Petronas’ Kaamatan Journey – A Glimpse Into Borneo’s Best-known Festival

May is perhaps the best time to visit Sabah if experiencing the culture of the people of north Borneo is what you are yearning for. It is during the month of May that the native Kadazandusun people celebrate their best known festival called Kaamatan, literally means after-harvest festival. This is also mark the end of a planting season and the beginning of a new one. In a way, it is a celebration of a new “year.”

There is a legend associated with the Kaamatan, one that revolves around the sacrifice of the daughter of the god Kinoingan (more on this here).

Anyway, here is a series of five web episodes featuring celebrity host Pamela Chong who embarked on a journey to get to know more about the celebration. This was shot in May this year where she went to Kampung Luanti Baru in Ranau and experienced numerous aspects of the festival. The web episode is produced by the Malaysian oil company Petronas.

Natives Given Digital Cameras to Shoot “The Heart of Borneo”

A group of native people in Indonesia’s Kalimantan were recently taught photography and provided with digital cameras to shoot their everyday life in the vast Heart of Borneo, through their own eyes. The result is pretty astounding, both the still photographs and video.

The project is facilitated by WWF. More here:

Borneo: Through a local lens.

Rare 1935 Film Captures Iban Way of Life

A rare footage has recently found its way on video sharing network YouTube, giving a glimpse into the Iban’s way of life in the 1930s.

Although the caption says it was taken in Indonesia; the mention of Sarawak indicates that the footage was not taken in Indonesia, but rather, in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Some of scenes depicted in the video could still be seen today, for instance the part about having a hornbill as a pet.

Is There A Sensible Way Forward For The Penan?

The Penans want to be left alone in the jungle. The government says doing so would mean sidelining them from mainstream development. Timber companies want to log the forest in the name of commercial profit. The government wants the tribe’s ancestral land to build hydroelectricity dams to power the state’s development need.

But the Penans want to stay in these jungle, where they can live in “luxury.” Resettling them would impoverish them.

What is then the sensible way forward for the this last nomadic tribe of Borneo? Should the Sarawak government allocate them forest to live for those who want to remain in the jungle and bring to the mainstream those who want get out of the jungle?

Official Report On Rape of Penan Girls, Women, Released

[UPDATE: Translation in progress. The free time I thought I had earlier in the day dissipated towards the afternoon. Should be able to translate part of the report before the week is over]

An official report on the rape of Penan girls and women in the interior of Sarawak has been published. Compiled by the Ministry of Women, Community and Family Development , the report confirms that rape and sexual abuse had indeed taken place.

The report on the rape of Penan girls is now available online, in pdf format, here. It is in the Malay language.

Borneo Blog will try to translate the 111-page report to English. Hopefully, I will be able to do it by today.

British PM Gordon Brown’s Sister-in-Law In Borneo To Fight For Penan

The sister-in-law of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, film-maker Clare Rewcastle, has been documenting the lives of the Penan people in the Malaysian Borneo state Sarawak.

Penan... AP Picture

Penan... AP Picture

Financial Times UK’s Sue Cameron quoted Rewcastle as saying, “We were told numerous stories of rape and intimidation and, in one case, of the murder of one of the headmen.”

Rewcastle, who is married to Andrew Brown, younger brother of Gordon, has been coming to Borneo since a couple of years ago and secretly filming companies destroying the rainforest fo make way for oil palm plantation.

Rewcastle said the Penan, the last nomadic tribe of Borneo, was desperate “to smuggle out news of their plight”.

“So in the end, they bundled us under some bin bags, secreted us upstream in the bottom of a shaky old longboat and then led us into the jungle to a hidden-away old hunting hut. It became our home for the next three days, during which time at least 50-60 men, women and children came to meet us, many arriving at night to avoid detection.”

Kirai Smoking Borneo Native


Members of Borneo’s Nomadic Tribe Rescue Missing Surveyors

A group of hunters and gatherers from the semi-nomadic Penan tribe of Borneo rescued two surveyors who went missing since five days ago deep in the jungle of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

The two were part of about 50 surveyors who were drawing up land route between two Malaysian Borneo states, Sabah and Sarawak, for a 500km gas pipeline.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had confirmed that the RM3 billion (USD840 million) gas pipeline project by Petronas Carigali, a subsidiary of Petronas, Malaysia’s petroleum corporation, would go on.

