Penan Starvation: People First, Performance Now?

by Augustine Anthony

Time and again I have said that our country is a land of milk and honey but we now suffer a well entrenched system of governance that betrays its own people.

The news report in Utusan Online under caption “Lebih 3,000 Penan kebuluran” is one by product of a system failure.

Malaysia is seen on many occasions as a generous contributor whenever there are calamities around the world. Some of the aids that are despatched are laudably swift, perhaps within days or weeks of such calamities.

Of course we welcome such generosity of Malaysia. But what about our own backyard?

It is reported that more than 3,000 Penan natives from 5 settlements numbering about 264 families are in starvation for the last three months.

What is even more disturbing is the fact that the Deputy Minister of Rural and Regional Development in announcing the plight of the Penan natives had even revealed that some of the natives had resorted to eating wild plants.

It is also reported that the cause of the starvation is the destruction of the natives’ padi plantations by wild monkeys.

Read more here.

This revelation beckons many disturbing questions.

  1. How is it that more than 3,000 natives in settlements endure starvation for the last three months without being noticed by a long chain of government officers from various departments including the health authorities?
  2. What were the Rural and Regional Development Ministry officers doing all this while?
  3. Why blame the monkeys for such starvation? Are the monkeys convenient scapegoats for the indiscriminate destruction of forests in Sarawak by those who are in the logging businesses and those who earn a living by destroying the forests?
  4. What is happening to the land including the forests around these settlements that had resulted in a great numbers of monkeys suddenly destroying the padi cultivation?
  5. Why the sudden mass movement of monkeys in search of food in these areas?

Of course now attempts are made to channel food supplies and other needed items to the affected natives but it must not stop there. We need to find out what is the real reason for this tragic unfolding of event.

Those responsible for this reckless omission to care for the need of the starving people and those who brought about this disaster unto the Penan natives must be severely dealt with.

It is only then people will have some sense of assurance that the system of governance is improving for the sake of people’s well being.

Another test for our Prime Minister’s slogan “People First, Performance Now”

  1. #1 by OrangRojak on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 1:33 pm

    How old are the settlements?

  2. #2 by SpeakUp on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 1:46 pm

    Penan has always been a problem for the Government, they want to remain on their land, the Government wants to take away their land. The Penang want to remain on their land the loggers want to take away their land. So end up starving. Seems so interesting that all the East Malaysian MPs etc say they are here to serve the people, the people love the Government. And then we read 3,000 Penans are starving? Amazing …

  3. #3 by Joshua on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 1:49 pm

    Not only Penan is in deep woes, the people in Paitan near Kota Marudu in the Kudat zone and Sandakan area is believed to be desperate short of water as the rivers dry up due to no rain and the oil palms sucking the water.

    This area is not easily accessible by proper roads hence help or emergency help is difficult and costly.

    Who want to check that out quick?

    That is the legacy of illegal governments and illegal leaders for decades.

    pw: basket inate

  4. #4 by SpeakUp on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 1:51 pm

    Why look so far … there are Indian kids in Sentul with only 1 meal a day. How about that? Right beside luxury condos there. Each night the well to do enjoy the performances at KLPAC, eat at nice Japanese restaurants. The kids? Hungry at night, cramped into a small room that is called a home. We need not look so far at all … its at our own doorsteps in KL.

  5. #5 by OrangRojak on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 1:57 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this on and off since the fellow wrote in about Internet access in Lahad Datu. For a country that covers such huge expanses, Malaysia has terrible communications. I don’t specifically mean Internet, I mean roads, paths and public transport. Rather than wasting money on self-aggrandisement projects, and on expensive military vehicles designed for anything but Malaysia’s needs, why not spend some money on local research into solving Malaysia’s communications problems?

    Keeping East and West Malaysia so inaccessible to each other is incomprehensible. A means of bring the two lands ‘closer together’ should be sought as a priority.

