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Building a Longhouse as a Cultural Center

View on The Global Environmental Justice site

If Not Us Then Who? Film 2 (11:40) 2021
Building a Traditional Longhouse as a Cultural Center
This is one of seven short films about sustainable living in the forests of Indonesia, Costa Rica and Brazil. Taken together, they tell a story of oppression, resistance, accomplishments, and confidence for the future.


Laura Miller
Applied ethicist and instructor, Southwestern Illinois College, St. Louis Community College, Fontbonne University, and Webster University

Please download the teacher's guide for maps, background information, suggested subjects, questions and activities.

"Now and forever, our cultures and traditions will continue."

For the first time in 50 years, the Sungai Utik build a traditional longhouse, their customary home and cultural house. It is the longhouse, given to them by their god Petara, that allows for harmony and secures the unity of their people. This is where they gather, share their knowledge, attend school, prepare food, and live together as a community. The act of building a longhouse is also a community effort, with all persons contributing to building the structure. This process is shared by the elders and taught to the younger generations. Building a longhouse, though, is not merely an act of building a home, it is a spiritual act of ritual and preservation of the traditional ways of the elders. Longhouses, then, are a living demonstration of the culture of these people and a continuation of the traditions, practices, and rituals that are the foundation of their culture. Note that this film is directed by a young filmmaker from the community, Kynan Tegar, who pays particular attention to his elders and to the ceremony that accompanies the dedication of the longhouse.


The teaching guide was created with the intention of exploring the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in the Global South. These experiences demonstrate the resilience of the people born in these locations and their struggle to maintain the connections to their ancestors through their cultural practices, rituals, and defiance. I consider this to be a legacy project in which the contributors are seeking to honor the lives of their elders and those who have come before them. As an educator, I cannot replace seeing the faces, places, and lived experiences through the eyes of another. No matter how graphic a text depiction might be, the essence of experience conveyed through film is far more powerful. I encourage you to embrace this ethnographic approach to cultural anthropology and to embrace the narratives of peoples who have overcome modernization and threats from commercial interests and other harms, and who have found unexpected alliances and opportunities to thrive.


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