A year after their land earmarked by the government for the Baram dam was given back to them, the Baram villagers gathered to celebrate their victory and solidarity in defending their river and land.
The celebration brought together folk from various villages in Baram and other parts of Sarawak to the Baram dam blockade site at Km15 in Long Kesseh. The festivity was held at the campsite which was built in 2013 to accommodate the protesters who manned the blockades for more than three years.
Instead of the usual and constant shouts of “Stop Baram dam!” which used to echo in the remote jungle terrain, the protests are now replaced with the soothing sound of the sape and traditional songs complete with dances and modern music.
The celebration was held in conjunction with the International Rivers day which is globally celebrated on March 14, and received support from all ages, all of whom spent the night in the natural surroundings. They were joined by supporters from the nearby villages.
After more than five years of resistance from the villagers of Baram against the dam, the government under the leadership of the late chief minister Adenan Satem gave back the land to the people. The cancellation of the gazette in acquiring the land for the dam was published on the Feb 18, 2016. The late Adenan announced in an interview on television, “There will be no Baram dam.”
The Baram dam which is now cancelled would have flooded 26 villages and forcefully displaced a population of 20,000 indigenous Kenyah, Kayan and Penan living in the area. The gazette for the proposed dam covered an area of 41,200 hectares, approximately one-and-a-half times the size of Penang Island.
“The youth of Save Rivers applauds Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg for his commitment to sustainable development that focuses on the local communities. The youth depends heavily on healthy rivers and intact forests. Thus, the sustainable management of our natural resources is paramount,” says Caroline Nyurang, Save Rivers youth programme chairperson.
Peter Kallang, the chairperson of Save Rivers, commented, “The villagers are grateful for getting their land back. They are still thrilled by the decision made by the government which was at that time led by the late chief minister Adenan. We sincerely hope that our new Chief Minister Abang Johari will continue the policies set by his immediate predecessor in developing the rural areas and pursuing alternative energy sources.”
PETER KALLANG is chairperson of Save Rivers.