Sunday, January 13, 2008

Penan Fight for Survival in Malaysia

The Penan tribe of Sarawak, Malaysia, are opposed to the wanton destruction of their forest. Their opposition has led a logging company official to level death threats against tribe members.

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 and Rengah Sarawak's fact finding report entitled "Not Development, but Death."

This post also appears at Indiginest Intelligence Review.



Shus li said...

Ridwan my Brother,

Thank you for memorializing Mr. Kelesau Naan in this fitting way.

I read about him last week and was struck with a sense of pride, sadness, and futility. As indigenous people, we before all others should protect the land in the same way he did - and we will face the same consequences in the maws of this capitalist machine that is currently dominating all Earth. My hope is that there will be an endless supply of those who will defend Her.

I trust you are well, Friend.


Ridwan said...

Shush li thanks for your comment here sista. Like you I want very much that the memory of Kelesau Naan receive the attention it deserves.

And, I am waiting to see what happens with the investigation into his death (murder).

I am well my sista and I hope you are too!


Dade said...


What is the likely outcome of an investigation? Can the government be trusted to carry out an honest investigation? Apart from Suara Rakyat Malaysia, are there any other watchdog groups that are watching?


Ridwan said...

Brother Dade in this world of political duplicity and sell outs I am not sure that the Malaysian government will afford this case the urgency it requires.

I know of Survival in addition to Suara Rakyat Malasia.

Maybe someone out there knows different.

I trust you are well brother!

Peace and struggle,