'Heart of Ketapang' Warrior (english version)

Bang Doy
By Alexander Mering

One rainy morning, a third grader rushed towards a wooden motorboat that was about to leave upstream along Kepuluk River. Before anyone could stop him, Doy, the skinny child had jumped into the motorboat and sat comfortably alongside the loggers and logistic officers who worked for the timber companies along the river.

He could not wait to go fishing, to join his father and grandfather who had been staying overnight the past week at a hut by the rivers edge, in the middle of a 28 thousand hectares of peat swamp forest - to fish.


He sat right in front of me in the rainy weather at a small cafe in the suburbs of Ketapang for an interview. Although he was not a child anymore, people still call him ‘Doy’. In his identification card his full name is Abdurahman Al Qadrie; a civil servant who is also a teacher.

“At the time, it was the school holidays…it was in 1983,” he said, running his hands across his hair. It was December; the winds were strong and the seas were violent. To come to this cafe, Doy had to ride in the heavy rain and strong winds.

We were in Ketapang, a city located at the top of the delta between the South China Sea and the Pawan River. Of the 14 districts in the province of West Kalimantan, this the largest district with an area of 31, 240.74 km² .

Famous for its birds’ nest, mining and timber, this regency which is also known as Kayong land is infamous for being the fastest regency to destroy its tropical forests over the past 20 years. The damage was carried out by loggers, miners and huge oil palm plantations. The 90,000 hectares of forest at the Mount Palung National Park is located within the Ketapang Regency. It also connects the forests to Sukadana Regency, the last refuge for more than 3000 orangutans.

According to Project Manager for International  Animal Rescue (IAR) Foundation Indonesia, Karmele Liano sanchez, between 500 to 800 orangutans are trapped in the peat swamp forest of Permatang Gadung. The forest, that serves as a corridor connecting Permatang Gadung and other forests in the National Park has been destroyed by humans.

Based on data from Wahana Lingkungan Hidup (Walhi) West Kalimantan, this regency has been issuing the highest number of permits to open oil palm plantations. As of July 2013, there were 76 oil palm companies operating in Ketapang with an estimated area of ​​838, 855, 99 hectares.

Data from the Mining Department Ketapang highlighted 78 companies that were given exploration permits with a total area of ​​990, 060 hectares. Mining license holders operated 56 companies covering an area of 196,592.8 hectares. Whilst, the total ​mining area in Ketapang has reached 1,186,661.8 hectares.


Doy stared straight through the rain while awaiting for his coffee. Pondering silently, he recollects the past seemingly hidden behind the torrid rain. I ordered a cup of cappuccino, and the cafe owner, Marlin swiftly makes the hot brew.

For Marlin, Doy was not only his regular customer at the cafe but well-known among the regulars as a storyteller.

There was no music today, only the heavy sounds of the pouring rain. The electricity had gone out several times since the afternoon, and in the dimly lit cafe Doy’s shadow reminded me of George Duke, the legendary jazz keyboardist who passed away recently. But Doy was not Duke, although both had a thin wisp of a moustache and curly hair.  Doy was not even a Jazz fan!

Doy was lost in his thoughts. He lighted a cigarette and inhaled deeply without flinching at the slightest noise. He started talking again.

"My father is of Arab descent, a heritage tracing back to the Pontianak Kadriah Sultanate. He was a great teacher, who set up a school in Permatang Gadung. The school was later converted to a national school by the government and my father became a farmer later on. He spent his time fishing in the rivers and was always in the forests here at Permatang Gadung. With us, his children, he would go hunting, fishing and travel around frequently. He advised us to take care of the forest that gave us ‘life’,” said Doy, half muttering.

His father also kept three dogs as pets, although they are Muslim families. The dogs always accompanied the family trips to the farm, river, and especially when they hunted for deer in the forest.

Doy and the Permatang Gadung forest were not easily separated. He worked briefly at a construction company after finishing his education at the Government Technical Secondary School 1 Pontianak.

Doy did not stay long in the city and returned to his hometown in the village. The chirp of birds, hum of insects,, cries of the orang utan (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus), Proboscis monkey, (Nasalis larvatus), Triton (Presbytis rubycunda), Kelempiau (Hylobates muelleri), Langur (Presbytis cristata), and long-tailed macaques (Pacicularis macacca) that he often heard while lying in the hut with his father at the village was more melodious than the loud sounds of dangdut music that echoed in the dimly lit cafes in Pontianak city.