    Malaysia doesn’t need Black Hawks or MiGs to stay in touch with its jungle settlements – what’s wrong with blimps or powered gliders, or any other low-speeed, low-power transport method? Did you read the linked article? 30km is a 6 hour drive? 30km is a six hour walk. What kind of excuse for not staying in touch is that?

    It’s extremely frustrating to see so many opportunities for local development wasted on the kind of ‘Development’ that leaves all but a few people much, much worse off.

  6. #6 by frankyapp on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 2:36 pm

    Penan starvation revealed by Augustine Anthony is indeed an eye opener.The Penan tribe is the poorest of the poor in the state of Sarawak.This tribe had everything they needed,never depended on the British Colonial Government as they had all the jungles and forests a kind like belonging to them for all their needs . After merdeka,greedy politicians and timber businessmen raped and wiped out most of the jungles and forests.The poor penan tribe was forced to move further in land to the Indonisian border.Finding later they could not servived,they agreed to settle in government settlements.The government promised them a prosperous life but now they face starvation .Why is the government doing this to its own people ?.They blamed the monkeys but not themselves,shame on you. Can you imagine these greedy politicians have raped and wiped the forests neat and clean that even monekys could not servive and have to resort to stealling human crops.The MACC should wake up and do something. The regime in power,especially those politicians incharged of the Penan affairs should be ashamed of themselves and resigned.I call upon all those government politicians to walk the talk and not just talk but no action.I think enough is enough. I hope your own conscience will prick you for years .

  7. #7 by ctc537 on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 2:57 pm

    A big portion of the blame should be on the government for not improving the lot of the Penans and other natives. The state government has found it appropriate to build the State Assembly building at the cost of more than RM300 million but at the same time has neglected the poor people in the rural interior. Do the government leaders have any guilt over the suffering of the Penans?

  8. #8 by SpeakUp on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 5:11 pm

    The Penans are 5crewed:

  9. #9 by OrangRojak on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 5:32 pm

    Wow. Good spot from malaysiakini SpeakUp. The (defame everyone) article at wikipedia about Bruno Manser is interesting!

  10. #10 by taiking on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 5:41 pm

    How do you think umno could plant stars on their own shoulders if things like these were not created? Umno can now implement another of their “Satu lagi projek oleh kerajaan umno” and the poor penans are then expected to be grateful and vote umno.

  11. #11 by Jaswant on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 8:07 pm

    The Penans are political capital for the political opposition.

  12. #12 by limkamput on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 10:53 pm

    Jaswantball is playing ball again. Political capital for the opposition, so what, tell you who is not using it? Stupid paid blogger.

  13. #13 by Jaswant on Friday, 31 July 2009 - 11:48 pm

    You’re welcome to play my ball anytime when you’re through talking to yourself on your blog.

  14. #14 by Onlooker Politics on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 1:47 am

    “How old are the settlements?” (OrangRojak)

    I think OrangRojak settle in Sarawak since the first homo sapien was found in Sarawak.

    The present Chief Minister of Sarawak, Taib Mahmood, is a muslim converted from Iban pagan belief for the sake of fulfilling the requirement of Barisan Nasional’s dominant component party Umno, which insists that only a muslim can be appointed as a Chief Minister of Sarawak. Taib Mahmood only takes care of his own cronies in Sarawak.

  15. #15 by Onlooker Politics on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 1:57 am

    I think Penan People settle in Sarawak since the first homo sapien was found in Sarawak.

    OrangRojak, if you are interested to know how other aborigine people survive in Peninsular Malaysia, I would suggest that you go visit the Temuan tribe in Kampung Orang Asli Lumut, Ulu Beranang, Negeri Sembilan. This is a village located not very far away from the place of your residence, P.D. There is a Christian family living in that village. The village has gotten a nice scenery!

    Some Temuan aborigine people still live with one meal in a day – white rice, wild riverside grasses, plain water. Sometimes a poor family lives only on a jar of sugar tea in a day!

