Penans left behind

Early in the morning, James has a last bite of breakfast. It will be a long time before he has a homecooked meal again. The truck sounding its horn outside reminds him he has no time to dawdle. Bidding goodbye to his mother, he runs to the waiting vehicle.

Outside of his longhouse, 30 Penan teens have already taken their place at the back of the lorry. The lorry will transport them to the nearest high school- SMK Bario. If all goes well, they will arrive…in a week.

Gayut Lim (33) spoke with Komunitikini about the hardship his Penan community endures to get access to education. The teenagers in Lang Lamai village have no choice but to travel for week if they want to further their studies

In fact, many of them only return to their homes twice a year.

“We have 18 villages around this area, but we only have 2 primary schools. In fact many of us discontinue our education after standard six due to the lack of education facilities” he said.

Gayut is one of them who quit. He eventually worked as a coolie in Miri with a daily pay of RM20.

“It seems like most of us end up being coolies,” he said.

Tough life is haunting Long Lamai’s villagers as many of their problems are not addressed by the authorities.

“I feel they are not keeping their promises. The first primary school was setup when Malaysia was established (1963), and until now there is still no secondary school.”

He said the last project last done by the government for the villagers dated back to 1992, when a longhouse and community hall were erected.

Ignored by assemblyperson

However, since then their complaints to the local assemblyman Lihan Jok seems to fall on deaf ears.

“The village leader wrote several times to seek attention to issues like drain repairs, roads and public toilet. We hardly get any response,” he said.

He said they need a clinic now because the 1-hour journey to reach nearest clinic will put the seriously ill patients in danger.

“We have a health room in the village. But someone has cut off the water supply in the room which flows from upstream,”

“They (village upstream) demand us to pay if we want to have water for patients,” he said.

The Lang Lamai village is located deep in the  jungles of Ulu Baram, Sarawak. About 500 Penans make their home there; most of them do not have a stable income.

“We get some cash occasionally when selling prey to businessmen. Otherwise, we eat what we have cultivated or hunted,” Gayut said.

However, their livelihood is now under siege due to the mass logging activities taking place in their areal.

“Their activities are surrounding us. It is hard for us to get anything from the forest now.”

He stressed that the authorities should respect their way of life and their land rights.

“We are not against the logging activities as a whole; we just want our place to be preserved,”

“There should be a buffer zone where logging is banned. It doesn’t matter if they want to log in other areas,” he said.