Venture Grant: Borneo Anthropological Research
"Voices from the Forest"
Colorado College Venture Grant Proposal
Submitted by: __________
Class of 1997
I submit this venture grant proposal in the hopes of acquiring funds to travel to east Malaysia for a six week period this upcoming Christmas break and fifth block. It is during this time that I plan to conduct anthropological research in the form of ethnographic film in the remote interior of northern Borneo, among the indigenous group of the eastern Penan.
I. Background information and purpose of project.
The Penan of Sarawak, Malaysia are an unique group, quite different from their indigenous neighbors such as the Kalabit, Kayan, Iban, and Kenyan. While these groups changed their lifestyles in the favor of permanent settlement along with the practice of swidden agricultural many years ago, the Penan have traditionally managed to hold on to their nomadic, hunting-gathering ways of life. As national development in Malaysia approaches the twenty-first century, however, these ways are rapidly changing. As a result of the extensive logging in the jungle interior, most Penan have given into the governments pressures of permanent settlement. Indeed today there exist very few truly nomadic hunter-gathers and those who continue this lifestyle do, to at least some degree, maintain contact with the outside world. Malaysia’s "Penan Development Program" has brought schools, missionaries, medical facilities, and even agricultural goods such as tractors and livestock into the cleared settlement areas of even Sarawak’s most remote regions. Whether in the temporary camps of the nomad or the permanent settlements of the indigenous agriculturalist, cultural change is sweeping through the rainforests of Borneo and having a direct impact on the Penan, the native inhabitants whose lives depend so greatly on the abundance of the forest and it’s wildlife. The responses of the Penan however, have been varied.
My project will be to record the social effects of such cultural adjustment by means of broadcast quality Hi-8 video camera. Travelling through the semi-nomadic villages of the Penan I plan to conduct personal interviews with the locals and capture, via video, the ways in which outside influence has effected so much the lives of a once fully nomadic forest people. I have complete faith in the success of my expedition in that one, I have extensive knowledge of Hi-8 video equipment and two, I have travelled through the remote settlements of the eastern Penan before.
Last September, prior to the commencement of a semester abroad, I travelled alone to Borneo where I met up with Jeffrey Matan, an indigenous Kalabit man who agreed to guide me through the thickly forested Baram river drainage within the interior. I spent twelve days travelling through the villages with Jeffrey, learning the traditional ways of the Bornean nomad such as producing sago (a starchy carbohydrate that serves as a base in all nomadic Penan diets) as well as sharing stories with the indigenous locals. It was then that I realized that I needed to return to the Penans soon, only this time with. a video camera.
Thus on January 5, 1997, I will return to Malaysia. After arriving in nearby Singapore I will spend two days traveling via bus, boat, and plane to Sarawak’s coastal city of Miri. In Miri I will spend five days with my hired guide, Jeffrey Matan, preparing the necessary paperwork (Sarawak permits for travel within the interior) for the project. Jeffrey, who has also agreed to act as my translator, has grown up within the Penan homeland and thus has immense knowledge of the forested region. Once cleared with the Malaysian Park service Jeffrey and I will fly into his parents Kalabit village of Long Lellang. From Long Lellang we will set off on foot to the specific Penan settlements of Long Sait, Long Kerong, Long Banga, and Long Sabai, places where I have traveled to before. Only now my goal goes far beyond the role of the adventuring tourist.
Through video recorded conversations, interviews, and direct observation I will aim to produce a short film (the length is estimated at 45 minutes) that will accurately and creatively portrait the rapidly changing lifestyles of a culture in crisis. The specific topics of cultural change that I plan to investigate in my film are the widespread adjustments of education, religion, and environmental status. The government of Malaysia’s indigenous development plan as well as christian missionaries, for example, have "westernized" many regions of Sarawak in the construction of simple churches and elementary school structures. The devastating logging that has occurred since the seventies has had an irreversible impact on the environment as well as the lives of the native communities. It is the voices of these natives, people who have traditionally only been held as obstructors of Malaysia’s economic "pie in the sky", that have gone mostly unheard in the era of national growth. It is the goal of my project to listen to these voices.
Because all arrangements with Jeffrey have already been made (he has agreed to guide me for an inexpensive amount as he believes in my project purpose) and because this trip will be mirrored on one that I have experienced before, I anticipate great ease and relatively uncomplicated research situations. As I already have a good grasp on speaking Malay and am currently attempting to totur myself towards fluency, I expect a greater level of communication to significantly strengthen my film.
The post-production stage of editing will be done at the Colorado College’s editing facilities. My experience with video equipment and electronic editing procedures was gained from two Colorado College advanced video production classes as well as from working on several short videos and films of my own. The Camera to be used will be my personal Sony Hi-8 along with case, extra tapes, and batteries.
II. Personal Benefits
As a senior Anthropology major with a strong interest in ethnographic film, this project will no doubt provide me with an immensely deep educational experience. I have always had an tremendous amount of concern for native peoples everywhere and the current opportunity to combine my passion of the Penan with my love of film seems to be an appropriate way to end the final semester of my college career. I also aim to receive academic credit through the Anthropology department as an "independent study".
III. Benefits for the Colorado College community
A year ago, after returning to Colorado College, I wrote a thirteen page article entitled "Voices from the Forest-The Indigenous Penan of Borneo". As well as submitting my work to the Anthropology department I ran my article as a three week special feature in the Colorado College Catalyst. Upon the completion of my film I plan present it to entire college community in Armstrong’s Max Cade theater. I truly hope that the film will instill the same amount of campus-wide interest as my article did. After all, enlightening the public on the plight of the Penan- that has been my original goal all along.
Estimated Budget of "Voices from the Forest"
Transportation: Round trip ticket from N.Y. to Singapore
(as quoted by Northwest Airlines, 8-17-96)…$1,200
Malaysia Air Service (MAS) flights (Singapore-Kuching roundtrip,
Miri-Long Lellang roundtrip) as of 9-3-95….$300
Other expenses: Fees for Jeffrey Matan (Jeffrey Matan, Lot 570
Lee Tak Street Wakil Pos Mini Morsjaya 98000 Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia) $650
Hi-8 video equipment (tapes, batteries) … $65
Miscellaneous travel expenses $300
Total Expenses: $2,515