  16. #16 by OrangRojak on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 3:02 am

    That wasn’t what I meant Onlooker Politics – I wondered if the settlements themselves had moved with increasing urbanisation / destruction of habitat. It isn’t clear to me whether the monkeys have come to the farms or the farms have recently come to the monkeys. Are they farmers from antiquity, or were they formerly foragers, only recently turned farmers?

    There’s nothing anybody can do to help the East Malaysians until communications (including transport) is improved. I think Malaysia should develop lighter-than-air mass transport (and possibly communications platforms) to reduce the need for expensive airports. However they do it, to better integrate East Malaysia with West Malaysia, it must be made much easier to travel between the two!

  17. #17 by boh-liao on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 10:36 am

    More than 3,000 Penan natives are starving
    How can? Impossible, Taib Mahmood would say
    Can’t they eat McD, KFC, krispy kreme doughnuts aah?
    Can’t they go to Royal Mulu Resort to makan aah?
    BN look after everybody one, 1Malaysia

  18. #18 by limkamput on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 3:22 pm

    JustONEball, The reality is you can’t write one piece coherently. You have no idea of your own. You can only belittle and comment when others have written something. You are just jealous of me because I have my own blog. Look, you have to accept reality; not everyone is born equally smart. Some are stupid, and you belong to that category, Jaswant@tom-dumb, learn to accept it.

  19. #19 by shortie kiasu on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 6:30 pm

    Tun Mahathir said he does not fully comprehend what “1Malaysia”, rhetorically shouted by Najib, means.

    In this case, whether he understands or comprehends this another slogan rhetorically shouted by Najib “People First, Performance Now”??

  20. #20 by Onlooker Politics on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 7:41 pm

    “However they do it, to better integrate East Malaysia with West Malaysia, it must be made much easier to travel between the two!” (OrangRojak)

    To suggest making better inroad access to the Penan tribal village in deep tropical jungle is no difference from a suggestion of giving license for the timber logger to cut down the tropical trees which have the largest circumferences in the world. If the license specifies that only 132 feet wide of access road should be built, then you will most likely see a lot of over-enthusiastic contractors who would offer to cut down several thousands acres of virgin jungle without getting the prior approval of State Forestry Department (Jabatan Perhutanan Negeri). Don’t forget that the timber logs can be sold with lucrative profit.

    If no license for building access road in deep tropical virgin jungle is given, then it will be much easier for the Top Officer of State Forestry Department to enforce the environmental protection from timber theft, simply through serveillance with helicopter flyover!

    Usually the remote tribe of aborigine people who live far inside the deep jungle can be made accessible through the use of speed boat!

  21. #21 by SpeakUp on Sunday, 2 August 2009 - 4:04 pm

    Today’s The Star is even better. Logging companies pulling out are dismantling the metal bridges. Hahahahaaa … it costs more to dismantle it but who cares. They came to rape and plunder the Penan’s land and now they ensure that the Penan have nothing to use from the logging companies.

  22. #22 by OrangRojak on Monday, 3 August 2009 - 10:06 am

    Onlooker Politics – I wasn’t suggesting roads at all!

    My point is that by presenting the issue as roads vs helicopters, someone is going to get rich (lucrative construction and coincidental felling vs commissions on expensive hardware). I can’t imagine anything that lives in or on the jungle can welcome a visit from a helicopter. I picture a hungry Penan finally creeping up on his quarry which will feed his settlement for a week, only to see it run away from “thakka thakka thakka” – the billion ringgit machine bearing instant noodles!

    What I would like to see above South East Asian jungles is very low powered (because it’s quiet and cheap), slow-moving aircraft. There’s no need to develop such a thing in countries where large concentrations of rich people can build high quality airports. There are examples of such platforms being used for wireless communications too. Malaysia and its neighbours are a different problem that helicopters are not the ideal solution to. Neither is anything terrestrial a good idea, as it needs high-quality roads to provide maintenance access.

    I think it’s a huge wasted opportunity for local R&D, and with terrible consequences for the native Malaysians too.

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