It's a long story and someday I'll make the time to write it up properly...but for now, here's a short version:
Sarawak is a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, with the fastest rates of logging from around 20 years ago, threatening not only the forests but the culture and survival of tribal peoples including one of the world's last tribes of nomadic hunter-gathers, the gentle, peaceful Penan. As part of the global protest movement I campaigned for an end to tropical timber waste in the largest market, Japan, and tried to support the Penan by sharing their message globally. In an act of urgency and desperation to get international attention focussed on the issue and in solidarity with the hundreds of Penan who had been arrested for peacefully blockading the logging roads over many years, 8 of us (from Australia, the UK, the USA and Germany) climbed up cranes to stop them loading logs onto ships bound for Japan in 1991 - I brought my guitar and sang (no small feat at the top of a crane!). As a result we were jailed for up to 2 months in Malaysia for 'criminal trespass with intention to annoy'. The authorities called us 'eco-terrorists', local legal representatives supported us, the Penan people perhaps sensed some brief empowerment, Malaysian NGOs distanced themselves from these hot headed foreign activists and the logging continued faster than ever...After jail time we were deported and told never allowed to return...I returned quietly over the border from Indonesia about a year later but felt ineffective in helping...I campaigned in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Canada...but the logging continued, morphing into palm oil plantations as the easiest areas to access were logged out...finally I realised there was no way to truly protect any forest or people anywhere in the world without changing our economic structure - we need to fundamentally change our way of thinking and our way of living...so that's what I've been trying to do, and that's why it has been over 20 years since I visited Sarawak.
Back to the forest
(December 16, 2012)
I'm sitting on the banks of the Limbang river watching Pacha and Yani jump in along with a bunch of Penan children. We are in L. Gita - a small semi settlement of some 10 families. Every so often from a different direction one or two other Penan drift in - the word had gotten out that it is time for a gathering.
Yesterday we travelled by 4wheel drive from Lawas - time becoming irrelevant as we wait till things are ready before gathering in prayer for good blessings before we go.
Our journey was blessed - fine, clear weather as we catch an unobscured glimpse of the sacred Batu Lawi, the last destination of our friend Bruno Manser...Memories of the many visits to this place come flooding back, tears and appreciation...the logging trucks keep coming...communities here have also been fighting the Petronus company that has laid a pipe line under the ground from KK to Bintulu - in it's wake a scar the breadth of Sarawak maybe...
We saw many good omens: a tiny sun shower, flocks of swallows on the river, sound of kowai, hornbill and clouds in the shape of s hummingbird...it reminded me to share this story here...
We slept on the wooden floor last night - Yani complaining in the morning - but somehow we slept ok. They have had so much fun with the kids and with the pet monkeys, wild boar and kittens around the place.
The river is glorious...
Meeting later in the afternoon recalling old stories - a man remembered that he had been the boy of around 10 years old that had been with us when we met the barking deer that gave me my Penan name.
I sang the old protest songs, we talked about the sadness of how much was lost, but how we were determined to continue - our children would need to keep the struggle.