guardians of the forest
Meet Pak Asuy, an inspiring elder, knowledge holder and community leader from Muara Tae, Borneo who has been working to save his rainforest for many years, from illegal logging, mining and palm oil. Ruwi and I visited his family together, where I learned from him about the difficulties they are facing — as well as the depth of spiritual resources they draw on from their tradition.

bulldozed forest

Asuy and Ruwi examining an area that is part of the Muara Tae ancestral forest. It has been freshly clear cut by a palm oil company without permission, and now the company is seeking to have government offiicials change the boundary of Muara Tae so that they can claim it. There are two other large areas of Muara Tae where they did the same thing. It is a way for them to acquire the land even though the people of Muara Tae refuse to sell.


ulin tree nursery

Asuy is a knowledge holder and leader among the Dayak Benuaq people. He tells us that the tribe’s fortitude and resilience in facing the illegal bulldozing of their forest is inspired by ancient stories which remind them that all humans were given the role of keeping the earth in balance. And while others have clearly forgotten this assignment, this tribe has maintained a deep conviction that their purpose on earth is to act as the guardians of this forest. Here, Asuy is tending seedlings of the endangered Ulin tree in his forest nursery. He is determined to bring the Ulin back by planting them in the degraded forest areas that private companies are pushing to clearcut for palm oil.


Asuy's wife Laiyen with their only daughter, Conscience. She and Asuy work as a team to cook, keep house and care for the children. Their house is harmonious and relaxed and Laiyen sings beautiful melodies as she works--she seems always filled with a quiet joy. Though they own little, there is a feeling of satisfaction and plenty. Their energy goes into relationships and service, not things.

Asuy’s wife Laiyen with their only daughter, Conscience. She and Asuy work as a team to cook, keep house and care for the children. Their house is harmonious and relaxed and Laiyen sings beautiful melodies as she works–she seems always filled with a quiet joy. Though they own little, there is a feeling of satisfaction and plenty. Their energy goes into relationships and service, not things.


asuy's forest

Asuy’s forest, which so far he has protected from bulldozers. The river below used to be clear enough to drink from. Now it is brown with mud–run off from the clear cutting upstream, and Asuy has to bring bottled water to drink when he goes to the forest.


asuy's sons

Asuy’s sons play a game in front of their house in the village. They will learn from their father to be guardians of the forest, just as Asuy learned from his father and grandfather.


THESE VIDEOS give more background on the challenges facing Muara Tae:

Ruwi’s Ted Talk: Saving Indonesia’s forests one village at a time
Our Forest Our Life
Muara Tae Diaries
Iceberg at Muara Tae
Empowering Muara Tae
Quest for Indonesian Palm Oil Threatens Native Communities
Paradise of Palm Oil


THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZATIONS have been taking part in the struggle of the people of Muara Tae to save their forest:

The Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)
Kaoem Telapak
Forest Watch Indonesia
Environmental Investigation Agency
Sawit Watch
Rainforest Action Network


resources for creating local inquiries