800 poison dart trees among cultural resources, sites listed in detailed Penan maps

Penan representatives from 63 villages met in Long Lamai to celebrate the completion of the community mapping and reaffirm their will to protect the forest in a declaration.

KUCHING, Nov 27: The location of over 800 poison dart tress, (called “Tajem” in the Penan language), used by the once nomadic hunter-gatherer people the Penan in the forest, are among the precious cultural items that can be found in 23 maps covering a total area of 10,000 sq km in the heart of Borneo.

The maps, produced by 63 Penan communities after collective hard work for 15 years, also include the local names of 7,000 rivers and creeks, 1,800 mountain ridges and peaks as well as a great number of cultural sites.

The Penan delegation handing their maps over to Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas (second right) in Kuching recently.

The group had presented the maps to Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas and Director of Forests Sapuan Ahmad two weeks ago, in their effort to have their ancestral land — “Molong” (traditional land tenure system) “Tana Pengurip” (farm land) and “Tana Terek” (communal forest) — recognised by the state government.


In a media statement issued by Bruno Manser Fonds, a foreign NGO who assisted in the training to produce the map, the Penan group had issued the ‘Long Lamai Declaration 2017’, after a celebration of the completion of the community maps.

In the Declaration, the Penan group acknowledged the positive political change after the election by late Chief Minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem in 2014 and pledged to reach out to the state government “in a spirit of reconciliation, mutual respect and collaboration” to continue its actions against unsustainable, illegal and corrupt practices.

The group declared that seven principles for future cooperation, which includes recognition of Penan Community Maps, native customary rights (NCR), Penan lands, sustainable use of natural resources, tackling corruption, promotion of small scale renewable energy instead of mega-dam projects, and the return of money stolen from Sarawak’s indigenous peoples.

“It is the first time in history, that representatives from so many different Penan communities have come together to celebrate our culture and to discuss the future of our people,” said Bian Belare, headman of Long Lamai and host of the celebration event.

Long Lamai headman Bian Belare (left) and Keruan director Komeok Joe at the celebration in the Penan village of Long Lamai.

The maps, at a scale of 1:35,000, also contain information on wild sago palm stands, which provide the Penan’s traditional staple food. The topographic information is complemented by oral histories and historical photographs. The maps also reflect the continuous struggle of the Penan protecting their forest lands since the 1980s. The maps show both the last remaining primary forest in Sarawak as well as areas ravaged by logging.

Apart from documenting Penan culture, the maps can serve as a tool for future community-based land use planning and effective nature conservation.

“The official government maps neglected the presence of the Penan and our unique relationship with the forest. We took the initiative to contribute our knowledge about the land and are very proud of the result,” said Komeok Joe, the executive director of the Penan organisation Keruan who coordinated the indigenous mapping process.

The full text of the Long Lamai Declaration is as follows:

Long Lamai Declaration 2017

We are the Penan of Sarawak. Our ancestors lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers. Since time immemorial, we have continuously inhabited our territories and we developed a profound relationship with our land: the forest is our life, our history and our spirit.

Our inherent land rights have been neglected for the development of extractive industries: logging activities, plantations and large-scale hydroelectric power. Most of the protests we initiated were powerless against the on-going licenced destruction of our environment. Today, our forests are depleted, our rivers polluted and our lives are threatened. Looking at the immense social, economic and ecological costs, we affirm that we have suffered enough!

We can not tolerate such destructive activities anymore. We are determined to take action to enforce our rights as stipulated within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples endorsed by Malaysia in 2007.

After more than a decade of dedicated work, we have produced community maps of our land, which we intend to use as a foundation to exercise, claim and defend our rights.

Acknowledging the positive political change and progress that has happened in Sarawak since the election of late Chief Minister (Pehin) Sri Adenan Satem in 2014, we want to reach out to the Government of Sarawak in a spirit of reconciliation, mutual respect and collaboration. We call upon our State Government to continue its actions against unsustainable, illegal and corrupt practices.

We, the undersigned indigenous Penan communities of the Ulu Baram, Ulu Tutoh and Ulu Limbang (Sarawak), declare the following principles for future cooperation with all those concerned:

I. Acknowledgement of our traditional land tenure system “Molong”, our communal forest “Tana Pengurip” and our farm land “Tana Terek”

II. Recognition of our Penan Community Maps

III. Respect of our Native Customary Rights (NCR)

IV. Sustainable use of natural resources and protection of our environment

V. Tackling corruption and promotion of transparency

VI. Promotion of small-scale renewable energy, instead of mega-dam projects

VII. All the money stolen from Sarawak’s indigenous peoples should be returned.

Long Lamai, the 25th of November 2017

— DayakDaily