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Transformation of the land before the recent period

A not remote past
The impact of early mining
The first major phase of transformation
Environmental consequences of the first development wave

A not remote past

A forested landscape and its people

As late as the middle of the nineteenth century, over 95 per cent of the land area of Borneo and the Peninsula was still under forest. Early European travellers who climbed to high places provided descriptions of "ranges of hill and valley everywhere covered with interminable forest, with glistening rivers winding among them" (Wallace, 1869: 25). A small population, probably not more than 1,500,000 in Borneo and the Peninsula together in 1800 (Reid, 1988: 14), was already being augmented by immigrants, but the majority still consisted of two main groups of people. There were rice-farming and fishing lower-riverine and coastal Muslim people who spoke mutually intelligible dialects of Malay. Inland were shifting cultivators and hunter-gatherers who were mainly animist, tribally organized, and spoke a variety of languages. Only in certain more accessible areas were these people strongly influenced by Islam.

Until the early 1800s there was certainly a larger population in Borneo than on the Peninsula, and it is probable that the inland people were at least as numerous as the riverine and coastal people; the latter, however, dominated politically. This dominance, by small Malay states, was exerted more through tight control of trade, supported by waterborne armed power, rather than by direct military means. Malays initially settled in the Peninsula and Sumatra. They migrated to Borneo throughout the medieval period and into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but in the main they remained in the coastal area, penetrating far inland along rivers only in western and southeastern Borneo (Irwin, 1955).

In the Peninsula as well as in Borneo, both the coastal and interior peoples of the region collected a great range of forest products as well as mangrove and other marine products that were in demand overseas.Ļ Malay rulers established trading posts, and sometimes agents, at the mouth of each tributary stream (Helliwell, 1990: 19). At the coast and at riverine ports, produce was exchanged with seagoing traders (who from an early date were mainly Chinese, later also Indian and sometimes Arab) for a range of manufactured imports. These included particularly pottery, lacquerware, glass, fine textiles, and copper and ironware goods of high value (Andaya and Andaya, 1982). To the forest and marine exports were added gold, iron, and tin, sieved and mined, and smelted at locations both in the coastal regions and also far inland. Among the riverine and coastal towns, which competed and sometimes formed alliances, a very few rose to regional dominance: first, and outstandingly, Srivijaya in Sumatra and later, in the Peninsula and Borneo, Melaka, Johor, Patani (now across the border in Thailand), and Brunei. Brunei, which has existed at locations close to the present site for over 1,400 years, dominated the trade of most of northern Borneo and the southern Philippines between about A.D. 1000 and 1350, and remained important until the nineteenth century.≤ It was through the coastal ports that Islam entered the region, beginning perhaps in the fourteenth century and becoming dominant by the sixteenth.

The commercial - and often hostile - nature of the relationship between the Malays and the inland people had one consequence of lasting importance: only a minority of either the Orang Asli of the Peninsula or the Dayak, Kadazan, Murut, and Orang Ulu of Borneo were converted to Islam.≥ Most of those who were converted were coastal people, or were in areas where Malays penetrated well inland at an early date, particularly along the Kapuas and Barito rivers and their tributaries in Kalimantan (Perelaer, 1870; Enthoven, 1903; Hudson, 1967; Miles, 1976; Ave. King, and de Wit, 1983; Sevin, 1983). Christian missionaries, arriving in the nineteenth century and, after midcentury, free to operate in Borneo, began to make serious and partly successful efforts at proselytization among these people. Colonial officials in Kalimantan encouraged such missions, especially after 1900 when greater Dutch control was gradually secured over much of the interior. Administrators were hostile to further Muslim con version of interior Dayaks, although efforts were continued unobtrusively in some regions by Muslim trader-teachers. The Dutch attitude was partly a deliberate "divide and rule" policy and partly paternalism towards the Dayaks. An open revolt against Dutch sovereignty from 1913 to 1917 along southern parts of the east coast saw hasty conversion to Islam of Dayaks in the Meratus mountains as they were pressed into the struggle, but in general the Dutch policy of driving a wedge between coastal and interior people was successful (Black, 1985). A significant proportion of interior people remain animists even today, in both Borneo and the Peninsula. The recognition by the Indonesian government in 1980 of the animist religion "kaharingan" marked a political triumph for Dayaks in Central Kalimantan, and increased pride in claiming allegiance to the old ways. Despite this recognition, Sevin (1983) has pointed out that in 1980 Islam was the declared religion of twothirds of the population of Central Kalimantan, despite the fact that the province had been created specifically as a Dayak homeland, and that the percentagewas increasing.4

