Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  13 minutes
Date:  2021
Genre:  Expository
Language:  Indonesian; English / English subtitles
Color/BW:  Color


Curator imageLaura Miller, Applied ethicist and instructor, Southwestern Illinois College, St. Louis Community College, Fontbonne University, and Webster University

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The Dyak Iban Way of Farming

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* New title added January 2023 *

If Not Us Then Who?  Film 3 of 7 
Kynan Tegar, a young Indigenous filmmaker, defends the long-established use of controlled burning in sustainable farming in his Sungai Utik village in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.


The Dyak Iban Way of Farming

If Not Us Then Who? Film 3 (12:30) 2021
The Dayak Iban Way of Farming

This is one of seven short films about sustainable living in the forests of Indonesia, Costa Rica and Brazil. Taken together, they tell a story of oppression, resistance, accomplishments, and confidence for the future.

Laura Miller
Applied ethicist and instructor, Southwestern Illinois College, St. Louis Community College, Fontbonne University, and Webster University

Please download the teacher's guide for maps, background information, suggested subjects, questions and activities.

"Then came the companies taking the trees, destroying the forest and ruining nature, and we became their scapegoat."

The Sungai Utik, Dayak Iban way of farming is that of their ancestors. Their cultivation techniques involve rotating fields and crops so that some fields lie dormant while others are farmed. It is this traditional method of opening a field for planting that has been deemed problematic, even illegal, since the Sungai Utik use carefully controlled burning to open their fields for planting. These fires have been said to cause pollution and forest fires, though the clearing of land by palm oil plantations, said to be the main source of these problems, faces little scrutiny. The loss of this traditional method of farming, including the right to burn the fields, would fundamentally change what it is to be Sungai Utik, Dayak Iban. Lost would be their way of farming, the rituals used to open fields, blessings and offerings, and their ability to provide for themselves.

This guide was created with the intention of exploring the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in the Global South. These experiences demonstrate the resilience of the people born in these locations and their struggle to maintain the connections to their ancestors through their cultural practices, rituals, and defiance.

I consider this to be a legacy project in which the contributors are seeking to honor the lives of their elders and those who have come before them. As an educator, I cannot replace seeing the faces, places, and lived experiences through the eyes of another. No matter how graphic a text depiction might be, the essence of experience conveyed through film is far more powerful. I encourage you to embrace this ethnographic approach to cultural anthropology and to embrace the narratives of peoples who have overcome modernization and threats from commercial interests and other harms, and who have found unexpected alliances and opportunities to thrive.


Other titles in the If Not Us Then Who? Collection:
3. The Dyak Iban Way of Farming

Download the Teacher's Guide


00:00:12.501 --> 00:00:19.376
For hundreds of years, we have been farming.

00:00:20.289 --> 00:00:28.765
Before Indonesia was formed, we were already farming.

00:00:31.626 --> 00:00:35.451
Then came the companies taking the trees,

00:00:35.451 --> 00:00:41.251
destroying the forest and ruining the nature.

00:00:41.251 --> 00:00:47.334
And we became their scapegoat.

00:00:47.334 --> 00:00:51.418
We only burn as necessary.

00:00:51.418 --> 00:00:55.312
We're not greedy, nor excessive.

00:00:55.312 --> 00:01:00.920
We farm as a way of life.

00:01:06.017 --> 00:01:09.020
I often did that when I was your age.

00:01:09.539 --> 00:01:12.188
My parents brought me to the fields.

00:01:12.188 --> 00:01:15.097
Farming had been transmitted to us
from generation to generation.

00:01:15.348 --> 00:01:21.262
He said that: "The first step in farming,
is to choose where the field will be this year".

00:01:23.342 --> 00:01:26.828
"After that, we look for omens,
which usually comes through dreams,

00:01:26.828 --> 00:01:30.042
only until we receive a good omen
can we start farming."

00:01:30.947 --> 00:01:33.334
That's what my father taught me.

00:01:34.083 --> 00:01:36.667
That is how we learned to farm.

00:01:41.815 --> 00:01:45.343
From farming we get paddy.

00:01:45.343 --> 00:01:51.668
But not just paddy, also many vegetables like cucumbers, pumpkins...

