Hornbill Unleashed

September 3, 2009

Why the Penan Blockades

A testimony by Harrison Ngau Laing, former Member of the Malaysian Parliament and now a native land rights lawyer based in Miri, Sarawak:

Dear All,

logo SAMIts very interesting and indeed refreshing to hear and read of our diverse views and comments on the decision of and action by our penan brothers and sisters in “re-setting” their blockades and on the so-called dialogue held between them and YB Lihan Jok, the Resident of Miri Division and the Ketua Polis Daerah Baram recently on the same subject.

In 1987, I was working with the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) (environmental organisation) Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) based in Marudi, Baram and it was at our office there that the penans came to lodge the same complaints that they were making today which forced them to set up their blockades then, which complaints concerned the blatant disrespect for their rights over their lands and forests, the pollution of their rivers,disappearance of wildlife which they hunt, the intimidations from gangsters paid by the companies whenever they try to protest, damages done to their burial grounds, the bias of the government against them in favour of the companies, ignoring their complaints as above, etc.

SAM repeatedly wrote appeal letters on their behalf to the govt, the Chief Minister, our elected reps in Council Negeri and Parliament but was also ignored.

In July, 1987, I led a delegation comprising representatives of not only the penans but also of the Ibans, Kayans, Kenyahs, Kelabits and Lun Bawang to meet with Federal Ministers including the then Deputy Prime Minister, the late Ghafar Baba. We also met with the IGP, Tun Haniff Omar and top army officials of the country at Bukit Aman and had a very lavish lunch with them there.

During the meetings held with all the above, we told them that the problems as above affect every native communities in Sarawak not just the penans. Everyone of them promised to help to look into the problems.

NONE OF THEM TOLD US that it is an offence to put up blockade on our customary land. The IGP in fact told us that its not for the police to decide who has right over the land in dispute. That is for the court to decide.

In fact, for the record, all those arrested by the police and the Forest Department for putting up the blockades and who were defended by the lawyers were all acquitted and discharged by the courts.

After we came back to Sarawak, many of our people put up blockades like the penans.

I was visited by a lot of company managers and their towkays who tried to offer me and my family large sum of money. Some even brought fruits to our house.

pengaran_iman3My answer to them was simple and standard. “The land where the blockades are set up are not my land. So even if you pay me money, I have no authority to ask those who put up the  lockades to dismantle them. Its their lands and only them can decide whether or not to dismantle their blockades.”

There was one General Manager who came all the way from Sibu who cried (probably only shedding crocodile tears) in front of me after I told him I cannot go with him to one of the blockade sites affecting their company as I don’t want to be accused of being bought by the company.

Officials of the companies also tried to seduce me with luxurious food and drinks, holidays and beautiful women of different nationalities.

Gangsters were also unhappy with me but I couldn’t be bothered with them.

Many of our own people, particularly, our Ketua Masyarakat, Ketua Kaum and political leaders humiliated me in many ways and on many occasions. They said, “if Harrison is such a good man, why can’t he help his own parents and family first. He is just an empty tin”. Of course, it was and is a fact that, my parents and family was the poorest and most trodden in my longhouse, Kampung Long Kesseh.

And of course, being so poor and as human being, working only with an NGO and yet still dare to get married at that time, I was many many times tempted to get the money dangled to me by the companies, mind you, they were in big bundles (of hundred ringgits!)

But somehow, my heart keeps telling me, “never mind GOD is fair and just.”

I hate to also think that if I receive the money from the companies and buy say a house, how would I feel everyday living in this type of  house knowing I got it from the companies. I would be tormented with guilt everyday.

NST_20061028_OpsLalangBut thing even got worst for me after that. The in famous “Operation Lallang” (ISA arrests) took place in October, 1987 and I was one of those arrested during that operation accused of instigating our people to go against loggings.

I was detained for full 60 days. Interrogated by 12 officers from different sections of the police special branch for 2 to 3 weeks. They also went through the files they seized from SAM office on the day I was arrested.

