Thousands of Indigenous Penans have been mobilized for the past 5 weeks in what is being viewed as “one final effort” to protect their forest lands in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.
The mobilization began five weeks ago, with the Penan erecting a set of blockades on roads used by “the robber barons” of the Rainforest; namely: Samling, Hill International, Shin Yang, KTS, CMS and Rimbunan Hijau.
Survival International reported at the time that Malaysian police forces were at the blockades, however they were not making any arrests. Fortunately, it appears that they still haven’t made any arrests, save one Penan leader who was taken into custody by a group of 10 police officers, for allegedly restraining workers at an illegal oil palm plantation on his land.
The mobilization gathered a bit of steam on Indigenous Peoples Day, August 9, 2009, when the Malaysian Indigenous Peoples Organisations Coalition called for a moratorium on large-scale plantations and other extractive activities on Penan lands (traditional lands) until such time that the Malaysian government puts in measures to safeguard the environment and the Penan’s rights.
Then, on Aug 20, Twelve more villages organizes three more blockades. The police visited each one a few days later. According to the Penan, the police told them that they would soon return ‘with others’ to dismantle the blockades. The Penan now fear that a police confrontation may be imminent.
Just before the police made their rounds, the Penan received a demoralizing blow at the hands of the Borneo Post, the largest English daily in Borneo. The Post claimed that the Pena were being led by a group of “foreign instigators.” Abang Johari, the former Minister of Penan affairs and current Minister of Housing, supported the claim.
It might as well have been ripped straight out of the unofficial Uribe/Garcia Handbook on manufacturing consent for all the truth it held. The foreigners turned out to be journalists from the Agence France Presse (AFP) who were conducting interviews with the Penan.
Perhaps it was an innocent mistake. Either way, there should be no confusion about why the Penan have mobilized themselves, much like Indigenous People have done this year in Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Brazil, Ecuador and even Canada.
The forest is their home. It’s where they’ve lived for centuries. And when the last tree have been cut down, and the last drop of water has been poisoned, the Penan will have nothing. Their economy will be gone, their food and medicine will be gone, their culture, identity and sacred sites—everything will cease to exist.
The Penan do not want this to happen. How could they? It’s involuntary suicide. The Penan want to live.
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