Come Aug 31, 2005, Malaysia will be celebrating 48 years of independence from
colonial rule. But almost after 50 years of independence, we, the Sarawak
Penans, continue to live in extreme poverty with hardly much access
to basic needs like proper housing, food, clean water, education, healthcare as
well as proper identification documents.
Further, our native customary rights and ancestral rights to our land and forests have never been respected.
For the last decade, the government has frequently made various statements that financial assistance and facilities have been provided to us Penans to solve our problems. However, it is clear that this assistance and facilities have failed to improve our lives or livelihood and we continue to be destitute.
This statement is issued after discussions between Penan leaders, representatives and participants at a Penan community meeting held at Kampung Long Belok, Sungai Apoh, Tutoh, Baram recently. It also serves as a wake-up call to the government to pay immediate and serious heed to our problems.
Logging on our native customary land and the lack of respect for our native customary rights are currently the main problems faced by us. There is a lack of understanding of our traditional rights on native customary land and how we obtained these rights.
Lately, our problems have increased as a result of continued logging activities on our native customary land. Additionally, we regret the fact that the government has been issuing a large number of licences for plantation projects without first understanding our culture or the way we Penans live.
Besides logging, the lack of healthcare is another major concern for us. Our health has suffered as a result of air and river pollution, exposure to heat as well as the lack of nutritious food due to the depletion of forests because of logging activities. The lack of healthcare centres located near Penan areas is another factor which contributes to why some of the Penans are in constantly poor health.
Further, until today, a large number of Penans still do not possess identification documents. This is due to the high cost of travel in terms of transport to the towns to apply for these documents. Most of the births take place in the villages and this too contributes to the lack of any official records.
If this problem is not addressed immediately, there will be other problems especially when we need to register our children at schools or for other official business which require us to produce proper identification documents.
If the government is seriously concerned about our problems, then it should pay immediate attention to the following:
- Recognise our ancestral and native customary rights to our lands and give us
special rights or privilege to allow us to continue to obtain our produce and
source of food from our forests;
- Revoke the provisional leases or licences issued for large-scale plantations
which are on our customary lands;
- Approve immediately our application for a Penan village forest
- Prepare a sustainable development plan which is agreeable and beneficial to
- Allocate more education centres in or near the Penan villages;
- Set up agricultural and animal husbandry centres in Penan settlements since
the Penans have begun to farm as a result of dwindling food sources from the
forests due to logging activities;
- The Health Ministry should constantly monitor the health of the Penans and
should do in-depth research into the causes of the diseases that afflict the
Penans besides the health they face;
- The Health Ministry should also organise special programmes in Penan
villages where Penans could be educated on healthcare through informative
- The National Registration Department (NRD) should set up a viable mechanism
specially for the Penans to solve the problem of birth and death registrations
as well as the issuance of identity cards;
- Housing projects for the Penans must take into account the surrounding
environment, safety, comfort and cleanliness. They must also be equipped with
all basic amenities.
- Educational and vocational programmes should be provided for both graduate
or non-graduate unemployed Penan youth;
- Provide more fully-equipped healthcare centres in or near Penan areas in
order to enable us to utilise these centres at any time and also in case of
- Provide proper educational or scholarship assistance to Penan children who are receiving government or privately-sponsored education at primary, secondary or tertiary levels.
The writer is the chairman of the Sarawak Penan Association.