The earth crocodiles have been left alone until today because they were sacred, he said adding that local guides would bring visitors to see the sites as a tourism destination.

George said the Lun Bawang community also had stone culture that revolved around a legendary and mighty warrior called Upai Semaring.

Citing examples, he said at a megalith site called Batuh Angan near Kumap river of Buduk Nur village, Upai Semaring was said to have carried four large stones to the site and placed them there in a show of strength. Legend has it that these stones served as his kitchen.

Located at Kampung Lemutut, another megalith called Batuh Lan is a sharpening stone used by the mighty warrior, he said.

Gukang Labo, 47, from Buduk Nur said the workshop was very useful as it helped to improve his understanding of the use of GPS and the importance of identifying and zoning the different land uses in Ba Kelalan.

“That way we’ll know which area to earmark for tourism, how big is our paddy fields and where our water catchment is located. We need a detailed map of Ba Kelalan as reference,” said the farmer and part-time nature guide.

He pointed out that the exercise would help the community better protect their cultural heritage sites, hunting grounds and water catchment areas from activities that could have adverse impact on their livelihood and the highlands’ landscape.

Villagers need to come together in giving their input and sharing their knowledge of the area and folklores if they want to see eco-tourism take off in Ba Kelalan, he said.