Penan People

I always enjoy watching Bruce Parry on BBC’s Tribe; I’ve mentioned this already. But Tuesday’s show, the final one, was really emotional for both me and Bruce.

This time he was living with the Penan people of Sarawak, Malaysia. They are a nomadic hunter gatherer tribe who live off Borneo’s primary forest. Alas commercial logging companies granted permission to log by the Malaysian Government are making deep inroads into their traditional territories, and the clearing of primary forest leads to the growth of secondary forest which they find much harder to hunt in. Apart from the obvious loss of the plants they depend on for both sustenance and medicine, the heavy logging is also causing heavy erosion when it rains, and denying them fresh water supplies due to silt in their water sources. And any land cleared is also taken over by plantations of the infamous tree with the insidious influence, the Palm Oil.

Throughout the series we were shown instances of progress creeping up on the tribes, sometimes silently and sometimes not so silently, ever inexorably. But this time the trusting and simple nature of the Penan juxtaposed with the visible signs of catastrophe looming was rather much, and one could see Bruce trying to be detatched but disturbed at the injustice of it all.

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