Bruno, Bruce and the Penan

More than 10 years ago I came across a magazine article about Bruno Manser, a Swiss activist, who had gone to live among a nomadic tribe in Borneo called the Penan. I was fascinated by the way he had become part of the tribe to understand how they lived within the forests of Sarawak. At that time logging had begun to become a threat to the nomads, depleting the forests which not only acted as home but also contained all their food and medicines. In light of this Bruno went on to act as a voice for the Penan and wrote books and lectures about their threatened existence.

Then last night, all these years later, I am reminded once more of the Penan as BBC2’s Bruce Parry visited them a part of the series Tribe. Bruce lived with the Penan much in the same way as Bruno, hunting with them and harvesting plants from the forest. They showed him the impacts of logging on the forest and on their lives but also stressed how they were not in the way of progress. But it is difficult for the Penan to see where they fit within the development of a country such as Malaysia.

I felt this paper would provide a good overview of the situation:

Environmental struggles in Malaysia.
Meenakshi Raman
Development (London) , 2006 , 49(3):38-42.

This paper presents two examples of key conflicts over natural resources in Malaysia: the struggles of the indigenous Penan people over logging and deforestation and the construction of a hydroelectric dam. These examples illustrate how environmental concerns should not be separated from development concerns. It is argued that environmental imperatives must be integrated with economic development in order to save nature and to improve the living standards of the poor and disadvantaged.

A further search on CAB Abstracts provided me with more information on the Penan, mostly relating to logging (their resistance and acquiescence), but also papers on health and nutrition and the Penan’s use of medicinal and food plants.

Note: Bruno Manser disappeared without trace on his last visit to Sarawak in 2000, he leaves behind the legacy of the Bruno Manser Fund which aims to protect threatened rainforest areas and campaign for the rights of the indigenous peoples.

2 thoughts on “Bruno, Bruce and the Penan

  1. Jackie Mugah September 27, 2007 / 2:05 pm

    Perhaps one of our biggest concerns to date is the trained lack of consideration for the effects of any human activity on the environment. Development is a positive phenomenon, but it has to be done with caution. Separate efforts to promote environmental sustainability as a direct result of adverse effects of development would ensure that resultant environmental effects get as much attention as (if not more than) development efforts.
    An analogy may be seen in the relationship between scientists who research a particular drug, and doctors who use the drug for treatment.
    Scientists’ discovery of the side effects of the said drug is important to doctors who use this knowledge to navigate the course of a particular patient’s treatment. These parties, just like environmentalist and developmental efforts constitute 2 sides of the same coin, and help sustain the balance that is to be for BOTH dependent fields to thrive.
    Also, we mustn’t forget MDG number 7. We do need to promote environmental sustainability for various reasons, including for the preservation of biodiversity and water catchment areas.

  2. Jackie Mugah September 27, 2007 / 2:06 pm

    Perhaps one of our biggest concerns to date is the trained lack of consideration for the effects of any human activity on the environment. Development is a positive phenomenon, but it has to be done with caution. Separate efforts to promote environmental sustainability as a direct result of adverse effects of development would ensure that resultant environmental effects get as much attention as (if not more than) development efforts.
    An analogy may be seen in the relationship between scientists who research a particular drug, and doctors who use the drug for treatment.
    Scientists’ discovery of the side effects of the said drug is important to doctors who use this knowledge to navigate the course of a particular patient’s treatment. These parties, just like environmentalist and developmental efforts constitute 2 sides of the same coin, and help sustain the balance that is to be for BOTH dependent fields to thrive.
    Also, we mustn’t forget MDG number 7. We do need to promote environmental sustainability for various reasons, including for the preservation of biodiversity and water catchment areas.

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