Last nomads of Baram want to live undisturbed

Members of the Gang family and their friends surveying the NCR land of Ba Jawi. Photo credit: BMF

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KUCHING, July 20: The remote Penan community of Ba Jawi, located in the upper reaches of the Baram river in Miri Division, is adamant in their opposition to logging and forest certification, as they are determined to maintain their traditional nomadic way of life.

A joint press release by Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF), Penan organisation Keruan, and The Borneo Project revealed that the village has expressed their rejection of timber extraction and forest certification in a letter sent to a timber company that was alleged to have operated within their territory previously.

The house of headman Lija Agang of Ba Jawi. Photo credit: BMF

In the letter, representatives of Ba Jawi, specifically the Gang family, who is the headman family of the village and the main guardians of their forest and territory, emphasised their ancestral ties to the land.

They wrote: “For about 200 years, our family has lived, hunted, gathered and collected sago within the boundaries of our territory. We, the people of Ba Jawi, are the last semi-nomadic Penan in the whole of Baram. We are the guardians of the nomadic Penan culture.

“We herewith state that we ourselves control our forests and refuse to delegate it to (the timber company) or any related party. We are within our rights to withhold consent for any logging on our land.

“As the last nomads of Baram, we ask (the timber company) to stay away from our forests and allow us to continue to live like our ancestors and carry on their legacy and culture. We expect (the timber company) to respect our right to self-determination as an indigenous people.”

A villager marking the boundaries of the territory of Ba Jawi. Photo credit: BMF

The village is part of the Gerenai Forest Management Unit (FMU) which received certification under the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) in 2020.

However, it was reported that five civil society groups have earlier this week called on Sirim, a certification body, to cancel the MTCS certificate for Gerenai FMU following a series of audit reports confirming the timber company’s lack of community engagement since 2019.

This came after the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), in May, officially accepted a complaint against the timber company after determining there was “sufficient evidence” regarding violation of FSC policies, including alleged violations of traditional and human rights and destruction of high conservation value forests.

Sirim is conducting the second surveillance audit for Gerenai FMU from July 17 to 21.

During the ongoing surveillance audit, the Penan community of Ba Jawi had also submitted a map of their territory, with clear expectation that their area will be designated as a no-logging zone on future maps of the FMU.

Lija Agang, headman of Ba Jawi and plaintiff of the NCR lawsuit, on the territory of his community. Photo credit: BMF

The statement explained that in 2020, the community had filed an Native Customary Rights (NCR) lawsuit against the timber company in an attempt to preserve their forests. They claimed that in 2012, the timber company had entered the forests of Ba Jawi and logged one of the last intact primary forest areas of Sarawak without the community’s consent.

“Prior expressions of disagreement with logging by the community have not led to the exclusion of their territory from the production zone of the Gerenai FMU.

“Like many villages in the area, Ba Jawi is part of the Upper Baram Forest Area (UBFA), an initiative supported by local communities and the Forest Department Sarawak under the umbrella of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO).”

The statement added that several communities in the UBFA area have decided to boycott certification consultations, as they believe that the process misrepresents their interests. Instead, these communities have opted to send letters explicitly reject logging to the FMU managers. — DayakDaily