Consequences for the land

The written history of the pre-modern period is dominated by the rivalries between the coastal centres, the religious and other influences that came through them from India, Arabia, and China, and the later interplay with Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and British merchant venturers. More important from the standpoint of obtaining a historical perspective on modern environmental history, however, is to consider the implications of the mode of settlement and development for land, sea, and forest use and for demographic evolution. Agriculture was the main support for most of the population, even though a higher proportion than was common in pre-colonial countries may have lived in towns (Reid, 1988); in the forests a considerable proportion of dietary needs was obtained from wild sources.

By far the principal food crop has for many centuries been rice, sometimes supplemented by a range of root crops, in addition to fruits and vegetables. Rice is grown in several ways: in irrigated, bunded plots, transplanted from seed beds after ploughing and puddling of the soil using water buffalo, cattle, or hand-held hoes; broadcast or dibbled on permanently or seasonally wet land, prepared only by hand; and on slopes, operated on a land-rotational or shifting-cultivation basis. In some swamp areas there has been a fourth type, in which floating seed beds are used, sometimes with more than one transplanting as floods recede. There are several varieties of gradation between these basic systems, and we discuss one of them further in chapter 5.

Wet-field cultivation creates an enduring new landscape, but one that is quite specific to the flood plains and permanently watered swamps. Elsewhere in South-East Asia, but until recently hardly at all in Borneo and the Peninsula, slopes have been extensively terraced with field-to-field diversion of water. On flood plains, however, constant levelling to ensure even depth of water, and splitting and diversion of channels, can in time totally modify the original landscape and its drainage system. This is labour-intensive management, and it supports and requires relatively high densities of population. Such systems seem already to have been present in a number of valleys in the region in medieval times, probably having evolved from earlier and more casual systems. Hanks (1972) documents this process of historical succession in one area of Thailand.

Larger wet-rice areas became able to supply a surplus of rice not only to their own nearby urban populations, but also for export. Long before the nineteenth century, rice was the principal commodity traded within the SouthEast Asian region (Reid, 1988: 24). Within the Peninsula and Borneo, a number of concentrated areas of wetrice production evolved, especially in the northern valleys of the Peninsula, in the Hulu Sungai plain of south-eastern Borneo, and in the delta of the Kapuas in western Borneo. As population grew and migrants entered new areas, wet-rice cultivation extended up tributary valleys at the expense of former shifting cultivation systems. Samad Hadi (1981) traces this replacement in the Negri Sembilan area of the Peninsula, as Minangkabau settlers from Sumatra entered the region from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

In terms of area occupied, however, shifting cultivation was the dominant form of agriculture until late in the nineteenth century, though there are few firm data with which to test this assertion. Even into the twentieth century it remained more significant than is often recognized in parts of the Peninsula (Hood Salleh and Seguin, 1983). However, most shifting cultivation land lay in Borneo, and there it was managed under a very wide range of systems, which, in the modern context, we shall discuss in greater detail in chapter 6 below. How much of the Borneo forest was used for cultivation, semicultivation, and hunting and gathering is a question of some importance in evaluating the sensitivity and resilience of the forests. This is a question to which there are no easy answers but on which some speculation can usefully be offered.

