Rainforest Penan Tribe Wins Battle With Oil Palm Giant

Penan TribePhoto: © Survival
Penan armed with blowpipes block the road as Shin Yang logging trucks approach

The Penan tribe of Borneo has won a victory over oil palm giant Shin Yang. The Penan people were being resettled from their original lands, only for Shin Yang to start clearing forest on their new home to be!

Penan TribePhoto: © Colin Nicholas/COACSemi-nomadic Penan at Ba Puak, Borneo, Malaysia.

The Penan were being resettled as their original habitat is to be destroyed to make way for the Murum dam and they had no real choice, if they wished to maintain their way of life as much as possible, but to move to new forest space. With the discovery that the oil palm giant was clearing forest in the area that they were moving to, their ability to carry on with their traditional practices was again in jeopardy. But Shin Yang says they have stopped deforesting the new area “pending verification that the land is meant for the Penan” from the Malaysian government.

Penan TribePhoto: © M. Ross/Survival
Oil palms planted on recently-deforested land in Sarawak, Borneo.

Hopefully the Malaysian government will act quickly in deciding in favour of the Penan. It is especially important as the Penan are nomadic people known for the practice of never taking more than necessary from the land or anything else, called “molong”.

Penan TribePhoto: © R Hanbury-Tenison/ Survival
A Penan man in the Borneo rainforest.

A man told Survival International: “We are not like other people who can live with money, for us we can only live if our land is not destroyed. Without land we will not be able to survive.”

Penan TribePhoto: © Survival International
Much of the Penan’s forest has been logged, without the Penan’s consent.

If oil palm plantation companies are able to move in and clear the forest completely then the Penan people will be left with nothing, so this announcement is an important step in securing this tribe’s future. Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry says, “This is a great victory for the Penan. Planting oil palms in this area would have almost certainly resulted in the utter poverty and destitution of the tribe. The Malaysian government must continue to respect the Penan’s right to their land so no companies in the future can cut down their trees without their permission.”