Punan Adiu: Forest is our mother

This visual reportage explores the struggle of the Punan Adiu Indigenous Community in protecting their customary forest. Combining photographs, historical archives, plant specimens and interactive satellite imagery, the story aims to decolonize and counter the status quo narrative where the indigenous people are represented as a passive community and have no rights to speak.

Punan Adiu is a village in Malinau District, North Kalimantan Province of Indonesia. As a hunter-gatherer, the Punan who inhabits the village, relies on forest as a source of food, medicine, water and all aspects of their life. After decades of living in the margin of society, where they did not have rights over their territory, the community eventually obtained legal recognition to protect and manage their customary forest.

It began in 2012 when they started participatory mapping and registered their customary land through a social forestry scheme in Indonesia. After years of deliberation and negotiation, in 2017, the Malinau District Government granted a decree on recognition and protection of Punan Long Adiu Customary Community. The community now has full rights to protect and manage 17,415ha (almost equivalent to Washington, D.C / 17,700ha) of their customary land.

As a natural sanctuary, the forest has significant roles in protecting biodiversity; provides food and contributes in reducing global emissions. A research in 2017 estimated 55,216 metric tons of CO2 emissions reduction per year is expected if the community can avoid deforestation.

What Punan Adiu has achieved in the long run is a representation of how civil society and indigenous people could persistently leverage their strength to challenge power dynamics and influence its equilibrium. The process takes time, but the result has eventually been transformative.

* Punan Adiu: Forest is our mother, is produced by Michael Eko in collaboration with Lembaga Pemerhati dan Pemberdayaan Dayak Punan Malinau (LP3M). This visual reportage is supported by Solutions Visual Journalism Initiative, organized by World Press Photo Foundation, Message in A Photo Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network.