Last September, I stood on the hills of Semunying, in West Kalimantan, on the Indonesian half of the island of Borneo. What was once a green tropical forest lush with evergreen rambutan trees has been taken over by a commercial palm oil plantation. Evidence of the palm oil industry extended as far as the eye could see in every direction. Stuck in the middle of all this is a small village, home to members of an indigenous people, the Iban Dayaks.
The Iban Dayaks have a worldwide population of some 751,000. About 19,000 currently inhabit this area near the Malaysia-Indonesia border, where Ibans have lived for centuries. “Our identity as Iban Dayak is almost lost now. We have no forest anymore,” Ibu Della, a 40-year-old woman whose name I have changed for her protection, told me. Over the last 10 years she has watched the forest she depended on slowly being taken over by palm oil plantations.