He remembered the glow from the fireflies, lighting the edge of the forests - a sight more magical than fireworks lighting up the night on a New Year’s eve celebration in the city. The unseen memories whispered silently, urging him to come home.

Doy was willing to be a part-time teacher in the village with a meagre salary of Rp 450,000 a month, as long as he could spend time in the forest of Permatang Gadung during the weekends. He would spend the time taking pictures, sniffing the smell of the peat swamp while enjoying the musical cacophony of the irreplaceable sounds of the forest - a luxury that could not be bought by Doy from a supermarket anywhere in the world.

There were not only abundant fish in the small streams in Permatang Gadung, but also various types of rare and unique flora and fauna. Their numbers are also at a critical level.

A study by the Ketapang Biodiversity Keeping and Kawan Burung Ketapang (KBK), found many species of amphibians from frogs to lizards, and reptiles such as alligators and also different species of insects, endangered primates  to rare birds. This included one of the most sought after flora in the world, the Black Orchid (Coelogyne pandurata).

For generations, the villagers in the area including Doy and his family have been keeping a close watch over the sacred forest.


A gust of wind blew the shutters nearby. The electricity had come on again. Doy was drinking his cold coffee. I called Marlin for another two cups of hot coffee. The cold was starting to creep over us.

“Bro, have you ever heard of the Storm Stork a bird of the family Ciconiidae?”

I shook my head, as I was not a bird lover; although we shared the same love of the forest and birds.

“The birds live there in Permatang Gadung. I used to keep one,” said Doy, his voice drowned by the rumble of thunder.

Later, I looked up the bird on the internet and found that the Storm Stork (Ciconia Stormi) was nearly extinct. The bird, distinctive with an orange - yellowish bare facial skin, with black and white plumage with red bill is thought to be only 250 to 500 left in the wild. Their habitats are limited to the areas of Sumatera, Kalimantan and Brunei.  

In 2011, a young civil servant, Erik Sulidra, accidentally captured the bird on his camera. The incident spurred Erik to join Doy and his friends on a photographic journey, capturing wildlife. Erik is now one of the best wildlife photographers in Ketapang.

At one time, in order to save a Storm's Stork chick at the hands of a hunter, Doy used some of the money he had from his meagre salary as a teacher. The chick was starving and had not yet grown its feathers. Doy brought the chick to his home in the village of Tuan-tuan in Ketapang. Mira, his eldest daughter named the bird, Edi. Two years later, Edi became healthier and more independent. Doy trained the bird near a swamp behind his house. In 2012, Edi was released into Permatang Gadung and in 2013 the bird appeared briefly near a pond at the home.

“It was only a brief moment, and then it flew again,” said Doy, whose daughter Mira had spied the bird.

In another incident, Doy asked a Chinese taukeh at the Ketapang wet market to release a grey crowned eagle that had been caught in a fishing line. As he had lost interest in keeping the bird, a voracious eater, he was happy to part with it. Doy was estatic and with Kawan Burung Ketapang and Ketapang Biodiversity Keeping members went to the Permatang Gadung forest to release the bird into the wild. 

Where is Permatang Gadung forest located? Doy was always full of praise for the area. He even dubbed it the ‘Heart of Ketapang’.

Administratively, the area is a jurisdiction under the Permatang Gadung village of the South Matan Hilir sub-district. It is located only about 30 kilometers from the city of Ketapang. It is almost entirely peat swamp forest, which is also  a secondary forest.  According to data recorded by the KBK, the total area is 28 thousand hectares. But now it is estimated that the size has been reduced to 14,000 hectares. The rest of the area is heath forest and deserted gold mines that operated without permits, covering more than 7,000 hectares as well a settlement area with a population of 2,839 inhabitants.

Doy grew up here. Born just four days before Christmas in 1975 to Yahya Abdulah and Syamsiah. They are a family of farmers, seasonal fishermen and hunters and had to feed 10 children. Doy was the seventh son.

I can feel Doy’s anxiousness. I tried to comfort him, although it seemed pointless. Only last month, I witnesses the Kepuluk River flooded turn into sludge, contaminated from illegal gold mines upriver. Never mind the crocodiles, even the seluang (devario regina) fish was almost difficult to find.

