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).
Brief histories of colonization of Southeast Asia by three waves of immigrants are given in Brookfield, H., Potter, L., and Byron, Y. (In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula (New York: United Nations University Press, 1995); and Wachtel, P.S., "People of the Asian Forests." Rainforests: The Illustrated Library of the Earth. ed. N. Myers, Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993.
The historical relationships and conflicts (religious, cultural, economic) between coastal Malays and forest dwelling Dyaks are addressed by Brookfield, H., Potter, L., and Byron, Y., In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula (New York: United Nations University Press, 1995. Williams, L. ("1,200 go missing in ethnic warfare," The Sydney Morning Herald, 3/5/97) and Solomon, J. ("Indonesia seems unable to stop rampage," The Wall Street Journal, 1999) report on the current bloodshed between the two groups.
Top scientists raise concerns over commercial logging on Woodlark Island
(10/21/2014) A number of the world's top conservation scientists have raised concerns about plans for commercial logging on Woodlark Island, a hugely biodiverse rainforest island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The scientists, with the Alliance of Leading Environmental Scientists and Thinkers (ALERT), warn that commercial logging on the island could imperil the island's stunning local species and its indigenous people.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Empower youth leaders
(10/09/2014) Want to save forests? Don't forget the youth, says Pedro Walpole, the Chair and Director of Research for the Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit environmental research organization promoting sustainability and social justice across the Asia Pacific region. 'Youth leadership in environmental management is key,' Walpole told mongabay.com.
An impossible balancing act? Forests benefit from isolation, but at cost to local communities
(10/07/2014) The indigenous people of the Amazon live in areas that house many of the Amazon’s diverse species. The Rupununi region of Guyana is one such area, with approximately 20,000 Makushi and Wapishana people living in isolation. According to a recent study published in Environmental Modelling & Software, a simulation model revealed a link between growing indigenous populations and gradual local resource depletion.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.