The Penan are the iconic people of the Sarawak jungle. Most communities had settled into villages and rural life of one form or another over the last hundred years, but the Penan steadfastly stuck to their nomadic ways.
With just a few possessions, easily carried on their backs, they have had nothing to lose but the jungle they live from. Which is why they are the community that has fought hardest and longest to prevent its destruction by greedy and relentless logging.
However, we would be unwise to dismiss them as simple or backward people. One should reserve that judgement for those narrow-minded, unimaginative IQs who can think only of the ringgit and jewels and houses they can buy from cutting it down.
The Penan understand the deeper value of the Borneo jungle, the world’s oldest and most bio-diverse environment on earth. If Taib had not been so eager to get rich as quickly as possible, he too would have done well to consider the pharmaceutical, DNA, tourism, scientific and other values of this region of enormous weatlh, variety and promise.
Instead he is turning it into a single crop plantation that will soon run out of soil due to to massive erosion and turn to desert. He is also converting one of the earth’s two key ‘lungs’, the great jungles that breath water into the air and suck out dangerous carbon dioxide, into on of the major causes of Global Warming.
The Penan understand these things, even though few have gone to school, and they hold a deep love for the beauty and life that thrives in their paradise on earth. But, Taib either does not understand or worse, blinded by money, he doesn’t care.
Victims who refuse to give up
It is because the Penan are still striving to live off the forest and to defend their hunting areas, that they have had some of the worst treatment at the hands of Taib’s licenced loggers and unlicenced gangsters. Many, many communities in Sarawak have suffered from these problems, but it is the Penan who have been almost wiped out in numbers.
Taib refuses to give them the slightest respect or to allow them the smallest remaining area of jungle to call their own. His ministers are on record as saying that the jungle needs to be ‘cleared’ of such communities (to make way for their rape of the environment of course). For this reason we can add genocide to the list of crimes this man will one day have to answer.
One of the most shocking examples of his arrogant small-mindedness has been his refusal to perform his most basic duty as a Chief Minister in maintaining law and order and preventing vile crimes in these areas. There have long been reports of rapes by loggers against the gentle Penan tribespeople, yet he has refused to take action to protect them or to acknowledge the problem.
As ever, his police force has been instructed to turn a blind eye to such outrages for the benefit of the logging tycoons – Taib’s business partners who are working to drive the native people from the jungle.
Likewise, over 30 years of relentless exploitation Taib has gained vast wealth from taking the timber from Sarawak, yet the Penan have received no benefit, despite the Chief Minister’s clap-trap about progress and development.
In all this time he has yet to even provide the majority of them with an Identity card or in many cases even birth certificates, so that they can participate in any way in the benefits of the State. Few indeed have received their fundamental right of a vote in what he laughably tries to call a democracy.
To the contrary, Taib knows that the Penan would vote against him, so he pretends they live too far away for him and his officials to find and register them.
There is no such problem it seems when it comes to finding and taking the trees from among which they live however!
This film is a testimony to the Penan’s continuing struggle and gives one reason for the work that has been undertaken by Sarawak Report.