The Upper Kapuas (Kapuas Hulu) is a frontier regency in the hearth of Borneo, in the furthest reaches of West Kalimantan. Kapuas, the longest river in Kalimantan, leads to the rich rainforest and indigenous communities of KalBar’s eastern highlands.
The mighty river rises in the Muller Mountain Range in the central part of the island and flowns 1,143 km southwest, reaching the South China Sea in a great marshy delta southwest of Pontianak. The river is navigable along most of its length.
The little frontier town of Putussibau is situated at the point where the Sibau River empties into the Kapuas and serves an important launch point for expeditions to remote communities and the remaining untouched forests.
Many of the people who now inhabit Putussibau are non-native, having arrived as part of the government’s trasmigation programme during the 1980 and early 1990s. The Marudese, in particular, make up a considerable percentage of the population. The two major ethnic groups are the Dayak and the Malay. At least 19 sub ethnic tribes of Dayak have been identified in Kapuas Hulu.
“Dayak” literally means people of the interior, and is a collective name for a diverse group of tribal people who differ in language, art forms and many elements of culture and social organization.
The largest Dayak groups includes the Iban and the Ngaju of the Central Kalimantan. The Iban had a reputation as fearsome fighters, headhunters and migratory people. They are related culturally, linguistically and historically to several groups in the Kapuas Basin including the Kantu, Seberuang, Bungau, Mualang and Desa. Other Dayaks groups living in the central Kalimantan include the Ot Danum in the upper river valleys, and the Ma’anyan and the Luangan who lives by the upper Teweh River.
In the past the Dayak were feared for their ancient tradition of headhunting raids. After victory, the attackers cut off the heads of dead or dying enemies, and hid the bodies of their own dead in the jungle to prevent their heads from being taken; they then retreated as rapidly as possibile. Heads were required from community rituals for cleansing and strengthening the village. Young men also headhunted to prove their bravery to a bride-to-be, but this practice was more common among the Kenyah. Headhunting formally ceased in 1920 but continued in Sarawak until 1940.
Beside the Dayak tribes, Kapuas Hulu offers a pristine nature of the nearby National Parks; Betung Kerihun with an area of 8,000 km² and Danau Sentarum (area 1,320 km²), the latter includes the Kapuas Lakes.
The forests are rich in flora and fauna and are the subject of international research. Discoveries of new species are frequent, such as of the Kapuas mud snake (Enhydris gyii), which was discovered in 2003–2005 by the German and American herpetologists. This species is remarkable in that it can spontaneously change its skin color, similar to the chameleon.
Danau Sentarum National Park is a wetland area that contains very large lakes(132,000hectares) and hundreds of small islands. The park, which has been registered as Ramsar site since 1994, is host of at least 250 species of freshwater fishes, mammals, reptiles, birds, and variaties of flora. Some of the flora indicated are endemic of Borneo. Wildlife in peat swamps and lowlands forest include orangutans, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, stork and great argus pheasant. At least four Dayak groups – Iban, Sebaruk, Sontas and Punan – with several longhouses, live in and around the park.
Betung Kerihun National Park is home to more than 1,200 plant species (75 which are endemic to Borneo) and 48 mammal species, including the endangered orangutans. Sheltering the headwaters of Kapuas River traces the border with Sarawak.
WWF’s Hearth of Borneo initiative aims to unite this park with Malaysia’s Lantiak Entimau Widllife Reserve.
Betung Kerihun National Park is one of the most important protected areas and the second largest protected area in Kalimantan after Kayan Mentarang National Park. The park is mostly mountainous and contains a broad range of vegetation types including lowland, hill and lower montane, and upper montane tropical rain forests.
The local communities in and around the Park consist of 8 ethnic groups (Dayak Iban, Tamambaloh, Taman Sibau, Kantu, Kayan Mendalam, Bukat Mendalam, Bukat Metelunai and Punan Hovongan) which represent 3 of the 4 Dayak groups living in Borneo. These groups live in 12 separate major settlements (village or sub-village), 2 of which are located inside BKNP (Nanga Bungan and Tanjung Lokang) and 6 are adjacent to the park boundary (Sadap, Banua Martinus, Ulu Palin, Nanga Potan, and Nanga Ovaat).
Expedition to Kapuas Hulu - The Heart of Borneo