The population history of the forests

Firm data on the population history of South-East Asia as a whole are extremely scanty before the later years of the nineteenth century. Almost all the existing, real evidence comes from the organized agricultural states where there was taxation, and some records survive and have been analysed. Reid (1988: 11-18) assembles this information to show that growth rates in SouthEast Asia, over an approximate period spanning the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were strikingly low, with actual declines taking place over these two centuries in some areas. At an average of about 0.2 per cent yearly, the growth rate before the nineteenth century was much below that of Europe, India, or China. Explanation is not easy, given that food shortages were rare and human health reportedly quite good in normal times, but it has to include "constant low-level warfare" and its consequences (Reid, 1988: 17). Moreover, it might also have to include a series of quite major epidemics, among which plague and smallpox were prominent during the seventeenth century, and smallpox at still later dates (Reid, 1988: 60-61).

Low-level, but savage, warfare was certainly characteristic of the Borneo interior during a major period of expansion by the Iban people from the western part, which began in the sixteenth century and continued into the twentieth (Padoch, 1982b: 15-16). Kayan groups were also involved in raiding during the early nineteenth century, moving into the Kapuas from bases in the Mahakam valley, burning villages, and capturing large numbers of slaves (Sellato, 1989: 42). As for disease, there is no reason from historical analogy of plague pandemics in the Eurasian mainland to suppose that even the people of the deep interior would have escaped its outbreaks, brought to them along the chains of ancient trade. Later, in the nineteenth century, there was certainly major mortality from both warfare and introduced disease in Borneo (Lien, 1987). When St. John (1862: I, 105) visited the lower Baram in eastern Sarawak in about 1860 he both saw, and heard of, many more large villages than exist in that region today. Lian (1987: 24) reports that fairly massive population decline forms an interwoven part of Orang Ulu history and is fundamental to any explanation of their flexible social organization, with its facility for assimilation and combination. Padoch (1983 and pers. comm.) describes considerable decline owing to epidemic disease among people deep inland near the Sarawak border of Kalimantan around the turn of the twentieth century. Chin (1985: 29-33) reproduces and comments on what seems to be the only detailed ethnohistorical account in the literature of an actual case of decline. It was documented in about 1966. Early in the nineteenth century, the Lepo Ga' Kenyah moved to the upper Baram River in eastern Sarawak from an inland region of nearby East Kalimantan now characterized by Imperata cylindrica grassland, and hence possibly cultivated to excess in the past. They had found local expansion difficult because of the hostility of the numerous Kayan people around them. Their numbers at this time, reportedly already reduced, were about 900 people. After a further decline to about 700, some of them visited the new river port of Marudi on the lower Baram, possibly in 1885. Soon after this, a massive epidemic - likely either cholera or smallpox - reduced them so greatly that only about 30 males survived. After further moves, made easier by the general decline of population around them by either migration or death, they resettled between 1910 and 1920 into their present area, at that time primary forest used only by the hunter-gatherer Penan.

Not only indigenous people but also Chinese settlers growing pepper quite deep inland behind Brunei seem to have declined and disappeared by the mid-nineteenth century (St. John, 1862: II, 312). More remarkable is the abandonment, probably early this century, of close settlement on the basaltic soils of the 1,000m Upun Asau plateau, dependent both on cultivation and on the low-yielding wild and planted upland sago (Eugeissona utilis). Abundant evidence of quite recent former occupation of this plateau was collected by an early exploring party in 1951 (Harrisson and Leach, 1954). Lian (1987: 2527) describes how the Kenyah, one of the Orang Ulu groups living around, rather than on, the plateau, migrated into the middle valleys progressively after the mid-1800s in search of trade goods, and perhaps also to occupy land left vacant by population decline or outward movement. This happened after early establishment of colonial government reduced the danger from head-hunting raids by the northward-migrating Iban. On the Kalimantan side, however, other groups remained in the highlands practicing wet-rice cultivation in valleys (Padoch, 1986). There are several more indications in the literature of possible population decline.

