There are many inspiring people and projects working, in one form or another, to protect the unique rainforests of Borneo. As part of our mission we will be profiling and promoting a diverse selection of these, to help raise awareness, build networks, and encourage collaboration.

Our first featured project is a photographic expedition called “In the Footsteps of Carl Lumholtz through Central Borneo 100 Years After”: following the routes made famous by legendary Norwegian explorer Carl Lumholtz who researched and photographed Central Kalimantan between the years 1913 and 1917. The project is led by Narve Rio, Norwegian environmental research consultant, photographer and writer, and his colleague, Spanish photographer Diego Zapatero.

Image of Wood Carving

Wood carving in Teluk Julo also photographed by Lumholtz 100 years ago, Photo Diego Zapatero

It’s an amazing project, how did it begin?

The whole thing started with an old man I met in a small village by the Mahakam River. When he learned that I was from Norway he asked if I knew about the Norwegian Carl Lumholtz who visited his village 80 years ago. I didn’t, but I found that Lumholtz not only left a book about his 2 years of research in Kalimantan, and also hundreds of photos. Lumholtz did a tremendous effort in putting up his camera in the remotest places, and difficult terrain. He documented many cultural feats of the Dayaks and meticulously noted substantial amounts of information on customs and rituals in the villages he visited. Our project is about following Lumholtz routes around Kalimantan, search out the communities he visited.

What is your interest in Borneo?

My interest in Borneo goes back to 1997-1999 when I did 9 months of field work in East Kalimantan on two locations, half way up the busy Mahakam River, and down in a more remote location in Pasir Sub-district. At that time I was doing environmental economics research on the “budidaya rotan” agricultural system. That was at the very time that the threat to the Borneo environment started to get really serious. With my own eyes I could see how things escalated, how fast things were changing, also for the indigenous cultures of Kalimantan.

So what, do you think, are the key issues in Borneo?

My heart and my main research interest lies with the indigenous people’s cultural dignity and their right to live in, use and manage traditional lands and territories – to exercise their unmatched capacity to manage forests sustainably. I believe that securing the possibility of indigenous peoples to inhabit and protect their customary lands is essential to save whatever is left of global, dwindling cultural and environmental diversity.

What will this project achieve and what will be the main challenges?

In our eyes, the photo heritage from Lumholtz forms a 100 years old point of comparison to what we see in Borneo today. Lumholtz is renowned for adding a new level to academic research that was unique for the period. His work recorded social relationships, attitudes and the role of women in the tribal societies. Lumholtz gained international recognition for his natural science work, as an ethnographer, as a writer, photographer and lecturer. We feel that Lumholtz book and photographs gives us a unique opportunity, in a very visual way, to provide more contexts to the image of development impacts on nature and livelihoods. Lumholtz’s extensive research and photography of tribes, cultures and environment gives us a much richer and more visual picture to compare with than is normally the case – to contribute to shed a light on what has actually happened during 100 years.

Hong Bith, 80, one of the last long eared woman in  Long Tuyo Village, East Kalimantan, Photo Diego Zapatero

Hong Bith, 80, one of the last long eared woman in Long Tuyo Village, East Kalimantan, Photo Diego Zapatero

How did you make connections with Heart of Borneo Project?

The Heart of Borneo Project came up during research for the expedition and I was impressed with the web site and work. There is a lot of inspiration to get from following Heart of Borneo’s Twitter feed and website.

How can people follow or get involved?

Being a self-driven project, we keep any news coming on Twitter (@BorneoExp) and a dedicated blog – We are happy for every follower and every reader that wants to check out our project!

Interview with Narve Rio conducted by Neil Fraser, Communication and Outreach Manager, Heart of Borneo Project