3,000 Penans In Belaga Face Food Shortage


July 30, 2009 18:47 PM

3,000 Penans In Belaga Face Food Shortage

MIRI, July 30 (Bernama) – Some 3,000 people of the Penan ethnic group in six settlements in upper Belaga, in Kapit Division are facing a food shortage, Deputy Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun said here, Thursday.

He said the settlements of Lusong Laku, Long Avit, Long Kajang, Long Tanyit, Long Malim and Long Ladem had been facing the shortage of food over the last three months.

“Their farms had been destroyed by wild animals and they are now depending entirely on food that they foraged from the jungle, but the supply is insufficient,” he told reporters here.

He came to know about the situation when several Penan headmen in the settlements met him during his visit together with Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia and several members of Parliament to Lusong Laku recently.

He said that the headmen told him that they were not able to inform the authorities earlier about their predicament due to the remoteness of the settlements.

Lusong Laku, which is the nearest among the six settlements, could be reached from Bintulu through rugged timber track after a journey of at least nine hours, said Entulu.

He added that it would also take about six hours to travel by road to Lusong Laku from Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme which is located about 30 kilometres from the site of the Bakun hydroelectric project.

He said that he would highlight the matter with his ministry officials as well as those from the relevant Federal ministries for immediate measures to assist the Penans there.

As deputy president of Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), he said that he would discuss with his president, Datuk Seri Dr James Jemut Masing and Hulu Rajang Member of Parliament Billy Abit Joo to mobilise immediate assistance for the affected people.



Getting The True Picture Of The Penans

July 24, 2009 10:27 AM

By Caroline Jackson

MULU, July 24 (Bernama) – Penan headman Belulak Seng, who is in charge of the Batu Bungan settlement located a stone’s throw away from the Mulu airport at the Mulu National Park in Sarawak, stays connected with the outside world through his mobile phone.

Previously he and the other Penans were semi-nomadic roaming the national park to forage and harvest non-timber forest products. However, now they cultivate vegetables, keep animals and sell Penan handicrafts to tourists visiting their village.

They live in the 28-door longhouse set against the scenic backdrop of limestone crags by the Melinau River leading to the World Heritage Mulu Caves.

“Now we have a more routine lifestyle and stable income. We can stay in touch with our children studying at a boarding school (SK Tutoh Apoh) in Long Panai, about three hours boat ride downstream,” he said through an interpreter.

Some of the Penan youths there are employed at the national park as well as the Royal Mulu Resort, whose hotel guests are mainly eco-tourists from Europe and Australia.

“Thank you for coming and taking a peek on how we live and in helping us overcome problems in the future,” he told a visiting delegation of European timber trade representatives during a familiarisation trip organised by the Sarawak Timber Development Corporation (STIDC) and the Malaysian Timber Council (MTC).


Belulak and his community’s way of life is a stark contrast compared with the gloomy picture painted by some non-governmental organisations (NGO) that the Penans, with an estimated population of 10,000, are facing an uncertain future as their forest habitat are being depleted by logging activities.

The fate of the Penans has been a controversial subject ever since they resisted logging operations in their home turf, including Baram, Limbang, Tutoh and Lawas since the 1990s.

Like many local indigenous communities who live in the areas where timber companies operate, Belulak was also wary that the ongoing logging activities at the back of his longhouse which is a bit too close to comfort.

Nonetheless, the priority for the Penan chief and the 300 villagers now is clean water, electricity and clinics that they hope the government will supply them and proper documentation like birth certificates or Mykads.

MTC London director Sheam Satkaru noted that the conflict between indigenous rights and state land use is a highly complex issue which has brought international attention to the Penans, especially due to the global publicity provided by the Bruno Manser Foundation.

She said because they lived in the forest, the assumption was that the logging industry was driving them out of the forest.

This negative perception that was capitalised by the Switzerland-based NGO founded by Bruno Manser, an environmental activist and self-proclaimed champion of the Penan’s plight during the 1990s.

However, the tribe was in the limelight again recently due to allegations of sexual harassment against their women purportedly committed by workers of a major timber company operating in the Baram area.

Satkaru when met by Bernama during the trip noted that the representatives from emerging timber markets and United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy and Greece were satisfied with the explanation they sought during a dialogue with the Penan villagers.

MTC’s objective is to correct the negative perception by communicating through seminars, newsletters, reports, articles besides bringing responsible foreign representatives from the timber industry, NGOs and media to get a feel of the rainforest and provide a better understanding in terms of the needs for conservation and sustainable forest management going hand-in-hand, she noted.


Meanwhile, Christoph Rullman, the managing director of the German Association for the Protection of Forests and Woodlands was impressed with the government’s efforts to put Penan children in schools and assimilate the semi-nomadic people with the rest of the society.

Having read a lot of things about Malaysia including illegal logging, reviews by MTC and international environmental conservation organisations like the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and Greenpeace, he was actually very surprised to see the seeminglyendless green canopy of forest on the 30-minute flight from Miri to Mulu.

"I totally can understand that this is a big issue for the Malaysian government because we would do the same as well. From the European point of view it is a treasure and something so unique because you still have these people living in the forest.

“There is a fear that if they (Penan) develop, they will lose their cultural background but you have to develop them otherwise they would not have a chance to survive in modern times…You can’t actually lock them somewhere in the forest,” he said.

For Samling Global Limited, the Sarawak-based timber company listed on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, social responsibility is an integral part of its operations apart from subscribing to sustainable practices.

Its Head of Corporate Communication Cheryl Yong said it has been a practice for the indigenous people, notably the Penan to put up blockades as a signal that they wish to negotiate and inform the company of their needs.

Citing an example, she said four of the five villages - Long Main, Long Kepang, Long Benalih and Ba’Bubui within the Sela’an-Linau Forest Management Unit are Penan settlements for which Samling as the forest concessionare has to engage before entering to harvest.

So far 149 villages in Baram, Lawas, Bintulu and Belaga had benefited from the company’s community outreach programme that includes the construction of Penan service centres as well as basic amenities and infrastructures.

The programme also focuses on “No” to slash and burn and “Yes” to agriculture and husbandry.