The detail of all this is unimportant for our purposes, but what is important is evidence that large areas of what now appears to be primary forest might have been occupied in the past, former inhabitants having either died or moved away. The grassland area in the upper Kayan valley of East Kalimantan, mentioned above, is unusual in this climatic region, as discussed further in chapter 9. The probability seems to be that at least some parts of the interior of Borneo, only 100-300 years ago, carried significantly more people than they do today, and that most of these people practiced shifting cultivation in association with gathering and hunting, although some also practiced wet-rice cultivation, and still do. In areas of western Borneo that still carry substantial concentrations of people, little "primary" forest can be identified; most of the forest is secondary with a large population of useful fruit and other trees, either planted or conserved. Elsewhere the forest can more appropriately be described as "primary," but, even in areas now populated by nomadic Penan in northern Sarawak, sago palms and long-lived fruit trees are conserved both by individuals and collectively through generations to ensure that their yield is sustained (Brosius, 1986; Langub, 1988, 1992). To its occupiers, the forest is a known set of resources to be worked over; much if not most of it has been exploited for centuries or millennia and, very probably, some it of has been affected more heavily in the past than by its indigenous occupiers even today. This has implications, to which we shall return.

Early intruders and their impact

Foreign gold miners and pepper, cassava (tapioca, maniac) and gambier planters have intruded into parts of the forest for centuries. The majority were Chinese, and they were already numerous in most states of the Peninsula and in several parts of Borneo in the eighteenth century, though their numbers increased rapidly after the establishment of Dutch and British coastal settlements that they could use as bases, independent of the local rulers (Jackson, 1968a). In 1854, when Wallace (1869: 21) travelled inland from Melaka in the Peninsula, he found some Chinese Jesuit converts at a village more than 20 km from the coast, who "were forming a gambir and pepper plantation, and in the immediate neighbourhood were extensive tin-washings, employing over a thousand Chinese." In northern Borneo there had been Chinese pepper plantations as much as 100 km inland (St. John, 1862: II,312) and Chinese farmers were settled a similar distance up the Kapuas River in West Kalimantan.

Extensive early commercial agriculture in the inland regions in fact began more than three centuries ago in South Kalimantan, as Dayak small-scale pepper growers were succeeded by waves of Banjarese Malays. Moving under coercion from their rulers into the hilly lands bordering the Hulu Sungai basin, they planted more and more pepper up to 250 km inland from Banjarmasin (Hudson, 1967). This lucrative cultivation, most of it on princely "apanage" lands, was extended by a nobility heavily involved in the export trade. Some two centuries of pepper cultivation under harsh and oppressive feudal conditions may have led to the first sustained creation of Imperata cylindrica grassland at the expense of forest in this seasonally dry region (Idwar Salleh, 1978; Potter, 1987a, 1993a; Brookfield et al., 1990). Much later, nineteenth-century Chinese cassava farming inland of Melaka on the Peninsula similarly led to an extension of grassland behind an advancing cultivation frontier, working up the interfluves between the Malay-occupied valleys and destroying the forest (Jackson, 1968a: 7679). In the same way in East Sumatra, advancing tobacco cultivation by Dutch planters led to widespread creation of grassland (Pelzer, 1978). The extent to which early extensive cash-cropping, between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, was responsible for the first major replacement of forest by grassland in historical times is unknown. However, it seems likely that it was not inconsiderable. Some big tracts of this grassland still exist, most widely in southeastern Borneo. However, a good deal was subsequently planted under rubber, and it seems quite probable that some large areas may have returned to secondary forest (see chapter 9).

