Pak Anden: the Dayak Elder and Village Chief

by David Metcalf

Pak Anden greeted me by smudging my forehead and cheeks with a white powdered paste. After I received my traditional Dayak blessing, we talked about the issues facing his village Kanarakan, located on the Rungan River in Central Kalimantan, two hours by boat from the modern city of Palangkaraya, the capital of this huge province.

A calm and gentle man, Pak Anden was born in 1942 and has seen huge changes in his 70 plus years, some good and some not so good. The last few years in particular have seen tremendous changes in his village and the local environment and he considers the greatest challenges to be the pollution of the Kahayan River from illegal gold mining, the destruction of the environment from the many palm oil plantations in the area, lack of educational opportunities for the children, and how to educate the farmers to move to sustainable farming methods.

Pak Anden conveyed his concerns to me as we talked in the front porch of his simple dwelling. “It is hard to get the people in the village to understand that we must consider the future generations when we use the land and the rivers. Without them we are nothing. The people in the village have grown up with plentiful food and fish, however things are now changing and unless we change our ways, our village will not survive and we will have to move to the city. I fear for the future of our culture if this was to happen.”

Pak Anden is a visionary man and sees the solutions in education and part of this is welcoming outside visitors. “We have had visits recently from Prince Henrik of Denmark, the Australian and Norwegian Ambassador and the ex Prime Minister of Denmark, Mr. Large Rasmussen.”

“I hope they can help us with education and support for our health program,” he said, “We want many visitors to come and stay in our village. We have a home stay program and love to express our Dayak culture by telling stories and expressing our culture through music that has been passed down from our ancestors.”
Anden’s daughter Firiasi is the first person in the village to complete a tertiary education. She gained her degree in midwifery in 1993 and moved back to the village in 2003. Lia is also a nurse and is responsible for the health services in the village, including health education, not just for Kanarakan, but the nearby villages.

As Anden bid me farewell, I felt the people of his village were in very safe hands as this man has tremendous passion and love for his village despite the many challenges that lay ahead.

Author: David Metcalf

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