00:01:51.668 --> 00:01:54.461
We plant many different plants.

00:02:08.822 --> 00:02:15.220
We farm so that we can live the same way that our ancestors did.

00:02:16.463 --> 00:02:18.959
If we want to live sustainably as they did,

00:02:18.959 --> 00:02:22.820
we must follow their traditions and cultural values.

00:03:02.904 --> 00:03:06.106
In many places on the island of Kalimantan,

00:03:06.106 --> 00:03:09.322
indigenous Dayak farmers are being criminalized

00:03:09.322 --> 00:03:12.800
for practicing our culture of opening the field by burning it.

00:03:12.800 --> 00:03:16.149
There are indigenous farmers being trialed in court,

00:03:16.149 --> 00:03:18.969
some have been convicted and imprisoned,

00:03:18.969 --> 00:03:21.808
some have been freed after mass protests.

00:03:21.808 --> 00:03:25.614
Dayak communities uneased at the start of every farming season,

00:03:25.614 --> 00:03:28.963
whilst the big corporations that have been suspects

00:03:28.963 --> 00:03:32.404
in the forest fire cases continue business as usual.

00:03:32.763 --> 00:03:38.923
Will this continue to happen?

00:03:44.393 --> 00:03:46.794
We don't just carelessly burn the field.

00:03:46.794 --> 00:03:49.102
We call it "Nunu" in the Iban language.

00:03:50.925 --> 00:03:55.000
Before burning, we would observe the conditions around the field.

00:03:55.000 --> 00:03:58.492
We only start burning when it is optimal.

00:03:58.492 --> 00:04:04.310
On the edges of the field, we create partitions so the fire doesn't spread.

00:04:04.700 --> 00:04:08.506
We don't want it to spread to the forest nearby.

00:04:09.014 --> 00:04:11.451
So we look after the fire until it's out.

00:04:11.451 --> 00:04:14.526
Our field, for example, is not very big.

00:04:15.128 --> 00:04:18.186
It usually takes just around 2 hours.

00:04:53.751 --> 00:04:57.544
For hundreds of years, we have farmed traditionally.

00:04:57.544 --> 00:05:01.224
Ever since our ancestors,

00:05:02.496 --> 00:05:06.082
farming has always been our life.

00:05:06.612 --> 00:05:09.615
We farm to get paddy.

00:05:10.524 --> 00:05:15.880
We look for dreams, listen for signs before opening the field

00:05:15.880 --> 00:05:18.025
So that we can have a good harvest.

00:05:24.515 --> 00:05:27.791
When we have guests at the field, we offer them rice wine

00:05:27.791 --> 00:05:30.574
It's a sign of gratitude,

00:05:30.574 --> 00:05:32.626
like we've always done.

00:05:36.459 --> 00:05:39.835
If we have rice, we cook, and we eat together

00:05:42.218 --> 00:05:45.309
Like you, you are our guests at this field.

00:05:45.309 --> 00:05:48.634
You bring fortune to us.

00:06:54.323 --> 00:07:01.505
When we first open the fields, we "Nengah Ambo".

00:07:02.819 --> 00:07:07.977
We open the field together, with the whole family.

00:07:39.628 --> 00:07:43.417
The Dayak Iban way of farming is both a long and complex process

00:07:43.417 --> 00:07:46.784
Every stage of the farming season is accompanied by a ritual

00:07:47.562 --> 00:07:50.755
At the start of the farming season, we first ask

00:07:50.755 --> 00:07:54.330
for permission and blessing from the spirits.

00:07:55.285 --> 00:07:58.922
And at the end of it, we hold a harvest celebration called the "Gawai",

00:07:58.922 --> 00:08:01.925
expressing our gratitude for the harvest.

00:08:31.310 --> 00:08:34.860
We then clear the field,

00:08:34.860 --> 00:08:38.209
afterward we burn the field and then start planting.

00:09:07.323 --> 00:09:10.876
We have been farming in this area for around 3 years

00:09:10.876 --> 00:09:15.263
Every few years or so we move our fields

00:09:15.263 --> 00:09:20.270
On the next farming season, we'll move the field forward
continuing from the last field

00:09:20.270 --> 00:09:24.143
Leaving the previous field for maybe ten or even fifteen years.

