According to Survival the official from the Malaysian company Samling, told tribe members that “(i)f you people try to stop our plans, we will kill you.”
This round of death threats comes almost immediately after Penan leader, Kelesau Naan, was found dead under circumstances that have led his relatives to suspect he was murdered.
When Kelesau Naan’s body was found he had been missing for weeks. His relative, Martin Bujang, said “(h)is hand was broken and looked as if it had been hit by a sharp object.”
Kelesau Naan, who belonged to the Penan community of Long Data Bila, was one of four plaintiffs in a high profile land rights case that has frustrated logging companies.
Yap Swee Seng, who represents the Malaysian human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia, commented that:
"This .. development in Sarawak is worrying as it points to the taking root of the practice of enforced disappearance and extra-judicial killings, two of the most serious form of human rights violations.
We call on the government to investigate immediately the death of Kelesau Naan and make the result of the investigation public. Those involved in the death should be brought to court of justice."
This is not the first time that members of the Penan tribal people have disappeared under mysterious circumstances like those of Kelesau Naan.
During the 1990s two Penan who were opposed to logging companies on their land just disappeared.
In 2000 a Swiss activist, Bruno Manser, who was working alongside the Penan against logging companies also disappeared.
Material progress under these circumstances is still characteristically tied to the devastation and oppression of tribal peoples.
But the story of their subjugation is not only about logging activities and deforestation. Western missionaries have also brought devastation with attempts to Christianize the Penan after WWII and onward.
As a result, their nomadic lifestyle was mostly lost. Today only a few hundred Penan still live as nomads. The rest have been placed into settlements.
The Penan are well known for their customary value known as molong. Molong directs the Penan not to take more than is necessary in any circumstance.
The proponents of western-style capitalism and its Enlightenment induced notions of progress would do well to learn from the Penan before it is too late.
For more information and links see rainforestweb.org and Rengah Sarawak's fact finding report entitled "Not Development, but Death."
This post also appears at Indiginest Intelligence Review.