James Lalo Keso also urges caretaker Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem to support the approval of the Baram forest reserve.
We, the Penan, are a nomadic tribe living in the rainforest of Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.
Our lives depend very much on a sound environment, a rainforest that can provide us with all for satisfying our needs; our identity and social wellbeing depends very much on our ancestral lands, the territories our fathers and grandfathers lived on. These forests are our history, our present and are meant to be our future.
Our traditional way of living is threatened by uncontrolled logging activities that started in the 1960s. Since independence, we have been demanding and struggling for our Native Customary Rights to land, which have not been acknowledged.
We are peoples of the forest; we do not have any means to make our voices heard. We know that there are international regulations that give us the right to information and consultation. The world is becoming more and more aware of the negative social and environmental consequences of logging impacts, which could lead to the end of our way of life.
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Several of our communities have written letters to the government, but no one has ever bothered to reply to our worries. As we do not have any means to make the government accountable, we put our hopes on our Chief Minister, Tan Sri Datuk Patinggi Haji Adenan Satem Adenan Satem, to strengthen democracy and listen to our voices.
We, the Penan communities from the upper Baram area, request a moratorium on the logging activities in our area. We are very pleased about the government’s interest in the realisation of a park in our home area and, two weeks ago, we handed in a proposal for a Community Managed Protected Area in the Upper Baram.
The last intact forest areas are important assets of the proposed park, and we can currently watch how they are being destroyed. There is no time for hesitation; they need to be protected as soon as possible.
Last week, we sent an official letter to our Chief Minister, the honourable Tan Sri Datuk Patinggi Haji Adenan Satem, and suggested a moratorium on logging and plantations in the upper Baram area. In the letter, we explain that we fear that until the park is officially established and the logging concessions have expired, the last remaining areas of primary forest will be logged in the Upper Baram Area.
We emphasise the urgency of our request with the quickly vanishing forests in our area. In the letter, I explain how the last islands of primary forest are disappearing in our Ba Jawi area: in 2010, the Ba Jawi area was still covered with pristine primary forest, while in 2015 – after five years of logging – the area is severely degraded and the biological diversity has been reduced considerably. Only a few areas in the Selungo area remain unlogged today and are under immediate threat of being logged in the coming months.
We would like to ask our chief minister for his support to approve our Baram forest reserve, the last remaining intact rainforest in Sarawak. We hope that he will hear our voices and stop all logging activities in the upper Baram in order to save Sarawak’s last islands of unlogged forest and to realise a park.
James Lalo Keso is a former Penan penghulu based in Long Lamai, Upper Baram, Sarawak.