In geographical way, KalSel is dominated by the Meratus Mountain Range, a long and wide chain which stretches from north to south over the biggest part of the province. The highest peak is Puncak Besar (1892 meter). Outside the highway between Banjarmasin and Balikpapan, the Barito River and is biggest downstream sideriver , the Martapura, are still very important for trade and communication with the hinterlands. Along the coast the landscape is formed by tidal swamps, which has turned into ricefields by some farmers.
With over 2,5 milion inhabitants on 37.660 sq.km, KalSel is the most densely populated province. The population, for the biggest part Banjarese, is from different origin. Among the ancestors are four Dayak populations - the Ma'anyan, Lawangan, Bukit and Ngaju - and furthermore the Malay from Sumatera, Jawanese, Sundanese, Arabs, Chineze and Buginese. The Banjarese dialect is closely related to Malay.
The hindu-principalty Negara Dipa
The Banjarese think that their roots are to be found in a legendaric old hindu-principalty. The wife of the first raja should have been emerged from a huge cloud of white foam - just like the Greek goddess Aprhodite. Her birth was seen by a stunned public, among them the ruler Lambung Mangkurat. The ruler survived three generations, while he helped building the new principalty of Negara Dipa. The main street in Banjarmasin and the museum in KalSel are named after him. The story goed that the ruines od Candi Agung, a hinduist structure in the hinterlands, are the fundaments of the history of KalSel. But there is very little proove of this. There is a second old hinduist temple in the district of Tupin, Candi Laras. Both temples are not worth while visiting.
At the end of the 13th century, the real history of KalSel started. Ampoedjatamaka, son of a trader from India, founded a settlement which would later grow into the city opf Banjarmasin. Three generationa later, the daughter married with the ruler of the Majapahit-prince of Jawa. This made Negara Dipa a supported state of the mighty Majapahit principalty. The name Negara Dipa was changed into Banjar (the later sultanate Banjarmasin) for undisclosed reasons.
The influence of Majapahit could be seen everywhere. Local laws were replaced and Jawanese workers built new palaces. In cultural means the wayang-puppets, gamelan-orchestras, topeng-masks, art- and dance-styles and metal decorations remember of this period. They are still being practiced however Banjar - just like the rest of Indonesia - came under islamic influence not long after.
In 1620 a local battle for power was decided by military support from the Jawanese principalty Demak. In trade the Banjarese converted to islam. De religion had a big influence on every day life and the art. Due to the widespread islamic trade network, contacts emerged between Jawa and the coastal area of Gujarat in India. To be able to compete with the spice trade, Banjar planted peper bushes. The population spread it's influence over the surrounding areas, wich were forced to pay taxes, or came under political control. In wich is called the Golden Century of Banjar, the people settled rule in the small sultanated along the southern coast, and next in big parts of Kalimantan: Sukadana, Sambas and Ganggau in the west and Pasir, Kutai and Berau in the east. The Banjarese sultanate was brought down by the Dutch. Weakened by internal problems, the Banjarese had to see that the whites placed a puppet on the throne. In 1860, the Dutch declared the sultanate banned, and Banjarmasin (in special the city of Martapura) became the kolonial headquarters of Dutch Borneo. Between 1860 and 1864 the Banjarese revolted under Pangeran Antasari (the Banjarmasin War), which lasted until the end of the 19th century in the form of scattered revolts.
A lively capital
With it's many attractions, the capital Banjarmasin is the most interestin urbanized area of Kalimantan. The nearby islands in the Barito River are inhabited by hurds of monkeys. In the hinterlands, buffalo's pull carts over a paved road to the diamond-fields of Cempaka, and to Martapura, where the gemstones are processed. Banjarmasin has many hotels and good restaurants. Travel agencies offer trips to the Dayak in the Loksa region (especially interesting because of the trip) and the Tanjung Puting Reserve and orang hutan centre. You can rent free-lance guides, they speak a little English as well.
A paved road connects Banjarmasin with Balikpapan. Over water there are connections with Palangkaraya, capital of Kalteng and with cities along the Barito, from where the hinterlands can be explored. There are also good connections available through the air.
Historically, Banjarmasin is known for it's production of black pepper. Nowadays the region lived from the big surplusses of rice and other products wich are grown on the alluvial soils. But besides the fertile soil, the region has not always been used for agriculture. Banjarese farmers have done a lot of work by drying up the tidal swamps, which were changed into ricefields in a skilled way.
This technology is very handy, becayse Indonesia consists of 25 per cent (43 milion hectares) of mangrove or tidal-swamps (Papua, with the worlds biggest swamp is left out). Almost 50 per cent is located in Kalimantan, and about 20 per cent can in fact be used for agriculture. But as of now, only a very small part is used. In KalSel, just only over 100,000 hectares of swamps were turned into agricultural area, more than in the other - bigger - provinces of Kalimantan. In 1939, the first subsidised settlement was built in Purwosari. It was meant for transmigrants which wanted to work as a farmer in the fresh agricultural areas.
Most Banjarese are rice farmers, however they also grow grains. Improved spiecies of cattle, developed because of special programs, have improved the financial situation of the farmers. The government helped with the development of different kinds of rice, which have a high yield in the swamps. Due to irrigation programs, there can be two or three harvests every year. The production has been increased more because of the introduction of two new kinds of rice, which are planted directly in the swamps. Because the waterlevel can sometimes reach two meters, boats are used for the harvest.
With the help of modern methods, new kinds of rice and the irrigation of about 500,000 hectares of soil, the rice production has dramatically increased in the last decade of the 20th century. The surplus is being exported, especially to Central and East-Kalimantan.
A range of export products
As well as elsewhere in Kalimantan, wood is the main export product. In 1987, plywood and lumber wood worth US$332 was exported, especially to the US and Japan. Besides 13 plywood factories there are 43 wood-processing factories, where most of the workers are Jawanese. The Banjarese mainly choose for agriculture and trade over the hard work in the factory. After wood, rubber is the most important export product (1987: exports worth US$41 milion, mainly to Singapore). It's the most common trade crop in the villages. Furthermore about US$30 milion in ratten is exported to Japan, and for US$10 milion of frozen river shrimps to Japan and Singapore. Ratten from Central Kalimantan is being processed in KalSel. Amuntai is the ratten-centre, but the big factories, where mostly women and girls work, are located in Banjarmasin. Other export products are frog-legs, snake- and lizard-skins, treebark for the production of incense and insect repellent, roots for jamu and other traditional medications, and gaharu.
Lumberwood, dried fish and also coal from the region Batu Licin are exported to other parts of Indonesia. Unprocessed oil is pumped from the region Tanjung to the refinery in Balikpapan.
The open waters of KalSel create a job for about 160,000 fishermen, more than elsewhere in Kalimantan. In contrary there are only 5000 seafishermen, a handfull compared with KalBar (15,000), KalTeng (48,000) and KalTim (19,000). Taiwanese experts have developped commercial fishing ponds in the 1990's.
The pepper harvest, no more than 500 tonnes a year, is not important anymore. Expensife trade crops like cacao are increasingly important and take more soil. Coconuts, grown on small regional plantations, are mainly for local consumption.
Big deposits of iron ore, porcelain soil and limestone are ready to be mined in the Meratus Mountain Range. The diamond fields of Cempaka give labour to a few hundred people, and a few more are looking for gold in the small streams.