The impact of early mining

Tin, gold, and iron in the Peninsula and Borneo

Mining of gold, iron, and tin, mostly from alluvial sites, has been practiced in eastern Sundaland for many centuries. Reid (1988) noted the importance of iron mining and smelting in parts of Borneo from the tenth century, first in the delta of the small Sarawak River (reaching the sea below Kuching) and later on the Karimata islands off the southwest coast, which supplied axes and parangs to Java. In the nineteenth century, the ready availability of Chinese metal put the Borneo industries into decline, except among remote Dayak groups. Schwaner (1853: I, 109-115) described small-scale iron workings he had visited on the upper Barito River, while Pijnappel (1860:

293-299) stated that iron smelting was the principal industry in Kotawaringan, in the far south-west of Central Kalimantan, and also provided a description of the mining and smelting activities. None of these workings seems to have left any permanent imprint on the landscape. Although Harrisson and O'Connor (1969) estimated the quantity of slag left behind in the Sarawak River delta at 40,000 tons, it has been shown by Christie and King (1988: 1415) that most of this "slag" is, in fact, natural concretions of laterite.

The beginnings of a more industrial form of tin mining in the Peninsula go back a number of years before the example seen by Wallace in the 1850s. There were Chinese miners in the region in the eighteenth century, but the real start was with a "rush" to the Larut valley in coastal Perak in 1848. The big expansion began in the 1870s, with the commencement of pit-working of tin-laden sands in valleys all the way down the west coast region of the Peninsula, and a little earlier on the Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, which continue the same mineralized belt to the south. In the western Peninsula, chaotic political conditions involving war arose between organized Chinese miners, Malay sultans, minor rulers, and villagers. Moreover, the northern part of the region at this time was still claimed as fief by Thai rulers. This chaos was the formal precipitating cause of the British "forward movement" in the Peninsula, which culminated in the establishment of colonial control over the three main tin-mining Malay states in 1874 (Emerson, 1937; Yip Yat Hoong, 1969; Andaya and Andaya, 1982; Gullick, 1983; Gullick and Gale, 1986). Stable political conditions then enabled a few large Chinese entrepreneurs to establish themselves much more securely, recruit labour more readily, and import pumping machinery to facilitate what was still essentially a manual industry, digging holes and extracting the ore by hand. Although civil administration quickly became firm, British involvement was still mainly in international commerce. Between 1880 and 1905, the export duty on tin alone made up between one-third and one-half of the total revenue of what became, in 1896, the Federated Malay States (Swettenham, 1907: 300).5

Chinese miners, working gold rather than tin, also played an important role in the political history of Borneo. Earlier, though on a smaller scale, a not dissimilar situation to that of the western Peninsular states in the 1860s and 1870s arose in West Kalimantan.6 Chinese gold miners, working since the late eighteenth century in the Sambas region north of the Kapuas River, became virtually independent of the Malay sultan during the first half of the nineteenth century. For a time, they were able successfully to challenge Dutch attempts to impose political control (Veth, 1856; Irwin, 1955). They spread also into what became western Sarawak early in the nineteenth century. In the 1830s and again in 1857, organized Chinese endeavoured to seize political control of the Kuching area of Sarawak. The first attempt was against the Brunei sultanate, still claiming suzerainty until 1841. The second was aimed at its successor, the merchant-venturer government of the Briton, James Brooke, to whom the western Brunei domains had been ceded in that year (Jackson, 1968b; Chew, 1990). The firmer imposition of Dutch control over Sambas in 1850-1854 (that part of Borneo agreed in 1824 to be within their sphere) was strongly influenced by concern over Brooke's expansive presence a short distance to the north.

