Hornbill Unleashed

January 5, 2013

‘Sarawakian first, Malaysian after equality’

June Rubis

Peter Kallang and family (Petrus Kallang is in the white suit, Peter is next to him).

It isn’t easy to be in the forefront of a controversial home-grown campaign to stop the 12 mega-dams from being built in Sarawak. After all, you would have to stand up against the most paramount leader in the State, and as most Sarawakians know, this is a pretty big deal.

For Peter Kallang, however, being the chairman of SAVE Rivers network, a coalition of indigenous peoples, and NGOs to stop the 12 mega-dams in Sarawak, was a no-brainer.

Born and raised in Baram, Peter feels that the plan to flood the Baram area, of 41,200 hectares (half the size of Singapore), is a huge travesty to thousands of indigenous peoples who would have to be relocated to new lands.

This would not be the first time local communities are relocated to make way for a mega-dam in Sarawak, and promises of a new better home with a prosperous lifestyle, reneged by the government.

When I sat down with Peter in early September to learn more of what inspired him to take on his momentous task, he had just returned from a visit to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) office in Miri.

Peter and the rest of the SAVE Rivers network submitted documents as part of their complaint against the CEO of Sarawak Energy Bhd, Torstein Dale Sjotveit. They are saying that he abused his power to award contracts to family members of the Chief Minister of Sarawak.

While Peter himself isn’t convinced that MACC will do a thorough investigation on the SAVE Rivers complaint, he explains that it is nevertheless an important step to expose the massive corruption taking place in Sarawak.

We are sitting in what he affectionately calls “coffeeshop politik”, a corner shop canteen in the middle of Miri town that amusingly sells nothing that the large wall menu advertises.

“When they took over from the previous owner, they never took the wall menu down. I guess they like it.”

A reminder of Sarawak’s idiosyncracies; where appearances are not what they seem.

His inspiration 

Peter Kallang (on the right) in the field, showing where the proposed dam is going to be built.

Take Peter Kallang, for example: I was curious to know what made him decide to get involved in the SAVE Rivers campaign as he didn’t appear to be your run of the mill activist with an NGO background.

“Oh, I have always been like this [active in civil issues] all my life” he laughs, “My father in fact inspired me to look out for the welfare of others.”

Peter’s father, the late Petrus Kallang, was an industrious Penghulu (headman) of three Kelabit longhouses in Lower Baram: Long Ekeng, Long Banyo, and Uma Akeh. Petrus Kallang also started the first school in the area after World War II in 1947.

Petrus’s pioneering work has been chronicled in the book, “Borneo People”, published in 1956. The author, Malcolm MacDonald, then the British Commissioner-General for South-east Asia, describes his visit to Petrus Kallang’s longhouse: when he had enquired about the blackboard in the Kallang’s bilik, he was informed that it was for classes for the longhouse children.

Petrus Kallang also started the first co-operative in Baram, where each family donated a certain amount of harvested padi and the combined proceeds were then used to buy an electric generator for the longhouse. It was the first longhouse in the Lower Baram area to run on an electric generator.

His journey 

Born on September 24, 1950 in Long Ekang, Baram, Peter Kallang went on to study electrical installation in Miri in 1971. In 1975, while working for Shell, he joined the labour union to advocate for workers’ rights.

Peter remained active in the union where he was elected to be a three-term president, until 1984 when he moved to England to study power plant engineering for two years. When he returned from England, he was promoted to senior staff but remained loyal in looking out for workers’ rights by sitting on the senior staff council of the labour union.

It was exciting to be in England at that time, especially for someone like Peter with a strong social conscience. The coal miners of the UK had gone on a prolonged strike in 1984, a major industrial action against the country’s coal industry.

The strike ended in March 1985, nearly a year after it had begun. The committed strikers and their families experienced extreme hardship for they had no wages during that long period of civil action. Many picketers were reported to have been subjected to intimidation, and sometimes violence by the police.

Peter Kallang was greatly inspired by the UK coal miners’ dedication and symbolic struggle. He was especially inspired by the head of the National Union of Mineworkers, noting that while the coal miners’ strike had received much coverage in the press, it was Margaret Thatcher and her political party that received the best press.