[Penan tribe. A 1999 photo by AP]

The Penans, said The Star, who were out hunting and collecting jungle produce, found Ismail Salleh, 31, and Rano Sani, 26, at 3pm yesterday, as a plane and helicopter searched from the air and 15 rescue personnel combed the thick jungles of Baram.

“The Penans had taken them to a location where the search and rescue parties could meet them and take them out to the nearest accessible settlement.

“How the duo got lost is still a puzzle. We (police) will interview them soon, but the good news is that they are not hurt,” said Baram district police chief Deputy Supt Jonathan Jalin.

Suhakam Promises To Look Into Penan Women’s Sex Abuse Claim

When I was small, growing up in the interior of Kota Marudu in the northern part of Sabah, I used to hear stories about timber camp workers and the infamy of their behaviour towards the locals, particularly towards young girls.

Angry young boy

I remember feeling angry, as a small boy, when I heard stories of how timber camp workers were disturbing girls in my area and wished that I was a grown up man so that I could challenge these menacing men in a fistfight.

Standing up to abuse

I also remember how proud I was to see grown up men in my village stood up to their infamy.

At one stage, several men in my village cornered a timber camp worker, whom I suspected to be illegal immigrant, who dared stalking a girl who was on her way back from the market, and scared him shit that he pleaded for mercy for hours and repeatedly promised he would never show his face again in the village.

Tail between the legs

Imagine how satisfied I felt when seeing him — tall, fit, and with bulging muscle — all pale and pleading for his life.

The men, all of whom were my relative, could have finished him off and bury him there and then or throw him into the buffalo muck without anyone knowing. But we were no animal. We let him go and heard no more of him.

This childhood memory came back to haunt me when I saw a report about timber camp workers in Sarawak have been sexually-abusing Penan women and girls.

Sort out the timber mess

Police say they will investigate but they have not yet received any report on the matter.

Now Suhakam, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission will also look into the matter.

According to a report in The Star, Sarawak Human Rights Commissioner Dr Mohd Hirman Ritom had described the allegation as “very serious.”

“We must establish the truth. These allegations are very serious in nature, especially if they involved natives who are isolated and defenceless.

“They are allegations of a criminal nature, not just a violation of human rights. We will have to visit those areas where such alleged crimes took place and speak to the people in those areas,” he said.

The authorities should really get down to this issue and stop the menace once and for all.

Why are the forests still being plundered anyway?

And another thing, why are the forests still being plundered? Can’t the Sarawak government do any better than resorting to damaging the forest?

The same goes to Sabah. Why are the forest still being plundered? Can’t the Sabah government do any better?

“Timber Camp Workers Sexually Abused Penan Women”

The following is a press release from Survival, a movement for the tribal peoples, on the alleged sexual abuse of Penan women and girls in Sarawak.

I’m not sure if this is true but if it is, the authority should not close their eyes on this. The issue first reported by the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund.

Penan women accuse loggers of sexual abuse
25 September 2008

Women from the Penan tribe have accused workers from two Malaysian logging companies of harassing and raping Penan women, including schoolgirls.

‘I want to make it known that we are being sexually abused by the timber company workers on a regular basis’, one woman said.

The Penan live in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. They have spent more than twenty years trying to stop logging companies destroying their forests. The accused loggers work for Samling and Interhill, two of the major companies operating on Penan land.

According to research undertaken by the organisation Bruno Manser Fund, the perpetrators frequent several Penan settlements in the Middle Baram area, looking for women. The company workers are based in logging camps in the region and are usually drunk when they arrive at the villages.

‘When we hear their off-road vehicles coming, we just leave everything as it is and flee into the forest,’ the Penan source said. ‘They come on an almost weekly basis, but the situation is worst during the school holidays when they know the students are in the villages.’

In other cases, school runs operated by logging company vehicles had been arranged so that schoolgirls had to stay overnight at a logging camp, where they were abused.

The Penan communities are reporting several cases of pregnancy as a consequence of abuse by company workers. They also accuse the loggers of using armed ‘gangsters’ to intimidate them and of handing out alcohol to young Penan. Complaints by the Penan to those in charge of the logging camps and to the police have so far had no effect.

The Bruno Manser Fund has asked the Malaysian government to start a formal enquiry into the allegations. In particular, the government is being asked to ensure that the victims are protected and that the harassment of Penan women by company workers is brought to an end immediately.

In a separate development, the Sarawak government recently announced that it would no longer recognise elected Penan leaders in some communities. The move is seen as an attempt to break resistance to logging. [Source]