Dayak Indigenous Ethnographer Dr Setia Budhi: In His Own Words

Dayak Indigenous Ethnographer Dr Setia Budhi: In His Own Words

Dr Setia Budhi: In His Own Words

Dayak Ethnographer, Senior Lecturer, Indigenous Advocate,

Rainforest Conservationist in Borneo


Bio: Dr Setia Budhi

Dr Setia Budhi is a senior lecturer in Anthropology and Sociology at Universitas Lambung Mangkurat. He is an indigenous advocate, forest conservationist and a research specialist in Dayak ethnography in South, Central and East Kalimantan. He completed his PhD in 2010 at UKM Malaysia under the supervision of Prof. Awang Hasmadi Awang Moeis and Prof. Aishah Bt Mohamed. He now serves as Head of the Sociology Department and a member of the Indonesian Anthropology Association of South Kalimantan-Indonesia.

His research relates to the Dayak people and impact of socio-cultural changes, exploitation of natural resources and modernisation on their lives. In particular, he investigates how the depletion of the forest affects the availability of food sources for Indigenous Dayak peoples.

‘I support the #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife because so far, all brands in the @RSPOtweets have been linked to #deforestation. We should replace those brands with ones that have nothing to do with #palmoil’ @setiabudhi18


My research focuses on the indigenous Dayak peoples of South, Central and Eastern Kalimantan

Photo: Dayak man, Kalimantan. PxFuel.

I’ve been doing ethnographic field research since early 2013, by visiting several villages of the Dayak Siang, Dayak Bakumpai and Dayak Oot Danum tribes. My field research is related to the Dayak peoples. How the exploitation of natural resources, modernisation and the depleted forests affects their ability to find food.

dr setia budhi

I wanted to know if the younger Dayak generation were still familiar with Dayak cultural life.



In particular, how the Dayak people of the Upper Barito River responded to the extinction of animal species, depletion of forests and the impact of mining and oil palm companies. Were they still connected to the ancestral tradition of using rainforest herbs for medicine? I interviewed the traditional head known as the Damang.

[Pictured] Dr Setia Budhi



I have watched the forests here thin out and for some time, the logs in the Barito River are pulled to the river’s mouth in South Kalimantan by large timber companies, does it include Barito Pacific Timber?

~ Dr Setia Budhi


Dayak communities make beautiful rattan and Ayaman Purun handicrafts and have been farming peatland rice for hundreds of years and fishing along the Barito river.

“The forest is where our rattan grows and propagates. If the trees in the forest are cut down, our rattan will be exhausted. If there is no rattan, we don’t know how we will make a living to make a living, our children need to go to school.

“We have a well where we keep fish. In the dry season, we take fish from the well. Now the wells where fish are stored have been evicted by oil palm plantations”

Respondents to Dr Budhi’s research.

The Barito river

This is inland from Kalimantan with dozens of different ethnicities and languages. For the journey during Ramadan in 2021, I recorded many events, one of them was the Sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples.

Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on May 14, 2021.



One of a rainforest tree’s functions is as a Barbershop! – Don’t cut down trees!

Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on August 17, 2021.


The Forest is the father, land is the mother and rivers are blood.”

That’s the spirituality of most Dayak people in Kalimantan. They understand the interdependent nature of everything in nature.

~ Dr Setia Budhi

Photo: Craig Jones Wildlife Photography



The land is mother – where they plant fruit, vegetables and grains for their families. The soil is mother where trees grow and develop.

On these trees they harvest an abundance of creeping rattan for medicine, food and crafts.

The forest has a ritual function, a medicinal function and a family protection function.



Just compare these pictures…

Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on July 27, 2021.



The Batang Garing symbol means to live in harmony with life

The Batang Garing Tree or the Tree of Life in Central Kalimantan is a symbol of collective identity, togetherness and is used in rituals by the Ngaju Dayak community. It’s also part of the spirituality of the Kaharingan religion.



Human beings are not fragments. Our deepest identity and social status is to be as one with the rhythm of nature

~ Dr Setia Budhi

Photo: Wrinkled Hornbill of Borneo by Steve Wilson. CC Licence



In the forest gaps, indigenous Dayak farmers plant rice;

If there is no rice, then there is no ceremony;

if there is no ceremony, then they lose their religion.



A Banjarese woman, grows beans, pumpkins and spinach and later sells them to buy sugar, tea and soap, She is a farmer on peatland. (ethnographic study in a peat village July 2021).

Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on July 24, 2021.