Peter’s passion for meaningful interaction with people remained true throughout the years, and he opted to take the Shell package for early retirement in 1999, to embark on a new career of network marketing. It was an opportunity to travel around Sarawak and to train people on how to optimise their income.

In 2006, he decided to concentrate more on church and social work, and thus formed the Kenyah Miri Association (Persatuan Kenyah Miri). He is also the president of the Orang Ulu National Association, and remains active in his church men’s group, the Rights of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and the Sarawak Shell Retiree Association.

On politics 

Happy smiles after successful (and safe) trip to MACC office (Peter Kallang is in the middle).

With a man so active in social work, you would expect that Peter Kallang would have been approached by political parties. After all, politics is in his blood: his father, the former Penghulu, was one of the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) co-founders in Baram. Peter admits that he has been courted as early as in the late 1970s by political parties from both sides of the divide.

When pressed to confirm rumours that PKR had offered him to be their Baram representative for the next general election, he laughed it off. Peter explains that if he had any interest in politics, he would have joined a long time ago. For him, there just isn’t any ifs or buts or maybes surrounding the “will you ever join politics” question.

“When you join a political party, you have to toe the line. I can’t do that. I’m a man of principle,” Peter laughingly explains.

On family 

Besides God, Peter’s source of strength is his marriage of almost 30 years to Maria Usuna Ajang of Long Palai, Baram. Together, they have four children: Petrus (25 years old), Pius (24 years old), Polina (20 years old), and Priscilla (15 years old), all of whom are just as active as their parents in church and social work. Peter remarks with pride how well-travelled his children are, having travelled to India and the Philippines for church youth retreats.

His extended family is just as proud and very supportive of his work with SAVE Rivers network: Peter’s laptop and PA system were donated by fundraising from his siblings and cousins.

Peter recounts the generosity of a cousin whose husband had just passed away; she donated RM1,000 without question for his hard (unpaid) work in SAVE Rivers. All the funds were channeled into equipment and travel expenses for the campaign.

On Malaysia 

With Malaysia Day coming up, I asked Peter his thoughts of being a Malaysian.

“Malaysia is a nice concept but not practised in reality. They [West Malaysians] don’t treat us like an independent country that joined the Federation [along with Sabah] to form a new country. They look down on us in fact. There is no equality in Malaysia.

“I’m a Sarawakian, and only a Malaysian when they start treating us as equals.”.



  1. We have been colonised by UMNO after an Iban CM was removed by the late Tun Razak and since then we have been robbed of our wealth and assets for 33 years by the paramount thief minister who is the proxy for UMNO.

    Comment by Bidayuh Headmaster — January 5, 2013 @ 8:51 PM | Reply


      People all over the world have stood up to fight for real independence and most of them of gained their independence and achieved self-rule since the 1950s.

      Sarawak and Sabah are 2 exceptions in South East Asia.

      In the 1960s many Sarawak people resisted “Malaysia” as a new colonisation plan to transfer colonial rule from Britain to Malaya and demanded real independence. The British ignored their demands and coerced Sarawak into Malaysia under Malayan rule.

      After 50 years we have seen enough proofs with our own eyes that we were really re-colonised!

      Yet we are here still making kopi shop talk about not getting development funds etc when we have lost all our rights as equal citizens with “independence in Malaysia”.
      We did not get what they promised us.
      How can there be independence when Sarawak was independent on 22 July 1963 and then quickly swallowed up by the python Malaya on 16 September 1963?

      The history time line shows Sarawak (and Sabah) continued to be colonies-

      1. Sarawak was an independent state from 1841 to 1941
      2. Japan conquered and occupied Sarawak from (Dec) 1941 to 1945
      3. Britain seized control of Sarawak and made it a colony from 1945 to 1963
      4. Malaya was transferred the colonial power over Sarawak by Britain on 16 September 1963.

      Sarwak was a colony for the last 70 years.

      Real Sarawakians with pride in their country should not allow this foreign domination and rule to go on!

      So many of us young and old now can understand what patriotic Sarawakians said over 50 years ago- that “Malaysi” a new colonial plan by Britain and Malaya to keep us colonised!

