MIRI: The indigenous tribes of Sarawak can become financially independent by managing their own land as smallholders.
Many longhouse folks in the interior of the vast state are financially disadvantaged, yet they have lived off their ancestral lands which provided almost everything they need for many generations.
“Longhouse folks can manage their own land profitably as owners and smallholders planting rubber, oil palms or other cash crops,” said Kenyah writer and activist John Barah Aning at an interview in Water Front Commercial Centre recently.
John advocated that longhouse dwellers develop their own lands by planting crops or raising animals for their own consumption as well as for trade.
“Education is most important to teach people how to produce what they need from their lands,” said John who is on a mission to help fellow Kenyahs document their existence and history in preserving their heritage.
John noted the success of the Chinese community, role models of independent management of wealth in the state and country. They can be emulated by the Dayak community.
“With a small plot of land to plant cash crops like vegetables, the Chinese can prosper quickly to build better homes and buildings with little or no government help.
“In comparison, the natives have much more land but many remain poor,” he said.
He outlined the first step as learning how to create wealth from their own effort and lands, rather than submit to others to manage their lands for them.
“The Chinese learned to control their own wealth through direct involvement rather than leaving it to
“Joint ventures with big plantation companies create problems in not knowing how much is actually produced, and profit is much reduced too,” he explained.
The next steps would be learning the virtues of saving and not wasting money on unnecessary things, and investing some savings in education and self-improvement.
“Rural folks can be self-sufficient — planting their own rice, vegetables, catching fish and game, getting practically everything we need from the land,” he added.
He estimated that a smallholder working on his own land can earn from RM5,000 to RM10,000 net from about five acres of land planted with rubber or oil palms.
He tapped rubber on his land in Uma Akeh, the first place he documented in three weeks.
Rubber is popular because of its good price and can keep for months before selling in town.
His second project for Long Aya took about a month, with the villagers sponsoring his expenses and fees in documenting it for them.
With about 50 to 60 Kenyah longhouses in Baram, it would take years for him to document them all.
His documentation of the history of other tribes will help them present their claims, and reduce disputes.