Kuala Lumpur. Dozens of indigenous Penan tribespeople armed with spears and blowpipes have set up roadblocks in Malaysian Borneo to stop logging companies from encroaching on their territory, activists said on Friday.
The Penan people, some of whom are nomadic hunter-gatherers, have been resisting deforestation of their ancestral land since the 1980s when Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser championed their cause.
Indigenous rights group Survival International said a group of Penan were making a new stand by mounting roadblocks across tracks cut by Malaysian timber firms that intrude deep into the forest.
The group said once the valuable trees have been felled the companies clear the land completely for oil palm plantations, leading to water pollution and loss of wildlife.
“The logging and oil palm companies are robbing the Penan not just of their forests but of their food and water,” Survival International’s director Stephen Corry said in a statement. “It is essential that the Malaysian government recognizes the Penan’s rights to their land.”
J ok Jau Evong, field officer for Friends of the Earth in Sarawak state, said two blockades had been erected in recent months, including one in the remote Long Daloh region that is still being manned by some 120 tribespeople.
“They are armed with blowpipes, their traditional hunting weapon. They do not want logging to be carried out in their forest reserve,” he said. “The Penans put up the blockade as a last resort after talks with the logging company failed.”
He said the companies had suspended their activities but that there were doubts that agreement would hold.