Sekolah Adat Arus Kualan

On the fertile soil of East Kalimantan, there is hope for indigenous communities facing the challenges of forest loss. At Sekolah Adat Arus Kualan (Arus Kualan Indigenous School), nature is a respected teacher and the learning process is combined with efforts to maintain Dayak culture. /Photos Sekolah Adat Arus Kualan

For generations, the Dayak people have cherished their land, viewing every tree, river and living thing as part of their identity. The loss of forests in Kalimantan threatens the traditional knowledge and way of life of indigenous peoples. Being heavily dependent on forests for food and resources, forest loss jeopardises well-being and cultural ties. Urgent conservation efforts and sustainable practices are essential to preserve Kalimantan’s forests and safeguard its heritage for future generations.

As Dayak communities grapple with the threat of deforestation and climate change, Arus Kualan emerges and focuses on environmental stewardship. The school integrates conservation teachings into its curriculum. Students are immersed in nature through jungle treks and wildlife observation thus fostering a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living things.

Established in 2014, Arus Kualan has branches spread across East Kalimantan as a beacon of cultural preservation. The school forms a diverse community of learners who want to preserve Dayak heritage. Over the past decade, Arus Kualan has witnessed a growing interest in its mission, with approximately 350 students enrolled from 2014 to 2023. Currently, around 168 students are actively participating in the school’s transformative programmes.

Sekolah Adat Arus Kualan
Sekolah Adat Arus Kualan

Rooted in the belief that local wisdom is key in sustaining cultural heritage, this non-formal educational institution instills the art of dance, music, and traditional crafts to its students. Based on the philosophy that ‘nature is a school and everyone is a teacher’ Arus Kualan embraces learners of all ages. It also forces and empowers children to become cultural heirs.

Like Selsi and Elis, their life journeys illustrate the profound impact of education in shaping inclusive and sustainable communities.

A 12-year-old Selsi has found her passion in teaching the art of playing the sampe, a traditional Dayak musical instrument. Beyond music, she also teaches various ancient games and the intricate art of traditional weaving. 

With enthusiasm, Selsi reveals, “Arus Kualan has given me the opportunity to learn about my culture and inspire others to embrace our traditions. I am so happy to see my friends learning and preserving our heritage.”

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Elis, who has strong ancestral ties, is passionate about preserving traditional medicine. Inspired by her grandmother, also a member of the Dayak indigenous community, Elis passionately embraces her role as a tabib (traditional healer).

In addition, her fluency in English moulded her into a cultural ambassador. She always warmly welcomes guests from other countries and guides them through the wonders of the Arus Kualan.

“I want to bridge the gap between our cultural heritage and the world. By sharing knowledge about traditional medicine and arts, we can create a deeper appreciation of our identity,” Elis says.

Selsi and Elis understand the importance of protecting their forest for traditional medicine and community wellbeing. She commented, “The more I learn about nature, the more I feel connected to our cultural roots. Arus Kualan has taught me that we are the custodians of our environment, and it is our responsibility to protect it for future generations.”

Elis also added, “I believe that we hold the key to preserving our cultural heritage and environment. Through direct experience with the wonders of nature, we can foster a deep appreciation of our traditions and the interconnectedness of all living things.”

And, realising that literacy is the gateway to knowledge and empowerment, the school also places great emphasis on building reading and writing skills and seeks to equip its students with the means to become confident communicators and critical thinkers. In this way, students can effectively express their thoughts and aspirations.

Sekolah Adat Arus Kualan

They organise literacy classes for children to learn reading, writing, even foreign languages and computers. These classes are designed to arouse curiosity and broaden students’ horizons, allowing them to connect with the outside world.

Selsi and Elis exemplify the transformative potential of this education. As they explore academic excellence, they sow the seeds of cultural preservation. Their success is a testament to the interwoven fabric of cultural heritage and personal growth nurtured at Arus Kualan.

Plorentina Dessy, Founder of Arus Kualan Indigenous School, expressed her pride, “Seeing Selsi and Elis fulfill their roles as teachers and ambassadors, gives us hope for the future. They represent the heart and soul of Arus Kualan’s mission. These two students, now proud teachers, are cultural catalysts. They inspire hope and dedication in the next generation, passing on the wisdom acquired at school.”

Plorentina hopes the school can become a model for indigenous communities in other countries, particularly in the Southeast Asian region, where modernisation poses a significant threat to the survival and cultural identity of indigenous peoples.  

Sari Widiati

Sari Widiati

Sari has been an arts and culture enthusiast for many years. She has written extensively on the arts, travel, and social issues as Features Writer at NOW! Jakarta.