Book Review: Looking for Borneo

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Book Review

Ni Wayan Murni
The Jakarta Globe, 13 October 2014


Explore the Sights and Sounds of Kalimantan in ‘Looking for Borneo’

Mark Heyward, David Metcalf and Khan Wilson
Creatavision Publishing, 2014

“Looking for Borneo” by Mark Heyward, David Metcalf and Khan Wilson is not just a book; it’s an event, a multimedia extravaganza.

Tasmanian Mark Heyward wrote the text, New Zealander David Metcalf took the photographs and Khan Wilson, also a Tasmanian, contributed the drawings. Clare McAlaney, from Australia, designed and published the book. But that’s not all. There’s also a delightful CD full of songs and ballads penned by Mark Heyward, sung by Qisie, who was born in Kalimantan, and a group of musicians from Lombok and Bandung. The book is a unique experience that I highly recommend.

My introduction to Kalimantan was through collecting Indonesian ceremonial textiles, jewelry and tribal art, including wonderful beaded baby carriers, which I have been selling in my shop, Murni’s Warung Shop, in Ubud, Bali, for many years. Usually runners from Kalimantan, the third-largest island in the world, just show up, without any warning, with their treasures wrapped in a dirty blanket, and I choose what I want before they go on to other dealers and possible buyers.

Whenever I get a chance to read about the Dayaks of Kalimantan or see their photographs, I am enthralled. The words by Mark Heyward are, in fact, extracts from a previous book, “Crazy Little Heaven,” which describes his incredible 17-day journey 20 years ago traveling from one side of the island to the other by basic dugout canoe and on foot, accompanied by local guides and some adventurous friends. He describes, in evocative prose, challenges along the way and the extraordinary variety of flora and fauna. I particularly loved his encounters with orangutans.

The photographs by David Metcalf make the book, in my opinion. They are simply stunning, beautifully composed, masterful in atmosphere, and the colors are striking. The book includes several black and white ones, too. They complement the text and are a real page-turner in themselves. These captivating images are in no way distracting from the book, but give a tremendous flavor of what Kalimantan is and should remain.

Khan Wilson’s whimsical drawings are in complete contrast. The choice to insert fun, brightly colored drawings in the book is unusual, but it works. They are a welcome bit of light relief after reading through harrowing episodes in the jungle, such as the day the explorers discovered skulls halfway up a mountain, which might have been left by Dayak headhunters.

Unfortunately, much of Kalimantan is under a death sentence; destruction of its forests, which threatens humans and wildlife alike, and indeed the whole world. The final section of the book offers suggestion on what can be done to alter the situation and save the island’s natural reserves. One is to provide alternative economic opportunities, such as sustainable ecotourism. Another is to ban palm oil plantations.

“Looking for Borneo” does its part in the struggle to help preserve Kalimantan’s natural and cultural heritage by donating the profits from its sales to the Darung Tingang Dayak Dance Academy in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.