|Hidden Treasures Of Sarawak's Northern Highlands
By Linda Khoo Hui Li
ULU BARAM (Miri), Dec 2 (Bernama) -- The northern highlands of Sarawak are not only rich in bio-diversity but also has vast cultural sites, remnants of the early culture that once thrived on the Land of the Hornbill.
The Pulong Tau National Park encompassing the highlands constitute the 17th national park in the country and is where the headwaters of the major rivers in the northeast of Sarawak can be found.
This national park, gazetted on March 24 last year, covering 59,817 hectares, also includes Sarawak's highest peak Mount Murud, at 2,424 metres above sea level, in the north and the Tama Abu Range in the south.
Pulong Tau, which literally means 'our forest' in the Kelabit and Lun Bawang dialects, is located within the Miri and Limbang divisions in the Kelabit highlands.
To get to the Pulong Tau National Park, one has to take a flight from Miri to Ba' Kelalan. Then one can either walk from Ba'Kelalan to Lepo Bunga, which is about 10 hours' walk or take a three-hour ride on a four-wheel drive vehicle.
It's an important water catchment area where the streams in the park feed the major rivers of Baram, Limbang, Tutoh and Kelalan, which benefits residents in the Miri and Limbang divisions. The Baram and Limbang rivers which are 635km and 275km respectively, are the second and third longest river in Sarawak after Rejang.
The Pulong Tau National Park is the second Transboundary Biodiversity Conservation Area (TBCA) project between Sarawak and Indonesia endorsed by the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO).
TBCA involves the Pulong Tau National Park in Sarawak and Kayan Mentarang National Park in north Kalimantan.
The first transboundary bio-diversity conservation is between the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary in Sarawak and Betung Kerihun National Park in west Kalimantan, Indonesia, in 1994, now considered a model for global bio-diversity conservation in the region.
The Pulong Tau National Park Transboundary Biodiversity Conservation project manager Dr Paul Chai said: "Although the park encompasses the two mountain ranges of Mount Murud and Tama Abu Range, it excludes the adjacent spectacular twin peaks of Batu Lawi.
"About 819 species of plants including flowering plants, ferns and fern-allies, 58 species of mammals, 315 species of birds, 11 species of reptiles, 40 species of amphibians and 84 species of fish have been recorded."
Geologically, Batu Lawi and Mount Murud are related.
A proposal has been made to establish the Batu Lawi National Park, an extension of the Pulong Tau National Park around Pa' Lungan. With this, the Pulong Tau National Park will cover almost 160,000 hectares of important natural habitat for many species of plants and animals.
The inclusion of this area is vital as the magnificent landscape of the Pulong Tau National Park and the diverse culture of the highland people are important eco-tourism assets that, when developed, would create employment and business opportunities, Chai said.
He said the ITTO had started surveying and mapping at cultural sites of the Kelabit and Lun Bawang communities and a similar survey on the Penan community would be conducted separately.
Wilhelmina Cluny, the project officer who mapped the Kelabit cultural site, said the survey was conducted on the request of the local communities to locate and map the cultural sites.
It was done with the help of the locals from Ba'Kelalan, Ramudu, Pa' Mada, Pa' Bangar, Pa' Main, Pa' Lungan, Pa'Umor, Pa' Ukat, and Pa' Berang, who were familiar with the sites, she added.
The survey confirmed the existence of 84 cultural sites on the highlands. Out of this, 40 are stone monuments (megaliths), which comprise 16 carved stones (Batuh Narit), 11 menhirs (Batuh Senuped), four dolmens (Batuh Nangan), four collective stones and five cursed stones, as well as 40 burial sites, while four are non-megaliths.
Cultural sites refer to burial sites and stone monuments and non-megalithic features that have been made on the forest landscape and environment.
Cluny said the stone or rock monuments were deliberately placed or worked by man. They were incised, carved, shaped, hollowed out or balanced. Megalith practices during greeting and naming ceremonies are unique to the Kelabit culture.
"Megaliths are very rare nowadays and therefore preserving their legacy in Sarawak is highly pertinent," she added.
MORE ON MEGALITHS
"For example, Batu Narit Arur Bilit in Pa' Umor depicts a human figure with both arms stretching upwards, a symbol of strength of the headhunters, and the 28 horizontal lines below denote the number of enemies' heads. The carving is believed to be the work of Upai Semaring, a renowned warrior.
"Non-megalithic features are earth and landscapes that were cut and dug by man. For generations, the Kelabit and Lun Bawang people had practised many old cultures and traditions until the Borneo Evangelical Mission brought Christianity to the northern highlands in the 1950s."
She said a committee comprising locals and relevant department and agency for the protection of the cultural sites and ITTO would propose to include the area with vast cultural sites as part of the Pulong Tau National Park for the benefit of future generations.
So, as studies continue, the Pulong Tau National Park is set to unravel more of its treasures beyond its unique flora and fauna.