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The Borneo Case: A new film about the destruction of Sarawak’s forests

2016-08-24-185851_1155x1026_scrotThe Borneo Case is a new film that documents the destruction of more than 90% of Sarawak’s forests and investigates where the profits from the destruction went. As the Bruno Manser Fund notes, “Vast illicit assets have been acquired by the former Chief Minister and current Governor of Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud, and his closest family members.”

The film is directed by Erik Pauser and Dylan Williams, two Stockholm-based filmmakers. It features indigenous activist Mutang Urud, Radio Free Sarawak DJ Peter John Jaban, Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown, and Lukas Straumann of the Bruno Manser Fund, author of the book “Money Logging”.

In the early 1990s, Mutang Urud was arrested for opposing the logging of his people’s forests. He has lived for many years in exile in Montreal. He is filmed returning to Sarawak, to visit the Bakun dam, that is flooding the valley in which he used to live:

Back in 1992, Mutang travelled to Brazil for the Earth Summit. He was interviewed by Art Davidson for his book “Endangered Peoples”. Mutang talked about what the now-flooded forest meant to him and his community:

Down there in our longhouses in the trees my people live in the most wonderful homeland anyone could have. The forest provides shelter, food, and medicine and holds the history of our people-our myths, our legends, and stories. If we walked the forest trails together, I would be able to show you at every turn what had happened here, who had been hunting over there, everything. That grove of trees might be where I was almost bitten by a wild pig. I could take you to a tree marked by my uncle, who is now dead. The lives of our people are written in the landscape. And we know every tree and turn of the creeks. In cities I get lost easily, but out there in the forest I always know where I am. We have names for thousands of streams and creeks, even the smallest trickles.

The film includes footage of logging operations in Sarawak. It features interviews with the late Along Sega, a headman of the nomadic Penan in the Long Adang area in the north of Sarawak.

I never met Along Sega, but I did borrow his name during a protest in the early 1990s outside the Malaysian Tourist Office in London. The idea was to make tourism to Malaysia controversial because of the state-backed destruction of Sarawak’s forests. And to raise awareness about the fate of the Penan and their forests in Sarawak. About 15 of us chained ourselves to the doors of the tourist office and waited for the police to come.

We were duly arrested and taken to the nearest police station. The conservation with the arresting police officer went something like this:

    Policeman: Name?

    Me: Along Sega.

    Policeman: Where do you live?

    Me: Long Adang, Sarawak, Malaysia.

    Policeman: And your occupation?

    Me: Hunter gatherer.

At the time I was working for a firm of architects. I skipped work to take part in the protest. My banner read, “No more Carnage, Greed and Nightmare!”, which (I thought) was a clever play on the names of my employers. Perhaps not surprisingly, I was sacked when I turned up for work the following day.

The film also takes a look at Radio Free Sarawak and Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the journalist who set up the brilliant website Sarawak Report.

The world premier of the film was last week at the Freedom Film Festival in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

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  1. As long as the corrupt people in positions of power are supported by lack of opposition by countries and international organisations that could make a difference, then it is virtually impossible to stop the ‘rape and pillage’ of these resources and the displacement of indigenous peoples who call it home.