Indigenous Penan have set up roadblocks in Malaysian Borneo to stop loggers from encroaching on their rainforest land, reports Survival International, an indigenous rights’ group.
Armed with spears and blowpipes, dozens of Penan are calling for an end to logging on their land. Police have confronted them but there have been no arrests, according to Survival.
The Penan, some of whom still live as nomadic hunter-gatherers in the rainforests of Sarawak, have been battling loggers since the 1980s, when large-scale industrial logging commenced in the Malaysian state. At times they have faced intimidation and violent crackdowns at the hands of security forces hired by logging firms and Malaysian police. Meanwhile vast tracts of Sarawak’s rainforest has been stripped of its valuable timber. Now forestry firms are eyeing forest lands for conversion to oil palm plantations, which will likely leave the Penan even worse off since these estates support less game than even logged-over forest.
“This piece of forest is the only place left for us to hunt and find food. But there’s only a little bit left,” a Penan tribesman told Survival. “Last night I went hunting and came back with nothing. If we can’t save this bit of forest, we will have nothing to eat.”
Stephen Corry, Survival’s director, agreed: “The logging and oil palm companies are robbing the Penan not just of their forests but of their food and water. It is essential that the Malaysian government recognizes the Penan’s rights to their land and stops allowing the companies to take everything in sight.”
The plight of the Penan made international headlines in the 1990s due a campaign by Bruno Manser, a Swiss national, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2000. Since then the cause has been championed by the Bruno Manser Fund.
10,000-12,000 Penan are believed to remain in Sarawak, about 400 of whom are nomadic, according to Survival.