Celebrating History, Wilderness, Ethnic and Diplomacy

Photography Exhibition:

Memories from Borneo


Dedicated for His Photographs,

Wolfganf Leupold



Flashback in Time: The Unspoiled Borneo

Wildlife jungles full of giantic trees that grew towards the sun with big roots that came out from the ground, home of hundreds of plants and animals. Strong flow rivers that spread widely throughout the islands, in the not-yet-touched of the world rainforest, Borneo. Within the wilderness, lives the groups of native people of Dayak. The indigenous tribal ethnic owes great language and cultural variation. This atmosphere was captured remarkably in old-black and white-monochrome photographs by a Swiss Geologist, Wolfgang Leupold as exceptional memories during his stay between 1921 – 1927. Over 90 years later, on April 2014, his photo collection filled up the Dutch culture center, ErasmusHuis in Jakarta on April 2014.

Wolfgang Leupold was a Swiss Geologist employed by Dutch East Indie, colonial government who ruled the entire archipelago at that time. In his employment period in Indonesia, Leupold visited and examined the drill towers and facilities. As the Dutch colonial entered Borneo after having an agreement with British colonists in 1871 that stated most of Borneo area (Southern area) was allocated to the Dutch government, Leupold assigned to Borneo since the land has the most potential oil sites throughout the country until present day. He moved together with his wife and his infant child, Erika and Urs Leupold.



Leupold’s collection pictured harmonious moments of ethnic group living in Dayak’s culture despite of the colonial period.






The Foreign Guests and The Tribesmen Landowner

Altough he worked for foreign colonists, Leupold showed his deep interest in the local landowners’ culture.His collection pictured a harmonious moments of ethnic group living in Dayak’s culture, despite of the colonial period. In fact, his photographs proved there were exchanges of accomodation for Leupold to capture the photos of the tribesmen and their living. In addition, scenes were taken when his family enjoyed their relocation placement. One picture was shot inside his residence showing firmed and thick wooden interiors with European style accessories. It represented the cultural diffusion.




The symbiotic living was not only shown between the guests and the landowners, but also the residents and the nature. The photos held evidences about Dayak tribes living especially in their culture and society development against their wildlife. Foreign and industrial culture had influenced Dayaks way of from Indian, Chinese and Portugese. Finally British and Dutch people started to use Borneo coasts as their trading posts in 1600’s. It continued until the early 1900’s when the photographs were taken.

As an example, woven-fabric clothes were portrayed in the pictures of Dayaks casual family portrait, even during the traditional ceremony. It blended with their traditional attire. Not to mention, their wooden and ratan made riverboats as mode of transportation.




Present-Day Appreciation

Wolfgang Leupold managed to capture the moments in Borneo with camera which does not exist anymore in the landscape that also does not exist anymore. Over 70 percent of Borneo that he caught is now palm oil and banana plantation. The rest of 30 percent is not even longer exist.It was unquestionably that a photographer instinct who snatched those pictures. He might have been supported by the magnificent wildlife as his background and blazing sunlight as his lighting, Leupold without a doubt performed great quality of photography using facilities and accommodation that were present at that time.

Wolfgang Leupold might have intended to use these photographs as his private property as memorable heritage for his generation, however the photographs hold much greater purposes for public even more for diplomatic relationship. To preserve this remarkable story, his descendant decided to extend the family treasure into research and public access.

The photographs had previously displayed at University of Zurich’s Museum of Etnography back in 2012 to celebrate 60 years of Swiss-Indonesian relation. Then it transferred to Indonesia through a cooperation project betwwen anthropologists from University of Indonesia, Swiss Embassy in Jakarta and the Ethnographic Museun of the University of Zurich as cultural heritage.

Looking at this historical photography, I think there is one lesson for us the photo lovers is that to take pictures especially for something that we are interested in while practicing the photography techniques. I mean paying more attention on framing, lighting or background instead just randomly snap everywhere. Unlike in Leupold’s time, today almost we can easily access camera from our cellphone right?! Who knows, if we keep the photos well, maybe in 50, 60, 70 years from now our photos can have positive influence for others.(^ν^)