Local people are often often victims, as they defend their territory so as not to be displaced by oil palm


The expansion of oil palm has a massive impact on the lives of indigenous peoples



Before the existence of oil palm, there was almost never any conflict over land…

Since the palm oil industry expanded, in two decades there have been 345 conflicts between local people and palm oil companies in Borneo around the development and management of palm oil plantations. From an economic and individual perspective, this conflict is detrimental to local communities.

‘Before #palmoil there was almost never #conflict over #land. Over 2 decades there’s been 345 conflicts between #Dayak and #palmoil companies in #Borneo. I support the #Boycott4wildlife #Boycottpalmoil movement’ #landrights @setiabudhi18



Apakah akhir dari sebuah skenario bahwa Hutan dan Masayarakat Adat di Kalimantan ini akan dijadikan tempat berwisata ? dan jikalau itu maka orang Dayak akan menjadi “transmigran” di tanahnya sendiri?

Will this be used as a tourist spot? and if so, then will the Dayaks become “transmigrants” in their own land?


The most common complaint, according to reports relate to the way the company obtained (or did not obtain) approval from local communities of land acquisition

Palm oil causes the loss of forests where indigenous people obtain food via hunting and medicine. It is the loss of sacred places that have immense cultural value for indigenous Papuans.



There is an erosion of customary values of kinship and mutual cooperation, because nowadays everything is measured by money


Women don’t want their land to be sold, they know once their land is gone, their children won’t live tomorrow

I asked these students to draw what they thought of the earth. So they drew trees, houses, ricefields, mountains and the sea.


Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on August 22, 2021.


The weaving culture of women is fading and is being replaced by the cultural influence of oil palm plantations

Ulap Doyo is a weaving art by the Benuaq in Tanjung Isuy East Kalimantan. It’s called Doyo because the main ingredients are strong Doyo leaves that are woven together as a yarn. When the forest changed to palm oil, the Dayak lost their weaving culture.

Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on August 27, 2021.


The women have lost their forest where they take daily necessities for cultural purposes. For weaving from leaves, tree bark, rattan, bamboo and other swamp plants.

Photo: Dayak men, Kalimantan. PxFuel


So far, indigenous peoples have not benefited from the development of the palm oil industry

~ Dr Setia Budhi


There was a promise by the palm oil industry to improve the lives of indigenous peoples through plasma plantations. However, in practice plasma plantations have not had a positive impact on their lives.

Image: Dayak man, PxFuel.


The expansion of industrial land in the long term overrides Indigenous land

Field studies show that in the beginning, the community benefits from the development of the oil palm industry in terms of employment, the formation of cooperatives, and plasma schemes. However, later on, once the indigenous community become aware of the threat, they do not get anything from the palm oil companies.

I don’t believe the RSPO has a positive impact on deforestation or land-grabbing

Photo: Craig Jones Photography, the aftermath of industrial-scale destruction of a rainforest in Sumatra


The expansion of oil palm plantations has created many detrimental environmental impacts, such as deforestation, loss of biodiversity, land conflicts, labour conflicts, and social conflicts around plantations.

Dr Setia Budhi

Environmental damage and social injustice were reasons why the global palm oil certification, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established. There was also a rival certificate established in Indonesia in 2009: Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO).

In practice, requirements for oil palm certifications are easily violated

Lots of things are problematic. Often location permits are issued by the central and local governments and they neglect important social responsibilities to indigenous peoples.



Many methods have been tried before, yet deforestation continues to get more and more massive problem. I think brand boycotts send a very clear message to big food companies

dr setia budhi

I support the #Boycott4Wildlife

So far, all brands that are members of the RSPO have been linked to deforestation. The important thing is, we actually replace those brands with ones that have nothing to do with palm oil.

Dr Setia Budhi

There must be a stronger way to voice the interests of indigenous peoples and the dangers of rainforest threats for them!


‘I support the #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife because so far, all brands in the @RSPOtweets have been linked to #deforestation. We should replace those brands with ones that have nothing to do with #palmoil’ @setiabudhi18


Most palm oil deforestation risk in Indonesia is concentrated on Kalimantan

[Source: Trase Insights]

Most palm oil deforestation risk in Indonesia is concentrated on Kalimantan
Most palm oil deforestation risk in Indonesia is concentrated on Kalimantan [Source: Trase Insights 2018]

Fire and destruction of orangutan habitat in RSPO palm oil plantations in Sumatra (May 2021)

The growing demand for #PalmOil threatens Indonesia’s rainforests – with #satellite images & data @ConradinZ, @BarJack and I analysed plantations with the RSPO label to see if they hold their promise of sustainability. We looked at three common issues 👇🛰️

https://www.nzz.ch/international/nachhaltiges-palmoel-bedroht-regenwald-indonesien-ld.1610359

1) Fire outbreaks in and around palm oil concessions (often starting from slash-and-burn fires to clear land for plantations).