On the 60th day of my detention, I was brought to see the Director of the Special Branch Sarawak, Datuk Lee Seong Mei, a Sabahan chinese who told me I would be send back to Marudi. I told him this, “Tuan, I have been your guest for 60 days and now you want to send me back but nobody told me what I have done wrong”. His reply was, “Harrison, if I am in your position, I would also do the same thing”.
After our meeting, the police sent me to stay in one of the hotels in Kuching as Mahathir the PM and Home Minister at that time has yet to sign my “Restricted Residence Order” restricting my movement to Marudi for 2 years but which was revoked after about 1 year. That night they brought me to a night club around 9.00 pm and we came back around 4.00 am. There were taiwanese, thai, filipino women in the club and one chinese businessman footed all the bills! I was wondering whether he was one of the tycoons.

p8BujangAbout one month after my release, the former Baram District Officer, Richard Pahang came to my house one morning saying the State Secretary (SS) Tan Sri Bujang Nor (left)wanted to see me. So I went with him to the District Office Marudi and saw the SS there with the former Resident of Miri, Stephen Jussem and all the Ketua Masyarakat of Baram. SS told the Ketua Masyarakat that he wants to meet with me first before he talk to them.

Some of our Ketua Masyarakat were stunt and confused with some I heard exclaiming ” the govt just arrested and detained him, now the SS meeting with him”.

During the meeting, SS asked me to work with the govt and I said I cannot. He asked why not? I said, the govt is the cause of our problems and I went on to explain why. He told me that is why I need to join the govt to help solve the problems. I assured him that even if I am outside of the govt, I am prepared to help and that there is no point even if I join the govt but the govt doesn’t want to listen or to change its ways of doing thing I won’t be of help. He asked me what the govt need to do to solve the problems of our people. I told him to gazette the communal land boundary of all the longhouses or Kampungs and penan settlements so that there would not be any dispute over land or boundary of land in future. I also told him that the Brookes and British started and encouraged that during their time so there is no reason why our own govt cannot do even better than them. But he said its difficult. I said its a question of political will on the part of the govt and that it could be done phase by phase or area by area and if every year the govt can gazette the communal land boundaries in one Division within 10 or 15 years, the govt would have gazetted the land boundaries in all the adminstrative Divisions of Sarawak.

land pic 2I also proposed the State Govt allocate specific budget for the purpose and that after gazetting the communal land boundaries, the next step is to survey individual plots of individual NCR land within the communal land boundary of the longhouse and issue individual document of title to the individual owners. As for the shared area outside of the individual plots but within the communal land boundary of the longhouse, the govt should issue the title in the name of the

In relating my abovesaid experiences, it is my earnest and fervent hope that all of us will learn something about our individual weaknesses, limitations, how people who want to grab our land and our resources in it divide, rule and manipulate us often particularly targetting our political and community leaders.

And most important of all, why we all must stay united, fight our enemies together, be brave  because we are not here robbing other people of their rights or property but merely defending or protecting what are rightfully ours. We must learn how to detect or identify and handle enemies among us as our enemies will always try to recruit and use (or abuse)our own people to fight against us.

adventure-cave-Sarawak-ChamA few things I also learned were that, when you want to help our own people to defend or protect our land or rights, you will be demonised, ostracised, branded a traitor to our country, being anti-govt or anti development or tools of foreign NGOs jealous of our country etc. etc in the local newspapers, in the radio and TV by those having vested interests or those who are after our land and resources. Some of our own political leaders who are “apple polishers” will be their local agents to mount all these accusations against you and I. Their strategy is to frightens our own people from supporting our cause so that we are weakened and left alone in our fight to defend and protect our lands and our resources.

Mark my words, all the big companies will unite with these enemies among us using money and threat to get or buy our votes during the coming state election.

Would you still give the key of your house to the thief?

May God Bless You All and guides and gives His wisdom and protection and courage to all of us and to our penan brothers and sisters at their blockades.

Harrison Ngau Laing




  1. To Lg Lellang folks… in 20 years this suppose be learning lesson but as said the ignorance by most of the so-called elite bunch come to this current situation!

    Yes…your kindness to all the logging companies brought sufferring to many others…the people who stayed back and took care of the welfare of the village…the so-called elite bunch only come back..what…once a year? 2 years once….3?

    These are the people who bring disunity to the people of lg lellang… what development did this logging companies brought to lg lellang to date?

    BRaja…..I think I agreess 101% with u… why not just charged these culprit in court(if the court dare not..)

