Sharing the Kalimantan cake

The biggest sources of opportunity are collaboration and partnership. And today, with digital communication, there is more of that everywhere. We need to expose ourselves to that as a matter of doing business.

— Mark Parker, ex-CEO of Nike

One of Borneo’s most adventurous communities are the Muruts of the Central Highlands — a community of about 30,000 born-again Christians living on the border of Upper Lawas and Kerayan in Kalimantan Utara (Kaltara).

For centuries, their people roamed the Upper Sarawak Lawas-Limbang enclave to as far as the coast where their ancestors are purported to have founded the Kingdom of Brunei.

After securing independence, they pursued education and after becoming a highly literate society, they began to spread their wings all over the region.

In the old days the Ba’kelalan Muruts — now called Lun Bawang — was a model village in the remote central highlands.

Its people tilled the land, introduced a unique irrigation system, and one of its elders, retired pastor Tagal Paran, established an apple orchard, bred ponies and even had a goat farm. At the same time their Indonesian neighbours were lagging far behind; their only source of essentials such as sugar and salt was Ba’kelalan.

Long Bawan, their administrative centre, was cut off from the rest of Kalimantan and the only means of reaching other towns was by a small airstrip which could only take 16-seater Twin Otters.

A year ago during the ‘Landas’ monsoon season, Ba’kelalan was still an old Shangrila with its degraded main timber road.

At that time, remote Kalimantan was already progressing faster than Sarawak because of President Jokowi’s dream of turning Kalimantan into the pride of Indonesia by developing the Balikpapan-Samarinda enclave into Indonesia’s new capital.

I have been fortunate to witness the progress of some of Sarawak and Kalimantan’s rural communities to know that so far we have been left behind.

Visiting two of the remotest communities — Kaltara and Apo Kayan in East Kalimantan (Kaltim), Indonesia has launched a drive to upgrade its land communication system.

The road system within Kerayan district with 20 villages have been tar-sealed; some evolving into a highway which will eventually connect Long Bawang to the Tanjung Selor — Kaltara’s administrative centre.

Sadly and without trying to blame Ba’kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian who is now in the opposition, the Lun Bawang have been left far behind their Indonesian cousins.

A model for other villages, old Ba’kelalan was built on self-help. Since the 1970s, the Ba’kelalan community survived on agriculture with its own wet padi irrigation system, producing the exclusive ‘Bario rice’, while Pak Tagal introduced apple orchards, pony breeding and goat farming. He even established a solar system which is used for his homestay aptly called ‘Apple Lodge’ that even lights up the single-lane township.

It was with great joy when I read that Lun Bawang lawyer Datuk Mutang Tagal had called on Sarawakians to explore business opportunities when the Indonesian capital is moved to Kalimantan in 2024.

Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice chairman Mutang said: “The next decade will propel Borneo as the new investment hub for international investors.”

Mutang can be proud that his father Tagal Paran and relatives had prepared the ground work but now that Indonesia has taken the lead, they must go forth and seek greener pastures.

And region of choice must be Balikpapan because many of their relatives left Kerayan after the end of the 1963 Malaysian-Indonesian Confrontation.

In fact, I first visited Balikpapan in 1993 to donate funds towards the building of a Bible college in the Samarinda — surprisingly in the midst of a Javanese community. Since then, Balikpapan has grown to become a metropolis and the city’s new airport is far better than Kuching International Airport.

Despite Covid-19, plans for Indonesia’s dream city is going ahead with greater enthusiasm.
Jokowi will build the new city of an allocated land of 40,000ha between the regencies of Penajam Paser Utara and Kutai Kartanegara.

Two weeks ago, Indonesian Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono told the Singapore Straits Times the government was completing the new city’s design work and masterplan. He said the shift to the new capital is expected to cost S$45.4 billion.

“Construction should take three to four years, which includes dams, water sanitation, roads and buildings. God willing, by 2023 to 2024, we will start to move there,” Basuki added.

In 2016, then Minister of Public Utilities Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan signed an agreement with Indonesia to explore partnership opportunities in power generation projects and strategy formulation to improve the power supply infrastructure in Kaltara.

I hope Sarawak does not wait for too long because time and tide wait for no man!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.