A day of walking through the Bornean jungle. I hike, vines twist and grasp at my limbs like a curious native witnessing a foreigner for the first time. Fascinated, as if they can’t believe I’m real. I close my eyes and breathe. The smell of damp earth is wet on my eager tongue. I look up to witness the glory of a wild land. I am a visitor here. This is a community more alive and bound to each other than I will ever experience. This is a life that could swallow me like faceless prey – if it so wanted to. Overwhelmed by the majesty of this wild presence that is pulsating through my being – I grab the closest branch to lean on and almost scream when I realise I’ve grabbed onto something furry and moving. Look up. Heart stops to see kind eyes staring back at me. These eyes are wise, they strip me naked and I stand unmoving, speechless in front of the last Orangutan.
The last person of the forest.
Silence pursues, but a curious silence – like an empty cave waiting for new life to spark a fire and find rest in it for the night. We stare at each other and I feel as if her humble gaze is shedding me of all of my impurities. I realise that a look can heal when it is a mirror of your wild and wordless divinity.
Finally, she speaks.
It’s not much - but with the tongue of the forest and the [gentle] voice of a grandmother she asks,
“Why are you here?”
I don’t understand this deep presence that is blooming in my spirit. It is an intimacy that is spreading through my hungry bones like an eternal kiss - and it responds for me,
“I came to listen”.
And so, she spoke.
She told me her story – but not for herself. She told me this story because she knew that I would honour it. She told me because she felt the weight of her generations that longed for their spirits to be free.
“Human – I am a wanderer. I have searched the wild earth for a life that is no longer mine. It was lost in the lonely grip of ignorance and I have had to learn that the world goes on regardless. I witnessed as your kind lost your own peace of mind and you tried to fill it with unnecessary comforts. You were so lost in your own gratification that you didn’t even see your [neighbours] home was on fire. It was when I was a child that I was torn away from my mother’s arms – but I forgive. For I still feel her warmth in my spirit. She tells me I must help you find your way again, for you are lost and we are here together to be beautiful.
Human, I am a relic - but you are still here. I am the last of a sacred lapse in time and I will wander the earth as a reminder for humans to find their deepest love once again. For I know the harmony we can live from within – I have seen it through my ancestor’s eyes.
Human, I am a person of the forest. But I am also a being of the Earth, just like you. Please don’t forget that when you destroy my family - when you destroy my home, you destroy your own. Please don’t forget what you are here for. To love. To be kind. To respect. Our lives are but relics, filling a temple of divine creation.”
The moment her eyes left mine I felt loss, but when she placed her wearied hand on my shoulder, I felt a part of her softly take a seat in my soul.
I learned to love through the pain of loss, and to find pieces of my own heart in everything that exists. I choose not to forget that my actions effect the lives of those all over the world.
I live for this Earth. We live for each other.
You'll see there's a symbol engraved onto the back of Pengembara's head.
This is a very old indigenous symbol that was sometimes weaved into different fabrics and has a very potent story. The story goes that there once was a woman who tried to weave this symbol into some bark cloth while her child played next to her. She wove and she wove and she became so engrossed in the design that she finally finished several days later. When she looked around she realised she had forgotten her child and there he lay, dead before her.
Pengembara is the last child of the forest. Her family was forgotten while their homes were taken from them and Pengembara is a reminder to us to look around, see what is going on around us - the ecstatic beauty and the cyclic suffering - stay present to it, be open to witnessing our mistakes in lifestyle and correct them - for the health of ourselves - our individual, humanitarian, spiritual and ecological selves.
Translation (Bahasa Malaysia to English):
Pengembara - Wanderer
Orangutan (orang hutan) - Human of the Forest
Pengembara is an incense burner and an oil burner.
The numbers are out - between 1999 and 2015 Bornean orangutan numbers declined by 150 000. This was due to hunting, and deforestation from the palm oil industry. If we continue this path, it is estimated that another 50 000 will have died in the next 35 years from the palm oil industry alone.
The good news is - as with every damaging industry - the palm oil depends on consumers money. We have the power to decide where our money goes. And if money is power, why are we giving it to big companies that hurt so many? Let's start living our values, eat whole foods, buy local, support those doing good, honest work, lead by example, and be a voice for this earth.
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