This essay reads the Taiwanese Malaysian author Chang Kuei-hsing’s 1998 novel Elephant Herd from an ecological perspective. A novel about the Sarawak communist insurgency (1963–90)—an important but underrepresented conflict during the Cold War in Asia—Elephant Herd reappraises the legacies of this conflict through its ecological impact on the Bornean landscape and peoples. It critiques existing historical recollections of this period, which take the perspectives of either the colonial British government and its subsequent Malaysian inheritors or the largely ethnic Chinese leftist insurgents who sought to establish an independent Borneo state. The novel argues for a postcolonial remapping of Borneo beyond colonial statecraft and Cold War geopolitics in this contested territory, which are narrated through Chinese civilizational and Malay and British national narratives of place. It does so by staging a transformation of the settler Sinophone subject in Borneo, manifesting encounters in the Borneo rainforest that reveal the Indigenous experience of this insurgency and the cost of state-making projects in Borneo through environmental ruins such as elephant tusks. The novel concludes by proposing a postcolonial Bornean identity that begins from the perspective of the Indigenous Iban people, whose voices reframe the Sinophone narrator’s assumptions about land, history, and place beyond a settler point of view.

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