      If we are really independent why are we being ruled directly from Kuala Lumpur. Should we not be functioning as an independent state like Brunei and Singapore?

      Brunei stayed out of Malaysia when the then Sultan smartly saw through UMNO’s Melayu Raya plan to dominate the Borneo colonies.

      Singapore was lucky to leave Malaysia by 1965 when it actually experienced the reality of UMNO domination plans.

      The “leader” of Sarawak and Sabah led us into the pythons mouth and some of them knowingly did so in betrayal of our interests for their own gain.

      Today we suffer from their decision to sell out Sarawak and getting a ponzi deal out of being in Malaysia.

      “Ponzi deal” means that the Malayans took our wealth and gave us back just a little bit our own money and made us poorer in real terms than before 1963 while they built Malaya on our wealth. We don’t need to go into the many areas where they and their local collaborators cheated us with promises of “development” and where they abused their trust and “developed” themselves privately.

      The other ponzi or fraudulent part of the bargain is that Malaysia is fast being transformed into “Melayu Raya”.

      Point 5 of the Sarawak 18 and Sabah 20 Points Agreements with Malaya says simply in black and white –

      “Point 5: Name of Federation

      “Malaysia” but not “Melayu Raya”

      Point 5 reflected the real fears of Sabah and Sarawak people that UMNO would use Malaysia as a vehicle to create its “Melayu Raya” instead of an egalitarian multi-national “Malaysia”.

      The ‘Melayu Raya’ idea has come to the fore in the last 5 years when UMNO and its followers beat their racist domination drum more loudly and declared non “Malays” (a flexible term used to churn out instant foreign Muslims into “Malays” with the right to vote) and non Muslim people as pendatangs. How is it that not only the Chinese born and bred in Sarawak but also every other race including the majority Dayaks who are not Muslim not citizens in their own country Sarawak?

      So we have already got what we feared will be “Melayu Raya” 50 years ago. Under the NEP Malaya proceed to created a “Melayu Raya” after may 13 1969 replacing the “Malaysia” concept with UMNO’s supremacist religious Apartheid system.

      Is this not what POINT 5 is against?

      We did not get what they promised us and agreed to in writing. They broke the agreements.

      But it does not mean we should just try to fix things up from this bad deal.

      We can also take Sarawak out of Malaysia. That is our right which was even denied to us!

      That means we must unite and fight to take back this right and take back our country Sarawak!

      Make that your new year resolution!

      Comment by SARAWAKIAN PATRIOTS — January 6, 2013 @ 11:49 AM | Reply





    Comment by SARAWAKIANS — January 5, 2013 @ 6:49 PM | Reply





      (There appears to be some tempering with the text…hmmmm?)

      Comment by SARAWAKIANS — January 5, 2013 @ 7:44 PM | Reply

  3. There are people who see him as an idiot wasting his time doing what he does but idiot as he may be, he is a hero to most whose lives are being threatened and on the verge of being destroyed because of the greed of those in power who think only of their own well being and survival and willing to trade and sell their own people who would be forcefully removed and resettled to make way for a Damned dam! And to Sarawakian1, Peter is not all talk or you just do not want to acknowledge his good work in Australia against Hydro Tasmnania.

    Comment by brian — January 5, 2013 @ 11:18 AM | Reply

  4. It’s an inconvenient truth that we are Malaysians. Whats badder is we’re not treated like we are.

    You might need to bash around with words and meanings.

    Fundamental citizen right is not for ANYONE to “give”. It’s yours, it resides with you and subsists in you!

    So… say it with the vote in GE13!

    Comment by kepala pusing — January 5, 2013 @ 11:07 AM | Reply

  5. All the talk won’t get Sarawak back as Malaya sees us a cash cow to be milked dry.

    Comment by Sarawakian1 — January 5, 2013 @ 9:49 AM | Reply

  6. Peter , believe me when I say , some of us the so call “non- bumis” ( which idiot penned this word is a triple idiot !! ) in the Peninsular also experienced “…they look down on us..” …even Indonesians…

    Comment by teres6842550 — January 5, 2013 @ 12:20 AM | Reply


      Comment by SARAWAKIAN PATRIOTS — January 6, 2013 @ 1:01 PM | Reply

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