    Sorry to Mr Iwat…are u from Lg Lellang? question is….what has u done to help those people….knowing history wont do nothing gud…. was once in Lg lellang in early 20’s…. longhouse and school…clinic was depleted…..school and clinic(heard they had new one now)….. heard the beutiful forest and secondary forest in Long Sabai were wiped out now…… and what I read also the timbers around the old settlement your house…even rubber trees been logged right? Water catchment area been enroached? So what gud if u know the history…. I guess Lg Lellang be history in near future is you as(if) Lg Lellang people doesnt do anything to preserve our own land! You should thanks Harrison for what he had done…..

    Comment by Alien.... — June 1, 2010 @ 1:15 PM | Reply

  2. If I had a quarter for every time I came to hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com! Great read.

    Comment by Elton Roper — June 1, 2010 @ 7:14 AM | Reply

  3. Really great article! Really.

    Comment by Ernest Rizzo — May 27, 2010 @ 3:27 PM | Reply

  4. […] of the sexualk crimes, written by Rosita Maja, “Penans with big cars and houses?” by SKY), “Why the Penan blockades?” by Harrison Ngau […]

    Pingback by What Difference Can a Year Make? « Hornbill Unleashed — January 4, 2010 @ 12:04 AM | Reply

  5. Dear Harrison,
    I respect you for all that you have done and still are doing for the Penans. Like one of the respondents in this blog,I too feel that native peoples must be encouraged to stand up and fight for their rights. Greed and corruption is a weakness born in all of us. That is why so many with vested interests tried to tempt you away. But you stood firm .I salute you. We must continue to give the Penans and other natives not just verbal encouragement but also lead them in action. The upcoming peaceful demonstation in Miri is worthwhile supporting.I hope that the dates selected by the organinsers will not clash with my other committments in Peninsula. I hope I can assist and be of use. Please contact the organisers in Miri and guide them with your experience .

    Comment by Aun tiah — October 2, 2009 @ 8:53 AM | Reply

  6. Mr. Harrison Ngau. rest assured i am with you with my comments.

    Agreed, our dayak ministers, apple polisher are bunch idiot. Talking stupidity at its lowest. They has let greed took over their soul. They fear no god except money, money, money……land, land, land… because they thought when they die, their soul and body will be buried in that hundreds acres of land. Not realizing that their body will be just six feet under the ground.

    to be cont………..

    Comment by tsunami unleashed — September 12, 2009 @ 7:35 PM | Reply

  7. Your articles are very interesting. This is my first time opening your mail. I salute you for your guts. I am in full support of your courages action. Stand tall. We are all for you. Native rights must be protected and uphold your cause in prayer.
    Thanks, Harry.

    Comment by Harry Lang — September 11, 2009 @ 1:08 PM | Reply

  8. I know you well Mr. Harrison, since the past years though now we seldom meet or sit down together for coffee. I m always supporting you for all your effort to fight for our penan right and also our communities as a whole. However I doubt when can such issues be settled my friend if no changes in the existing administration, I mean a change for NEW GOVERNMENT in the next election inorder to save and continue to maintain our right over our lands. Our forests are our Hypermarkets while the hypermarkets in the cities are for the rich and city people, not us,the native people.

    Comment by Wan U. S — September 11, 2009 @ 1:11 AM | Reply

  9. I sympathise with u. I can’t see the Human Rights Commission of Msia taking up the struggle and taking up real action on this matter! Talk is cheap.

    Comment by Sarawkian 2 Once — September 9, 2009 @ 9:24 AM | Reply

  10. 1.Once, Mahathir accused the Malays of having short memories. I think, this problem of having short memories or selective memory failure is pervasive among many native asian.

    The Penan in Lg Benali [whatever may be the history] are people with dignity and honour. I am grateful because they are the only one who can say no when one needs to say no. Without the Penan blockade, the Long Lellang communal forest would no longer be in existence. [This they forget]

    Everytime a road is contructed, forest and land destruction will follow. Rivers will be murky. The Kelabits of Long Lellang are desperate lots and their ikan semah are now slowly dminishing.[This they forget]

    Timber Roads after timbers roads have been bulit to Long Lellang but they only lasts as the timber or the coupe permits are valid. Once, the coupe permits expires, the roads become disused and the Long Lellang gets disconnected again. [This they forget]

    The timber tracks are temporary but the destruction of the forest is
    permament and not replacement. River courses have been destructed as well. [This they forget]

    If the road through Long Benali is a governemtn road and is tar sealed road, perhaps it is worth fighting for. But it is only a sugar plum to pacify children to buy their silence.