00:09:24.521 --> 00:09:27.085
Only then, do we come back there.

00:09:27.697 --> 00:09:30.000
That's our way of farming.

00:09:30.000 --> 00:09:33.779
We wait for the old field to regain their fertility before returning to them.

00:09:35.361 --> 00:09:38.655
Dayak farmers open our fields by slash-and-burn.

00:09:38.655 --> 00:09:42.709
Coming back to previous fields, not opening new forest areas.

00:09:43.678 --> 00:09:46.845
Fields that were cultivated in the years past,

00:09:46.845 --> 00:09:50.940
once it has regained its fertility is used once more.

00:10:11.379 --> 00:10:15.988
Our family gets enough from farming,

00:10:15.988 --> 00:10:19.334
Until the next harvest, we don't need to buy any rice.

00:10:19.334 --> 00:10:25.861
If we get enough paddy from our fields,
we don't need to receive help from outside

00:10:26.497 --> 00:10:29.718
If we don't burn the fields,

00:10:29.718 --> 00:10:31.884
our paddy wouldn't be fertile.

00:10:31.884 --> 00:10:35.873
If the fields aren't burnt first then we won't have a good harvest.

00:10:35.873 --> 00:10:39.438
We can't farm traditionally without burning the fields.

00:10:39.890 --> 00:10:43.073
What will happen if we're not allowed to farm traditionally?

00:10:43.073 --> 00:10:48.772
Like our old paddies, it has been passed down for generations.

00:10:48.772 --> 00:10:51.848
For how many generations, we don't know.

00:10:52.126 --> 00:10:54.128
This is why we must continue farming traditionally.

00:10:59.497 --> 00:11:03.501
In Sungai Utik alone there are dozens of varieties of paddy seeds.

00:11:03.501 --> 00:11:08.464
These seeds are transmitted from generation to generation.

00:11:08.464 --> 00:11:13.468
If we can't continue our traditional way of farming
these seeds will become extinct.

00:11:18.670 --> 00:11:24.137
Sungai Utik's customary territory is more than 10,000 hectares big

00:11:26.184 --> 00:11:31.372
± 20% of it is used for settlements and farm fields.

00:11:31.372 --> 00:11:36.847
± 65% of it is a protected forest area
called "Kampung Galau" and "Kampung Taroh".

00:11:36.847 --> 00:11:42.314
± 15% of it is a production forest
which is used in accordance with customary law.

00:11:43.728 --> 00:11:47.388
All of it is owned and managed by more than 300

00:11:47.388 --> 00:11:50.263
members of the Dayak Iban community of Sungai Utik

00:11:50.891 --> 00:11:55.663
"The Dayak Iban Way of Farming"
A film by Kynan Tegar

00:11:59.509 --> 00:12:05.000
Interviews in order of appearance:
Kote, Kidao, Indai Jamet, Layang

00:12:09.267 --> 00:12:14.715
Opening song:
"Peladang" by Kepal SPI

00:12:16.874 --> 00:12:21.291
Forest fire archive
Nanang Sujana

00:12:24.211 --> 00:12:28.118
With special thanks
to Bima Valian

00:12:32.751 --> 00:12:39.261
Sponsored by:
If Not Us Then Who?


If Not Us Then Who?
Reviews by Isadora Lambert for Video Librarian 21 April 2023

The seven short films collected in If Not Us Then Who? chronicle sustainable practices in the forests of Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Brazil. While many environmental documentaries focus on the devastation humankind inflicts upon the world, these seven films demonstrate resilience and hope for the future.

Part One: Indonesia

Sungai Utik: The fight for recognition (21 min)

The first film in “If Not Us Then Who?” is Sungai Utik: The fight for recognition. At 21 minutes, this is the longest film in the collection. Sungai Utik profiles a Dayak community that follows sustainable practices passed down by their ancestors to protect forest lands. While outsiders see the financial gain in exploiting the forest’s resources, the Sungai Utik take only the resources they need and repay the earth for what they take by planting new trees. The film follows their quest to receive legal protection and fair treatment from the government.