The environmental consequences of early mining were already severe in the mid-nineteenth century, even from hand-working methods of extracting tin and gold. Streams were diverted to help sluice the gravels, rivers became laden with sand and silt, agricultural land was rendered sterile, and forest was cut down to provide timber and firewood. The heaviest impact was in the basins of the Klang and Perak rivers of the western Peninsula, especially the latter. When the colonial administrator Swettenham first visited what later became his fief, before large-scale mining began, he saw in the Perak River basin a tropical idyll:

Above that first [tidal] thirty miles of the PÍrak River the water ran clear as crystal over its sandy bed, and it was for the most part very shallow, with deep pools at unexpected places. For the next hundred and fifty miles ... the stream ... was dotted with islands, some of fair size ... Throughout the whole of this river-length were villages, large and small, usually divided from each other by several miles of heavy forest . .. Here then was PÍrak [in 18721873], a '`limitless expanse" of jungle; miles upon miles of forest, broken only by silver streaks, where one might, from a very high place, catch glimpses of some river. (Swettenham, 1907: 117-119)

By the time Swettenham wrote this piece, still before the worst damage was done, the whole PÍrak River was already a silt-laden eyesore, and it flows a deep ochre to this day.7

Coal and oil in Borneo

The sedimentary basins of coastal Borneo have considerable resources of soft coal, oil, and gas. As soon as steamships began to operate regularly to and within South-East Asia in the 1840s there was a need for local sources of coal, both for security of supply in case of European war and to reduce the huge costs of importing the quantities required by inefficient early engines. This demand was augmented by new sugar mills built in Java, and then the first railway constructed there in 1864. The first mine was opened in ceded territory within the Dutch "protected" Banjarmasin sultanate in South Kalimantan in 1846, and began production in 1849. During the 1850s, all Dutch needs were satisfied from South Kalimantan (Irwin, 1955: 163-165). The opportunity to put a Dutch nominee on the throne arose from a dispute over succession to the Banjarmasin sultanate in 1859, but violent opposition led to a war that dragged on for decades after assumption of full colonial control in 1860. The mines were closed by attacks early in the insurrection. Later, more small collieries were developed, some of them further north in East Kalimantan; there were two near Samarinda in eastern Borneo in 1878 (Bock, 1881: 30). The Pulau Laut mine off the coast of South Kalimantan became the largest private coal mine in the Dutch East Indies by 1912 and supplied 27 per cent of the colony's total (Lindblad, 1988: 39). Although of lower grade than the hard coal from mines later developed in Sumatra, Kalimantan coal still formed one-third of Indonesian output in the 1930s (Naval Intelligence Division, 1944: II, 265). There was also a small coal mine in western Sarawak by 1856 (Wallace, 1869: 27). Reactivated by the government to supply coastal steamers in 1872, it continued to produce until the early 1930s (Jackson, 1968b; Chew, 1990: 181-192).8

Petroleum was known to exist in the sedimentary basins of eastern and northern Borneo from the mid-nineteenth century, from quite numerous seepages in several coastal locations. Active drilling began in the 1880s. A struggling Dutch coal-mining entrepreneur made the first major discovery in 1897, near the mouth of the Mahakam River in East Kalimantan. After a period of "wildcat" exploration yielding a small production from 1899, the infant Royal Dutch company, previously exploring in Sumatra, made the major discovery in 1902. They entered into a lasting arrangement with Shell Oil to obtain capital, combining in 1907 to found the present multinational. A pipeline was constructed to the nearest deep-water harbour at Balikpapan, and the initially small refinery there became the main centre of the industry (Lindblad, 1988). Later, in 1907, production also began further north on the island of Tarakan (Furnivall, 1939: 328; Naval Intelligence Division, 1944, II: 257).

Successful development of oil in East Kalimantan inspired exploration along the northern coast of Borneo, and the first producing well was put down in 1910 at Miri Sarawak; export began in 1913 (Jackson, 1968b; Chew, 1990). It is ironic at this point to note that it was only in 1906, during this period of early oil development, that the much-reduced sultanate of Brunei was finally secured in its present confined boundaries, under British protection from the encroaching Brooke family rulers of Sarawak. The twist of irony lies in the fact that it was at Seria in 1929, close to the western boundary of tiny and impoverished Brunei, that the continuing Shell company programme of exploration was to make the largest single discovery of oil on land in Borneo. We take the history of mining onward from this time in chapter 3.

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