The Seima Protection Forest (SPF) is home to several communities that have depended on the forest economically, culturally, and spiritually for many generations. There are 28 administrative villages inside or on the border of the SPF, and these villages are home to approximately 20,000 people. Around 70% of this population are from the Bunong and Stieng ethnic groups.
Bunong traditional culture reflects their dependence on the forest. Their livelihood and coping strategies are based on a deep ecological knowledge that allows them to take advantage of native trees and other plants, fish and other animals, rivers and land. They have traditionally hunted, raised buffaloes, cows, pigs, chickens and dogs, fished in rivers and ponds and collected a variety of forest products for food, use in construction or fishing, and medicinal purposes. The forest has provided substantially for food security, with a vast variety of products available during the yearly cycle.
Bunong animist religious beliefs and practices are shaped by the need to provide access to, share and make the best use of vital resources. Within the Bunong worldview, humans are part of a community of beings. Social values such as reciprocity and respect for each other apply to human-animal as well as human-human relationships. These relationships are controlled by the spirits which inhabit mountains, special forest places and/or trees, salt licks, waterfalls, or deep pools in rivers or ponds. In parallel with these beliefs, however, the Bunong are now strongly linked in to the market economy and increasingly participate in a wide variety of unsustainable harvest and trade activities.