"I only saw a glimpse (of the destruction), could you tell me more, Bang Doy?”

He did not answer the question immediately. His hand reached for another cigarette. This was the umpteenth stick that he had puffed on, since we sat talking. I glanced at the ashtray, almost full with cigarette butts.

"Now the forest area continues to shrink. When I was young it was a haven for birds, a shelter, and home to the various species of monkeys and small mammals such as the orang utans," he said, like a scientist.
Or wasn’t he a scientist? It's just that he did not hold a degree from a university. Doy and his colleagues had identified various types of flora and fauna there. They documented the findings, and attached to it the local and scientific latin names.

Doy could identify the endemic animals or bird migrants that stopped by. He believes the Permatang Gadung forest was a miniature world reflecting the co-existing habitat in Ketapang Regency. This is because about 95 per cent of birds and mammals in Ketapang Regency can be found in the forest.

Before the government gave permission to the oil palm plantations, before the gold miners ravaged the land, the Permatang Gadung forest was a beautiful oasis, sustainer of life for the villagers. They fished, took the plants, and hunted the animals selectively. This is now different to the ways of the people who live greedily.

The threat of deforestation since the 1990s, mining, massive fire and oil palm plantations continue to narrow the area where plants once thrived. This has threatened not only the wildlife, but also the survival of the local community. The forest is not only a collection of flora and fauna but in essence is an important universe viable economically, socially and culturally for all living things.


His efforts at conservation started when he taught in the village. He constantly reminded the families living there to not be swayed by the riches offered by mining firms and oil palms who eyed their lands greedily.

To equip himself, Doy attended conservation awareness seminars at the local and national levels. He was subsequently chosen as a head village in 2007 and had free reign to plan his movements.

He lashed out openly against corporate entities eyeing their land. He invited his friends to formed the Bird Kawan Ketapang (KBK) community, which was also later known as Ketapang Biodiversity Keeping (KBK).

They photograph the wildlife and can be often found roaming in and out of the woods to capture images of animals and the nature around them. His salary of only Rp700,000 a month was often used to further the cause.

“Because of that, once, a high-ranking security officer in Ketapang threatened to shoot me in the head, "he said, while flicking away his cigarette ash.

The person had accused Doy of helping a national TV station to uncover a story on the impact of gold mining without permits in the area. This has resulted in pollution to Kepuluk river, and threatened the remaining forested areas in Permatang Gadung. Even so, with or without anyone’s aid, Doy still strives to protect the area.

Due to his efforts, in 2012, the United States Agency for International Development-Indonesia Forest and Climate Support Project (USAID-IFACS) listed Permatang Gadung forest as part of their landscape project in Kalimantan, under the Ketapang Regional office. To learn more on USAID-IFACS, click here http://www.ifacs.or.id/id.

Moreover, some of the well-establihed NGOs such as Fauna & Flora International (FFI), and the International Animal Rescue (IAR) Foundation Indonesian had yet to carry out a detailed research and survey of the activities in the area.

The rain did not wane. The night wore on. Our coffee had long gone cold. Maybe as cold as the faith Doy had in the Indonesian government that had ‘supported’ the villagers of Permatang Gadung. The Forestry Minister of Indonesia is said to have decreed an area of 14,000 hectares of forest for the villages in the vicinity. However, to date he had yet to seen the purported decree sheet. Hence, Permatang Gadung was still not safe from the radar of speculators and financiers.

Today, Doy was sitting here, in front of me, on a rainy night until the city had become deserted. He continued to ramble though the interview although it had long finished. He talks about the mystery of the forest that were as complex as the human future - of a sketch and legends tales that humans would be able to live long or die quickly.

Doy pulled out another cigarette, but did not light it. We became increasingly bored at waiting for the rain to stop,as if there was no tomorrow. Night was becoming pitch black. We eventually forced ourselves to brace the rain. Doy gave me a ride to the inn where I stayed.

The next day I read the news online at http://www.indosiar.com. There were reports of seven districts in West Kalimantan that had been flooded. Tens of thousands of homes, rice fields, cattle and a number of lives were lost - it reminded me of Bang Doy who has chosen to live as a conservationist, devoting most of his life to look after a patch of forest.*)

Copyright © Alexander Mering


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