    The blockade by the Kelabits in the early 1990s was to stop encroachment on the Lg Lellang tana’ bawang [communal land]. Some were arrested and charged in the court. [This they forget]

    There was one time when a timber company discharged chemicals for treating logs upriver during dry season and many people suffered illness from the same.[This they forget]

    Ehen the timber company encroached on the historical graveyard of the people at Long Lellang, many people angry and felt hurt. [This they also forget]

    2. No can say and ever accused Harrisson Ngau of any wrongdoing for his struggle. But most of us who are naive, ignorant and indoctrinated tend to view his courage and stand as anti to so many things.


    Buren Raja.

    Comment by BRaja — September 8, 2009 @ 1:05 PM | Reply

  11. A chilling account of a concerted conspiracy to extinguish an eminent indigenous rights activist Malaysia should be proud of.

    Think in terms of fauna protection, a population of 10-20,000 would have qualified a species as endangered, and warrant intense international watch and protection.

    The Penans are estimated at 15,000 or less, 3000 of them in virtual starvation some weeks back apparently due to havoc to their sustaining ecosystems. Not a matter to be taken lightly!

    The continued genocidal policy has attracted international condemnation; local and international pressure will and must intensify.

    Comment by francis ngu — September 6, 2009 @ 11:29 PM | Reply

  12. The strategy is to get the message across quickly to the rural folks in the State. The city voters were all asking the same question ‘why the rural votes still vote for Barisan for all their misdeeds notwithstanding their complaints lands had been deprived and turned into oil plantations and the forests raped and ravaged’? The simple answer lies in the plain simple exploits of Barisan – hand out the sweets and goodies like generator sets, drums of diesel, roofing sheets, building materials and merry parties to disillusion the Tuai Rumahs and their folks. For these humble people need them more than anything else for their basic livelihood. So for just the few ringgit, they had to sacrifice their lands, forests and rivers for their dependency. This is strictly rational in this context. Who else could deliver the handouts? Pakatan? PKR? DAP? Not by any imagination. But if this trend continues with this need and mindset, do not expect any change in the immediate years ahead. A revolution of minds and ideas need a lot of radical discipline to say “NO’ even in their moment of need. But the Penans and the rural folks are all ordinary humans just like us. They voted as they did because the option means putting bread on the table for the families or going hungry until the next election. Figure this out and you can start to expect the beginning of change. It has to start somewhere, sometime.

    Comment by malsia1206 — September 3, 2009 @ 5:56 PM | Reply

  13. Dear Harrison,
    I dont know if you still can remember me.I was the one sitting next to you while you are sitting for your law examination.I was trying to start a conversation with you for a few minutes.
    I empathise the Penans.The logging company will continue logging with the encouragement of greedy sarawak CM.He is the one issuing the logging licence and renew their licence every year.A very Wicked guy.First he gave you the poison and every year he will give you the remedy.
    Our aim for a permanent solution to stop logging in Sarawak is to elect a new govt and a new CM in our next GE.

    Comment by An Outsider — September 3, 2009 @ 3:36 PM | Reply

  14. […] Former Baram MP and social activist tells why the Penans blockade. In 1987, I was working with the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) (environmental organisation) […]

    Pingback by Jabu says Penan chief recalcitrant and stubborn for not dismantling blockades | Bintulu Edition — September 3, 2009 @ 11:52 AM | Reply

  15. Dear Harrison,

    A lesser man would have given up the cause to fight for the poor Penans long ago especially going against the might of the government and their timber cronies. But you have shouldered on and the fire is still burning brightly. You are a true nationalist and a great human being. But watch your back because you are going against people who will not hesitate to kill to get their way. May the good Lord go with you.

    Comment by A Sarawakian — September 3, 2009 @ 8:50 AM | Reply

  16. Well said Harrison. I am unsure if you still remember me. Our last encounter was in the Express boat (KB/Marudi). I related to you my perception of the colonial style of “Lepas batuk di tangga”.

    However, this blockade at Long Benali is very annoying. If you have read my last comment years ago in the Rengah Sarawak Forum (looked it was closed after my comment), it should be given a fair thought that the rights of Kelabit should not be at the expense of the Penan’s. I am only refering the those Penans at Long Benali, Arur Kelamuh, Long Sabai which I the history I know too well.

    Contact me via my email.

    Comment by Samuel Iwat — September 3, 2009 @ 8:07 AM | Reply

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