Tagal in Borneo
The indigenous people of Sabah maintain their relationship with the land in accordance with traditional practices. This association with their surroundings has nurtured aspects of bio-cultural diversity that are unique to their respective management regimes.
The tagal system is a local and traditional approach to biosphere management in Sabah. Also known as “bombon” which means prohibition in the Kadazandusun and Murut language, it is a concept of a traditional system that involves the collective responsibilities and management of important resources such as land, river, forest, water catchment and wildlife.
Recognised by the Sabah Fisheries Department under the Sabah Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Enactment 2003, Tagal law focuses mainly on the sustainable management of natural resources to ensure that biodiversity in Sabah remains protected and will be passed on to future generations.
Today, local communities around Sabah has started to integrate the system into its tourism industry, indirectly preserving the identity, customs, culture and knowledge of a community – further connecting livelihoods and conservation – and promising economic as well as environmental sustainability.
Kg. Kiau Nuluh
One such example of a community that is committed and interested in conserving their forest and sustainably managing its resources is located the village of Kiau Nuluh, Kota Belud.
Kg. Kiau Nuluh is a village bordering Kinabalu Park in the District of Kota Belud, with a Dusun community population of roughly 800. Because of the proximity of the village to Kinabalu Park, many among the community work in the Park or are linked to Park activities in some way. The village also voluntarily maintains and manages a village forest reserve, the Kiau Nuluh Community Forest, which borders Kinabalu Park at the north. Within there is a network of trails and five designated camping spots. Tourism to the community forest provides supplementary income for part-time guides from the community.
With a well-established village organisation called GOMPITO, which stands for Gugumompi Moningolig Sinakagon Tokou, the Kiau Nuluh Community Forest is community-managed forest of 810 hectares conserved as water catchment, tourism site, and for forest products especially medicinal plants. It has two conservation committees: one for forests (Tagal hutan) and another for river conservation (Tagal sungai). The community also focuses on revitalising traditional forest practices such as the use of Dusun forest terms (boros puru) and giving respect to the forest spirits (mamatang/mamason). To conserve this forest, they have formulated a protocol to govern its use through explicit framework for natural resources management.
PES in FS
Practice of the Tagal system often include an aspect of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) or economic incentives for biodiversity conservation. In many villages and rivers where the Tagal system is applied, local communities develop alternative sustainable livelihood by promoting ecotourism-based activities.
In partnership with LEAP Spiral and Forever Sabah, villagers in the Babagon water catchment area are trained on water quality monitoring, ecotourism livelihood, as well as best practices for advocacy and engagement with government representatives.
Equipped with these skills, the communities are now working towards various collaborative efforts with local communities, stakeholders, industry, NGOs, scientists and government agencies to develop a PES mechanism for managing water services.
The communities of the Babagon watershed have then recently visited the community of Kg. Kiau Nuluh to learn about their approach to the tagal system, and it proved to be a mutually beneficial meeting. The common mechanism of a Tagal mechanism is a shared traditional knowledge. A number of indigenous groups might share the same traditional knowledge, but under different indigenous rules.
Given the significance of indigenous information in biodiversity preservation, it is imperative to encourage the awareness of indigenous knowledge among other indigenous networks. Relieving and securing indigenous information can be empowering to the indigenous communities in economic, social and ecological aspects.