Collins Conference Room
J Stephen Lansing (Nanyang Technological University; SFI)

This event is by invitation only.

Abstract:  The Cave Punan are a small community of hunter-gatherers who inhabit a lowland tropical forest in Indonesian Borneo, when we discovered in 2018. They are the most genetically isolated population in Borneo.  They travel in small multi-family groups along a network of caves, and atttribute their health and well being not only to their practice of sharing food, but also to the Song language they sing at night in the caves. The Song language is very distantly related to their normal spoken language; it is not known to neighboring resettled Punan communities; and appears to be an isolate equally distant from Austronesian and Austro-Asiatic language families. It shares some features with both the ritual languages of aboriginal Australia and, nearer to home, the priestly language of the neighboring Ngaju Dayaks. But its role in both the preservation of ancient knowledge and the promotion of social cohesion along the network of caves appears to be unprecedented, and offers an unexpected new perspective on language, art, music and conceptions of self and society in a functioning hunter-gatherer society.

Bio:  Steve Lansing is Director of the Complexity Institute & Professor, Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and the Vienna Complexity Hub.  His new book Islands of Order: A Guide to Complexity Modeling for the Social Sciences, will be published by Princeton in October. Publications and films available at

Those unable to attend can stream the lecture from our YouTube channel.

Research Collaboration
SFI Host: 
Jennifer Dunne