Asia is by far the most populous region on earth, and population pressures have pushed people into forested lands
where they interrupt the lives of the few remaining forest people. The original inhabitants of Southeast Asia were
dark-skinned, frizzy-haired, broad-nosed Australoids, some of whom moved into Australia. They were hunters, not
farmers, but nonetheless used a wide variety of plants for food, medicinal remedies, and other useful products.
These people since have been pushed into the extreme reaches of the rainforest by waves of immigration. Today the
original people of Asian rainforests are found only in remote parts of forests of the Malay peninsula, Borneo,
the Andaman islands, the Philippines (Palawan island), and New Guinea.
The Australoids were pushed farther into the forest by the arrival (about 7,000 years ago) of better farmers, the
Proto-Malays from India and Burma who had brown skin, wavy hair, and more Caucasoid facial features. These people were pioneers of the domestication of plants. From 5,000 to 3,000 years ago, the Deutero-Malays arrived
from southern China. They have Mongoloid features and today are the dominant people of Southeast Asia; almost none
are found in the rainforest.
Because of the tremendous population of Asia, very few rainforest peoples continue their fully traditional way
of life. Even so, those that do follow their forest beliefs have rich traditions. Like forest peoples of other
regions, many Asian forest dwellers believe in close spiritual ties between human and animals. In fact, many believe
that their souls interchange into the bodies of animals during sleep or at death. Shamans, the so-called "witch-doctors"
of tribal rainforest peoples, claim the ability to communicate with animal spirits through trances. Often shamans
claim to take the form of a tiger, much as the shamans of the New World often take the form of a jaguar.
Lanten girl in Luang Namtha Province, Laos. Click image for more pictures of hill tribes in Lao PDR.
ASIAN FOREST PEOPLES TODAY
As mentioned earlier, the forest peoples of Asia are few, existing in a few traditional enclaves, because of historic
migrations and encroachment on their lands due to overpopulation. Some of the few remaining groups are directly
threatened by the Indonesian transmigration program, which is working to move millions from crowded Java, Bali,
and Lombock to Sulawesi, Sumatra, Borneo [Borneo news], and Papua [New Guinea news]. The stated goal is to reduce population pressures from highly populated central islands and to develop outer islands through road, communication, and city construction. The people who suffer most from this program are the original inhabitants of these outer areas. The program has
resulted in great deforestation for fuelwood and building materials for colonists' needs. In addition, the program
has contributed to stirring up the anti-Indonesian feelings of those residents of the lands conquered by Indonesia
during its aggressive expansion campaign of the late 1960s. In East Timor, for example, tensions between the Indonesian
military and locals who desire independence led to violence and eventual UN intervention. Large-scale logging throughout
Indonesia, especially in Borneo and New Guinea [New Guinea news], has displaced thousands of tribal peoples.
Dani farmer in Indonesian New Guinea. Click image for more pictures of the Dani tribe.
Indonesia's official transmigration program is now waning, but informal transmigration is still occurring through development schemes, especially in the plantation sector, where workers are brought from one part of Indonesia to another to work on timber plantations and oil palm estates. In fact, these projects sometimes generate animosity by using imported labor rather than employing local workers. These conflicts are especially apparent today in Indonesia New Guinea (mostly West Papua) and Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan).
Peru delays oil drilling in the Amazon to consult with indigenous peoples
(05/20/2013) Peru has delayed auctioning off 27 oil blocs in the Amazon in order to conduct legally-required consultations with indigenous groups in the region, reports the Guardian. Perupetro S.A., Peru's state oil and gas company, has announced it will auction 9 blocs off the Pacific coast, but will hold auctioning off the controversial oil blocs in the Amazon rainforest at least until later this year.
NGO: conflict of interests behind Peruvian highway proposal in the Amazon
(05/16/2013) As Peru's legislature debates the merits of building the Purús highway through the Amazon rainforest, a new report by Global Witness alleges that the project has been aggressively pushed by those with a financial stake in opening up the remote area to logging and mining. Roads built in the Amazon lead to spikes in deforestation, mining, poaching and other extractive activities as remote areas become suddenly accessible. The road in question would cut through parts of the Peruvian Amazon rich in biodiversity and home to indigenous tribes who have chosen to live in "voluntary isolation."
Rainforest tribe urges Norwegian king to recall energy executive
(05/13/2013) In an unusual bid to stop a series of dams that will flood their rainforest home, a group of tribesmen in Borneo are urging King Harald V of Norway to call one of his subjects home. The subject is Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, a Norwegian citizen who is the CEO of Sarawak Energy, a Malaysian firm that is building several dams in the state of Sarawak. The hydroelectric projects are controversial because they require the forced displacement of indigenous communities and will flood large tracts of rainforest.
Central America's largest forest under siege by colonists
(05/06/2013) In the last four years, invading land speculators and peasants have destroyed 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) of rainforest in Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, according to the Mayangna and Miskito indigenous peoples who call this forest home. Although Nicaragua recognized the land rights of the indigenous people in 2007, the tribes say the government has not done near-enough to keep illegal settlers out despite recent eviction efforts.
Tribesmen launch 'occupy' protest at dam site in the Amazon rainforest
(05/03/2013) On Thursday roughly 200 indigenous people launched an occupation of a key construction site for the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. The protestors, who represent communities that will be affected by the massive dam, are demanding immediate suspension of all work on hydroelectric projects on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers until they are properly consulted, according to a coalition of environmental groups opposing the projects.