2) Concession that stand on former peat forests (and are thus more fire-prone).

3) The clearing of primary rainforests for new plantations.

We used #map data provided by @globalforests and @UMBaltimore, #sentinel2 images from @esa, concession boundaries from @RSPOtweets and #fire hotspot data (#VIIRS) from @NASAEarth. Oh the wonders of #OpenData #OSINT.

Read the entire article

The problem & potential of #ecolabels in 3 images: The left concession detains fires from outside thanks to mandatory fire management. On the right concession, the fire starts within and destroys orang-utan habitats. The fire was not investigated by RPSO. #SWIR #satellite 🛰️

Originally tweeted by Adina Renner (@adinarenner) on May 10, 2021.


The rainforests of Kalimantan and Papua rank 3rd largest in the world – we are very proud of this. This region’s rainforests are decreasing by millions of hectares per year for investment purposes…



Oil palm plants need pesticides. And the effect of pesticides kills fireflies Photuris lucicrescens

We have lost the light and the story of romantic night


When “forest” is defined solely on the basis of tree cover – this puts rainforests, animals and indigenous peoples in jeopardy


We use the word “forest” to describe a wide variety of situations

This leads to excuses for the environment being destroyed. These practices give rise to a false sense of accomplishment when the forests that are reported to cover substantial parts of the tropical landscape hardly resemble “old growth”.



A winged seed sower of the rainforest: Megabat Acerodon jubatus, a giant flying fox.
A winged seed sower of the rainforest: Megabat Acerodon jubatus, a giant flying fox. Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on August 24, 2021.

Hornbill species are present in every traditional Dayak ritual

They are a regional symbol in Balinese Dayak dances. Almost all places in Borneo, Malaysia and Brunei revere the hornbill as a special bird. Even the logo at my university where I teach is a hornbill!

As they fly around, these hornbills disperse seeds of the fruit they eat around 100 kilometres away.


There are many species of hornbill found only in Borneo

Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on July 31, 2021.


They are a regional symbol in Balinese Dayak dances. Almost all places in Borneo, Malaysia and Brunei revere the hornbill as a special bird. Even the logo at my university where I teach is a hornbill!

As they fly around, these hornbills disperse seeds of the fruit they eat around 100 kilometres away.




Hornbills are underappreciated workers and unpaid farmers helping to expand the majestic forests of Kalimantan!


I’m deeply sad that these Hornbills are likely to go extinct from deforestation

Their breeding grounds in the forest are getting thinner by the day! Hunting for hornbills is still happening despite them being declared as protected species. We should all love hornbills as forest farmers who work voluntarily and unpaid.


I like seeing Proboscis monkeys because it’s a sign that the rainforest is still in a good condition


The proboscis monkey is in danger of extinction

I’m head of the proboscis monkey community on Sebuku, a small island in Southeast Kalimantan. The Proboscis Monkey Nasalis larvatus is endemic to coastal areas of rivers and mangroves. They have many names in different regions and are known as Bangkatan in Brunei.

Proboscis monkeys give birth only once per season and this gestation lasts about 166 days. Newborns have a blue face and sparse almost black fur. At the age of 3 to 4 months there is a change in colour which indicates their maturity to adulthood.

Their peat forest home is starting to narrow as the mangroves are being cut down, causing the proboscis monkey colonies to be pushed out.


Most woodpecker species live in forests or woodland habitats, but I’ve never seen them in palm oil plantations

Woodpeckers are part of the family Picidae, that also includes the piculets, wrynecks, and sapsuckers. Members of this family are found worldwide.

Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on August 27, 2021.


It is the people who live in the tropics who will determine the fate of rainforests

~ Dr Setia Budhi

Photos: Craig Jones Wildlife Photography


Global campaigns may go a long way in slowing the rate of loss of natural tropical forests, but in the end it is the people living in the tropics who will determine the fate of these forests.

Photos: Craig Jones Wildlife Photography


Menjadi Petani (bahasa Dayak Ngaju “Malan”), hidup damai dan berkah. Tanam sendiri, penen sendiri dan yang penting tidak ada Korupsi.

Be a farmer (Dayak Ngaju “Malan”), live in peace and blessings. Plant yourself, harvest yourself and most importantly there is no corruption.

Originally tweeted by Dr.Setia Budhi @BerukHutan @Ethnographer (@setiabudhi18) on July 7, 2021.



