Borneo Natives Proclaim Tropical Forest Reserve

Penan Peace Park" is aimed at protecting the last primeval rainforests of Sarawak´s Upper Baram region and is challenging the official logging plans – the Penan wish to develop tourism and to protect their native rights.

Wood extraction

Seventeen indigenous Penan communities have proclaimed a new tropical forest reserve on their native lands in the jungles of Borneo.In an official opening ceremony held last week at the remote jungle village of Long Ajeng in the upper reaches of the Baram river, the Penan leaders unanimously declared their intention of conserving their last remaining primeval forests as a nature reserve. The Penan wish to develop tourism in their region and insist on the protection of their native customary rights

James Lalo Kesoh, the former penghulu (regional chief) of the Upper Baram region, said at the inauguration ceremony for the ´Penan Peace Park´: "As nomadic hunter-gatherers, we Penan people have been roaming the rainforests of the Upper Baram region for centuries. Even though we have settled down and started a life as farmers since the late 1950s, we still depend on the forests for our food supply, for raw materials such as rattan for handicrafts, for medicinal plants and for other jungle products. Our entire cultural heritage is in the forest and needs to be preserved for future generations.

Jawa Nyipa, headman of Long Ajeng, said: "The conservation of our forest is our highest priority. Without the forest, we cannot survive. We call this park ´Peace Park` because peace (“lawi”) is a very important concept in our culture. We wish to live peacefully together with our neighbouring tribes and as fully recognized Malaysian citizens." The ceremony at Long Ajeng was attended by close to 200 Penan and accompanied by traditional dances and a performance of the traditional tree drum (“atui”).

The new "Penan Peace Park" comprises an area of approximately 1630 km2 (163,000 hectares) around the Gunung Murud Kecil mountain range close to the Indonesian border and is located between the existing Pulong Tau National Park in Malaysia and the Indonesian Kayan Mentarang National Park. The area is considered to be a core settlement area for the Penan Selungo (Eastern Penan) rainforest culture. Since the late 1980s, the Eastern Penan have opposed the logging of their rainforests and have repeatedly erected logging-road blockades to protect their lands against encroachments by a number of logging companies.

With the proclamation of the new park, the Penan are challenging the Sarawak state government who have earmarked their lands for logging. The “Penan Peace Park” area is fully concessioned for logging by the Malaysian timber giant, Samling.

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