The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter


A long time ago, I went to Indonesia and wandered around the jungles of the Island of Siberut. Well sort of, you see the jungle and its inhabitants (the wonderful Mentawai people) occupied a small sliver of protested forest that had been declared a UNESCO Biosphere reserve and now made a living playing “caveman” for tourists. I was one of those tourists but got more out of it than a muddy visit to an aboriginal disneyland. I was quite shocked really that the jungles of my dreams had mostly been cut down for palm oil  plantations and the indigenous population moved (often forcibly) into a government village (above) where they were expected to give up their beliefs and traditional cultures to become modern Indonesian citizens and work in the plantations that had once been their forest homes for landowners from Sumatra and Java.

This was on one small, tiny island in the Indian ocean but the situation is everywhere in South East Asia.

I have not managed (yet) to get to Borneo. The name alone has a dark, dripping tropicalness to it that makes me fear its myriad malarial horrors and yet still draws me in on a wish to explorer. It is a word as deep and round as an orangutan’s hoot and as mysterious as the sun-slatted undergrowth must be and it just makes my feet itch to get there.

I have heard, however that a lot of that jungle I imagine has also been cut down for palm oil plantations and more and more and more are planned. Nestle are the current villain de jour of rapacious plantation building and there is an internet campaign to draw attention to this fact here.

Even though Nestle have stated recently they no longer deal with Palm Oil from Sinar Mas, who actually manage and construct the plantations that sell to Nestle and have a shocking environmental record, Greenpeace say the concession do not go far enough and unethical palm oil could still be used in Nestle’s production. So join the campaign keep the issue in the minds of others, especially the nestle board. Consumer power is strong these days and if you keep up the pressure it may be enough to make something happen in some small way. If not very soon there will be no jungles left in South East Asia and the wildlife, indigenous peoples and wisdom of millions of years of human interaction with the worlds most luxuriant environment will be over. All for some chocolate.



One response

  1. Brilliant portrait, would love to see more from your trip there. Looks like a place I would like to visit.

    I was in Borneo about 12 years back, went up the Rejang river for a few days and walked/hiked my way back through the jungle on the logging trails and found vast areas of jungle had just been cut down, a real shame.

    March 31, 2010 at 1:55 pm

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