The Wehea Dayak have a strong a vibrant culture. They still practice many traditional ceremonies including the annual rice harvesting festival of Lomplai. Despite this, the leaders within the community fear for the future of the Wehea Dayak and are working hard to hold onto their cultural heritage.
Surrounded by forest, the Wehea Dayak communities live in five small villages in the East Kutai regency of East Kalimantan. The community is so small that some studies of Dayak ethnic groups leave them out entirely and little has been documented about their unique cultural identity. The Wehea Dayak used their traditional practices for conservation in 2004, by declaring a 38,000 ha abandoned timber concession “protected land” under traditional law. This forest is protected by fifty local young people, called the Petkuq Mehuey, or forest guardians. Bolstered by the success of this conservation project, including receiving Indonesia’s highest environmental honor, Wehea tribal leaders are committed to leading their community in efforts to preserve their cultural and ecological traditions. At the same time, community members are seeking initiatives to bring income to the community, balancing traditions with economic development.
Traditional Culture Preservation To ensure Wehea Dayak cultural traditions are not lost, village elders are working to document traditional songs, stories, ceremonies, dances, and customs. This information will be shared in the Wehea Conservation Center and around the world.
Increased Traditional Forest Knowledge By learning from village elders, we expect the Wehea children will rediscover their forest and cultural heritage tied to the forest. The children will grow up continuing the efforts to protect Wehea Forest and understand the value of the tropical rainforest. The Rediscovery Program began in mid-2012.
Photo by OCSP/Lili Rambe