Malaysia’s Penan present their ideas for the preservation of their traditional forests - Indigenous Penan communities from Upper Baram, Sarawak/Malaysia, propose the “Penan Peace Park” as a model project that integrates forest protection and socio-economic development
(KUCHING, MALAYSIA) A delegation of native Penan from Borneo’s interior yesterday presented a unique community-based conservation initiative at the State Assembly in Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The so-called “Penan Peace Park” aims at uniting forest protection with socio-economic development.
The “Penan Peace Park” has been developed by 18 Penan communities in an attempt to protect their traditional forests against the threats of logging, palm oil plantations and hydropower dam plans. The project is not only groundbreaking for the Penan people, who for the first time in their history decided to collectively model a development plan for their future, but it also presents an alternative vision for Sarawak, a Malaysian state that has become infamous for its unsustainable management of forests and for the violations of the rights of its native inhabitants.
Nine Penan leaders presented their ideas to an audience of 50 media representatives and politicians. They explained that the “Penan Peace Park” is not only meant to defend their native customary rights land but should also help them realize their right to self-determination, to protect their culture and to bring about sustainable economic development. The “Penan Peace Park” comprises 163’000 hectares of forests and farmlands in the Upper Baram and Tutoh region of Sarawak, whereof an estimated 60 per cent are still intact primary rainforest.
Within the framework of the “Penan Peace Park”, the Penan communities are proposing the implementation of 16 projects in the areas of cultural heritage protection, nature conservation, as well as economic and institutional development. It is envisaged that, within the park area, the remaining primary forests should be protected and logging-afflicted secondary forests restored. Alternative income for the communities shall be generated through the sale of non-timber forest products and community based tourism. The Penan are also planning to revive their language and traditional knowledge.
The Penan leaders used the presentation to call on the Sarawak state government to become their partner in the realization of the Penan Peace Park as „a place where humanity and nature are living in harmony, where the quality of life and livelihood are secured for both present and future generations, and a place where economic and human development are socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable“.
Sadly, Sarawak’s government under long-term Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud rejects the Penan’s vision for a self-determined future and has chosen to ignore its responsibility for the future of Malaysia’s most marginalised communities. Not a single government representative attended the Penan’s presentation and left it to opposition politicians from the Justice Party (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) to encourage the Penan leaders by endorsing their plan for a better future.