In Indonesia, a forest functions simply as a mode of investment and production

Together we can gain insights from people working in economics, geography, sociology and political science. Tropical forest conservation should remain an interdisciplinary and multi-scale endeavour.

Indonesia is rich with natural foods such as sago and tubers. However the government’s food security program: indigenous food sources continue to be destroyed.

Dr Setia Budhi

The full range of forest users must be considered in the policy-making process, which should be developed and implemented with the involvement of indigenous activists.


Cempedak Artocarpus integer is a rainforest fruit in Borneo


The supermarket should provide natural foods for indigenous peoples

Sago, cinnamon, palm sugar, and root foods. Not preservative filled, unhealthy convenience foods.



Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs by palm oil companies are not just about distributing rice, sugar, coffee, cooking oil, instant noodles to indigenous people


Existing CSR programs were generally conceived to centralise the community around an oil palm area, not to empower the community with cultural knowledge.

Dr Setia Budhi

Palm oil companies should instead study the knowledge and culture of local people, their local wisdom. Companies should not ignore social hierarchies. Instead they should invite indigenous peoples to sit together to build agency and autonomy in their own ways and for their own environmental and cultural priorities.


A great CSR program should empower the indigenous community to enrich their indigenous traditions

Here are some examples:

  • Establishing forest areas to restore important cultural functions with endemic plants.
  • Mobilising and educating indigenous youth to protect against the extinction of traditional medicine.
  • The promotion of natural forest-based jobs.
  • Programs that protect local people’s food so that they can obtain this from the forest and rivers, in a sustained, long-term manner.

In my observation, there are phases to conflicts between Indigenous people and palm oil companies…

Photo: Dayak Longhouse, PxFuel.



1. Location and plantation permits

The permit issued by the central government and local government often differs from the physical land area. Instead, the land on the permit overlaps with land managed by the indigenous community long before the plantation permit was issued.

Photo: Craig Jones Wildlife Photography.

2. Plasma Plantation development

This cooperation is not balanced, so the community is often disadvantaged in this agreement. The land set aside for the community for plasma plantations is also included in the Business Use Rights (Hak Guna Usaha) document.

Plasma smallholders are farmers who took part in the Plasma Transmigration Program (Perkebunan Inti Rakyat, also known as PIR-Trans), set up by the Indonesian government in 1987. Under the scheme, villagers from rural parts of Indonesia were relocated to oil palm growing areas and given two hectares of land to farm, as well as another 0.5 ha for their housing and food crops.

The plasma farmers were partnered with a local company which provided employment while the land was prepared, and after four years the oil palms were ready for harvesting.

The plasma farmers agree to sell their produce to the company at a price set by the government.

Asian Agri: Indonesia’s Plasma Farmer Scheme Explained (2018)

3. Plasma plantation promises

Oil palm companies are often not strategic in their development of plasma plantations. Commonly these are located far from farmers’ homes making them hard to access. The plasma plantation will have inappropriate and less fertile land with poor seedlings and a small number of plants set aside for plasma plantations.



As consumers, we can all do our part to help keep the forests standing



You can find and follow me on Twitter if you wish @Setiabudhi18





Photography, Art: Craig Jones, Jo Fredricks, Dr Setia Budhi, PxFuel.

Words: Dr Setia Budhi



Further reading

Budhi, Setia. (2020). Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurs. Komojoyo Press. ISBN: 978-602-6723-75-8

Budhi, Setia & Al Syahrin, M. (2020). Rethinking Dayak Identity. Publisher: Komojoyo Press. ISBN: 9786026723741

Budhi, Setia & Sosiologi, Studi. (2020). Farmer Education Program.

Budhi, Setia. (2020). Kinship and Customary Law The Ngaju Dayak of Indonesian Borneo : Memories of European Anthropology.

Budhi, Setia. (2018). Two Window and One Rivers The Possibility of Dayak Meratus People in Capitalist Society. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences. 12. 90-93. 10.22587/ajbas.2018.12.8.17.

Budhi, Setia. (2018). Rain, River and Religion A Study of Negotiating Identity of Bakumpai People in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences. 12. 26-30. 10.22587/ajbas.2018.12.9.4.

Budhi, Setia. (2015). Bugis Pagatan: Migration, Adaptation and Identity. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. 20. 71-78. 10.9790/0837-20517178.

Gaveau, DLA, Locatelli, B, Salim, MA, yaen, H, Pacheco, P, Sheil, D. Rise and fall of forest loss and industrial plantations in Borneo (2000-2017). Conservation Letters. 2019; 12:e12622. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12622



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