My first impression of Sungai Batik was that it was perfect for a weekend getaway from the dust and noise of the city. There were magnificent trees towering into the sky. There was a burst of brilliant red blooms in the midst of luscious greenery. A stream nearby gave the whole scene a touch of romance; and the Dayak children in their rustic attire blended perfectly into the scene. This forested area was once large – the home of the Dayak for generations. The Dayak are gentle, jungle people who are shy of strangers. Their affinity for the forest comes naturally since it has been their home, work place, playground, and ‘shopping and trading’ place. At one time, all their daily needs – clothing, ornaments, food, medicine and shelter – came from the richness of the forest. These people could roam, hunt and gather for their daily needs from the abundant flora and fauna, taking only what they needed, without depleting the resources that nature provided. Now all that has changed.
The Dayak communities and the rainforest environment on which they depend are continuously threatened by several issues and problems. Underlying all the main problems facing the Dayaks today is the lack of recognition of their land rights. Under the Sarawakian land code, the Dayaks do have certain rights to land but these rights are not clear and have never been adequately defined. Logging is being carried out indiscriminately on the customary land of the Dayaks. In addition, without the knowledge of the Dayak communities, some of their land has been given to private companies to be developed into plantations. This is part of the state government’s plan to convert 1.5 million hectares of native customary land into oil palm plantations. Some of the native longhouse communities are staging peaceful protests to stop the operation of such companies. Besides that, the government, after targetting one million hectares of land for industrial tree plantations, has acquired some.