The late Along Sega who became world famous as an outspoken leader of the Penan’s struggle against the logging companies joins the ranks of towering Malaysians for us to emulate. Lukas Straumann pays tribute.
Along Sega, the iconic paramount leader of the last nomadic Penan group in the Upper Limbang region of Sarawak, Malaysia, has passed away on 2 February 2011 at 5.00pm local time at Limbang hospital. Along was in his 70s and leaves behind his wife Yut and a number of children and grandchildren. While the exact cause of his death remains unknown, we have been informed that he had being suffering from strong pains in his legs during the last weeks.
Along Sega became world famous as an outspoken leader and spokesperson for the Penan’s struggle against the logging companies that started encroaching into the Borneo rainforest in the 1980s. Along Sega also had the role as a mentor and adoptive father to Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser who spent several years living with Along’s group in the Adang and Limbang river region in the late 1980s. Along and his group’s struggle was featured in documentaries such as Tong Tana, Blowpipes against Bulldozers, Lakei Penan and The Last Nomads of Borneo. Having been born as a member of one of the last groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers, Along decided to become sedentary near Long Adang in Upper Limbang in the early 2000s, mainly because the Penan’s forests had been depleted by logging.
It was bitter for Along to realise that the Sarawak government never showed any respect for the nomadic Penan’s unique lifestyle and heritage and that all promises given to them by the Malaysian authorities in the 1980s were subsequently broken. In a 2005 interview with the Bruno Manser Fund, Along said that life had become very difficult for the Penan due to logging and he also talked about intimidations by loggers. He also said that the Chief Minister’s promise to preserve an intact jungle area for the Penan was “all lies” and “nonsense” and had never been realised. Asked about the ongoing struggle for the conservation of the rainforest and the Penan’s land rights, he said that he was trying to teach the younger generation how to lead the struggle for Penan rights: “When I die, they will continue our struggle because I asked them not to give up.”
Lukas Straumann is Director of the Bruno Manser Fund