Building a Longhouse as a Cultural Center (12 min)

The second film in the collection follows the Sungai Utik people as they build a traditional longhouse for the first time in fifty years. This building acts a cultural center where the community can gather, attend school, make food, and live together. The indigenous filmmaker of Building a Longhouse as a Cultural Center emphasizes the community effort that makes this construction possible and pays particular attention to the elders in the community.

The Dyak Iban Way of Farming (13 min)

This documentary short discusses traditional Dayak Iban farming methods. Their process involves rotating farmlands and utilizing carefully controlled burning. Although this is a traditional technique, the government has deemed controlled burning illegal due to pollution and forest fires. However, the true environmental damage is caused by massive palm oil plantations. The Dyak Iban Way of Farming demonstrates the cultural and ecological value of maintaining traditional practices.

Homecoming: Indigenous youth return to the land (8 min)

Homecoming: Indigenous youth return to the land focuses on Indigenous youth and how crucial this generation is to environmental activism. While many youths choose to leave their communities to study and work in cities, this documentary examines those who choose to return in order to help their communities by integrating tradition with sustainable planning.

Part Two: Costa Rica/ Brazil

A Sustainable Solution: Environmental tax to maintain forests in Costa Rica (7 min)

This documentary short highlights the impact Indigenous people have made in reducing logging in Costa Rica. A government program called Payment for Environmental Services supports sustainable practices and motivates communities. A Sustainable Solution proves that government intervention can have a positive impact on the environment.

Brazil's Warrior Women: Women’s movement wins access to babassu oil (8 min)

In Brazil, 400,000 women harvest nuts from the babassu palm in order to maintain a living. However, some ranchers and farmers pose a threat to these women, threatening to physically ban the women from the fields. Brazil's Warrior Women follows the passing of a law that allows these women to remain in the fields and provide for their families.


A Tribute to Dona Dije, Babassu Woman Warrior: An interview with the leader of the babassu movement (4 min)

A Tribute to Dona Dijé, Babassu Woman Warrior pays special tribute to Dona Dijé, a central organizer of the Babassu movement. In this interview, she reflects on how the movement has impacted both the protection of women as well as the Amazon.

These seven documentary films are unique in their emphasis on how Indigenous communities influence environmental conservation. “If Not Us Then Who?” champions perspectives that are often not shown on screen. These inspiring stories would be welcome in both high school and college classrooms.

What academic subjects would this film be suitable for?

This film would be suitable for students and library patrons interested in environmental studies, public policy, political science, and global studies.

How does this film contribute to a discussion of environmental or climate justice, and/or to environmental literacy? 

If Not Us Then Who? contributes to discussions of climate justice by demonstrating solutions for environmental issues, and prioritizing indigenous voices.

What type of library programming could use this title?

These short films would be perfect for library programming events focused on sustainable solutions for the future.


Main credits

Tegar, Kynan (filmmaker)

Distributor credits

Tim Lewis

Kynan Tegar

Docuseek subjects

Agriculture and Food
Organic and Sustainable Agriculture
Cultural Anthropology
Cultural and Ethnic Studies
Southeast Asia
Indigenous Studies
Economic Sociology
Environmental Sociology
Rural Sociology
Government Policy
Economic Anthropology
Environmental Anthropology

Distributor subjects

No distributor subjects provided.


Sungai Utik, West Borneo,; Indonesia, Kalimantan (island),; Kampung Galau reserve forest,; Kampung Taroh protected forest,Indigenous,land rights,Kynan Tegar,policy,recognition,United Nations Equator Prize,poverty,sustainable forestry,palm oil,longhouse,Sungai Utik,Dayak Iban,Dayaks,Borneo,Indonesia,Embaloh people,Bumi Raya Limited,Lanjak Entimau Limited,Apheng,NGOs,Kampung Galau,reserve forest,Kampung Taroh protected forest,Kampung,Endor Kerja, production forest,,Kalpataru Award,Equator Prize,from the United Nations,Development Programme,hutan adat (customary forest),Ministry of Environment and,Forestry of Indonesia,; "The Dyak Eban Way of Farming ";

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