We first introduced you to the Jungle to Jungle project—founded by Amanda Wilson and Jill Pridemore—in March, a few months after the duo returned from a trek down the Amazon River, where they explored the area and its rich biodiversity and brought students from Kalama Intermediate along with them on a “virtual field trip.”
Earlier this week, Wilson and Pridemore connected from abroad again—this time from the remote jungles of Borneo, where they’re teaching Bornean students about Hawaii and linking them with kids from Kihei Charter School.
What was your first jungle adventure in Borneo? What animals and plants did you see?
AW: Since we came out to the oil palm plantation [where we’re staying] we’ve been zooming all over. The plantation manager took us out on a boat on the Kinabatangan River, which is the second largest river in Sabah [a Malaysian state]. A guide took us into the river in a slightly bigger motorboat than we experienced in the Amazon, just a simple boat made of wood, with an outboard motor. We saw hornbills—so beautiful. We saw silvered leaf monkeys—holy goodness they’re beautiful and super cute. Proboscis monkeys, tons of them, the one male is sitting at the top of the tree with his big funny nose, and he has a gaggle of females. We also saw these short-tailed macaque monkeys, they’re really cute. We realized that the Kinabatangan is this tiny little strip of jungle that is surrounded on all sides by oil palm, but it’s lining this Kinabatangan River. We shouldn’t have seen that many animals on a short riverboat ride, but they’re all crammed into this tiny space.
How have the people of Borneo been receiving you? How do they react when you tell them about the project and that you’re from Hawaii?
JP: I think for many people the concept of the project is misunderstood at first. Maybe they think it is a children’s charity or something, but then when they finally understand, they really like it. I’ve talked to several people who seem to grasp the value of teaching students about different places and cultures. Every time you say you are from Hawaii people smile, and then when you describe it to them they think it sounds a lot like Borneo—without the animals.
How have the Kihei Charter School kids been involved so far?
AW: Some of them have gone above and beyond and submitted videos—one was of Old Lahaina Luau and another submitted a video of what she does in a day. We showed the luau footage [and] the guy in charge was like, “Too sexy! Too sexy!” and flipped out a little bit. The kids didn’t laugh or anything, and we had to quickly run over to the computer and fast-forward because the girls with the coconut bras and everything are not appropriate. Before we left Maui, we had assigned [the KCS students] a project, asking them to think about how they wanted to communicate something about their culture to other kids that probably do not speak their language. Their blog posts were great and diverse: there are gorgeous photos of everything from Hawaiiana from the 1930s to hamburgers and pics of their dog with Bahasa Malaysia [Malay language] captions. We are very impressed, to the degree that the KCS kids have inspired us to expand the project.
Oil palm plantations are pretty controversial. What has been your experience?
JP: Going into this I had the view that the plantations were bad and they were cutting down the rainforest and that they didn’t really serve a good function. I love animals and I saw the plantations as this force that was taking away their homes. Here was my actual experience: everyone we encountered—students, teachers, plantation managers, workers—were all extremely friendly and seemed happy. The palm workers make a high wage in comparison to others because it is a difficult job. Most of them are from Indonesia. They come here for a few years, go back home and start businesses and buy a house. The plantation we’re on is really cute. They do a lot of farming: dragon fruit, rambutan, durian, cows grazing in between the palms, ducks for eating. There is a clinic and a school and a badminton area. They are composting the left-over palm kernel and using it as fertilizer. They plant little groves of flowers to stop the bugs from eating the palm fruit instead of pesticide. So they are still cutting down the rainforest, but the mentality is, do we let the people starve for lack of work, or do we create [an] industry that feeds them, but cuts down trees? For people starving, it’s an easy decision. I still don’t like it, but I no longer see it as pure evil, I guess.
Is the destruction of the rainforest obvious, or do you need more access to see it?
JP: Yes, it’s obvious. You can see palm oil for as far as the eye can see and then small slices of jungle.
AW: You don’t see patches of smoldering trees like we saw in the Amazon. Instead, you see the surprisingly beautiful aesthetic of oil palm takeover. A farm of trees. You need more access to not see it. Thanks to the World Wildlife Foundation of Malaysia, almost all of the jungle that remains is legally protected under either the Heart of Borneo project or other preserves like Tabin. It’s Kalimantan that we’re sad about now. I’m working on how to pose the issue to the students in an objective way, so they can come to their own conclusions. In the Indonesian part of Borneo, it’s basically humans versus jungle. And the humans are starving and need jobs. So it’s not looking very good for the jangala.
How do you plan to close the experience with the kids at KCS?
AW: They’re going into Maui’s native jungle the last week before we [get] back [on November 2]. Then we’ll have a wrap party once we return. We’ll pick up some strange delicacy for them to taste and talk about what we’ve all learned.
Have you met any Bornean headhunters yet?
AW: No. Actually the Borneo people at some point were like, no, there’s none of them around right now, just kind of laughing and hoping that people still continue to think that there are headhunters because that would be good for tourism. But we haven’t given up yet.
To learn more, visit www.jungletojungle.org