Penan people against logging companies

30 Aug

Source: AFP. Penan tribespeople man a blockade with banners and spears to challenge vehicles of timber and plantation companies

Source: AFP. Penan tribespeople man a blockade with banners and spears to challenge vehicles of timber and plantation companies

The indigenous Penan people who live in Sarawak have formed new barricades to prevent several Malaysian timber and plantation companies such as Samling, KTS, Shin Yang and Rimbunan Hijau from their latest activities.

Their fight against these corporations started since the 1970s which has seen seen much of their rainforests being destroyed in the name of development. The latest assault against a nomadic people was a result of the Sarawak government aiming to increase its palm oil coverage to 1.0 million hectares.

According to the Sarawak’s Rural Development Minister, James Masing, “the forest has become a source of income for the state government so we have to exploit it.”

Years of logging have caused extensive environmental damage and livelihood to the Penan people. Jackson Luhat Paren, the headman of the village of Long Deloh, a Penan, who have formed one of the barricades, said, “There were a lot of illnesses from drinking the water after the logging company came..  The animals started disappearing too, scared away by the chainsaws. We also lost a lot of our fruit trees and fish ponds that became filled with rubbish from the logging.”

It was also suspected that in the pipelines are hydroelectric dams which would flood the homes of thousands of tribal people, including the Penans and the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Mulu National Park.

The Penans who have resisted the efforts of the logging companies have met with death threats and rape. According to report by the Institute for Development and Alternative Lifestyle, Pelutan Tiun , the village head of Long Spigen was quoted (p. 14), “We met the manager of the logging company and his supervisor on the logging road three times. There were no negotiations. They insisted that they have the rights to log the forest. At the fourth meeting, the manager and his supervisor came with his workers and a group of about 30 field force personnel. The workers are mainly Iban and they were more sympathetic. They refused to bulldoze our land even though the manager ordered them to do so.

The field force personnel then stood in a line between us and the timber camp workers. The Manager himself got on to one of the bulldozer and started destroying our farmland. We could not do anything because the field force personnel were all carrying guns and they ignored our protests….

… The next day onwards, the field force personnel came with the camp workers. They stood near the bulldozers while the camp workers bulldozed through our land to make their logging track”.

Workers from the logging companies have also been alleged to have engaged in sexual abuse against Penan young women. A governmental task force report on this matter has however been denied access to the community and concerned NGOs.

The plight of the Penan people can best be summed up by a statement from Survival International director, Stephen Corry, “The logging and plantation companies are preventing the Penan from being able to feed their children. It’s no wonder they’re taking to the barricades. Penan in some areas are currently receiving food aid – before the loggers arrived, they would never have needed such hand-outs. The Malaysian government must recognize that this land is theirs and stops sanctioning its destruction.”




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