Bidayuh villagers burn timber camp

By Keruah Usit
May 11, 2011

ANTIDOTE Natives from 10 villages in Tebedu, Sarawak, are said to have torched dormitories, bulldozers, tractors and other machinery at a timber camp on May 9.

The Bidayuh villagers had been blockading the timber access road of logging contractor Alliance Bahagia to defend their Native Customary Rights (NCR) land.

According to witnesses, nobody was injured in the arson attack. Police arrived at the scene in Tebedu, about 90 minutes’ drive from Kuching, in time to see the equipment and buildings aflame.

Police were far outnumbered by “emotional” villagers and did not make any arrest.

“When we arrived, the machinery and the workers’ quarters were already on fire. As the situation was tense, we decided to monitor the situation only,” Serian police chief ASP Awangku Ahmaddin Awang Wang said, according to local daily The Borneo Post.

The villagers said their reports to the government on the loggers’ incursions onto their NCR land were ignored.

Instead, local assembly representatives and state Infrastructure Development and Communications Minister Michael Manyin Jawong angered the constituents by claiming that the villagers had been protesting for money.

‘Land and jungle are our ancestral properties’

A spokesperson for the 10 communities, Bisa Duda, had told The Borneo Post on April 29 that Manyin had been lying. He said the villagers rejected the timber company’s intrusion because “our NCR land and our jungle… are our ancestral properties.”

Bisa said the company and five ketua kampung or village chiefs had signed a secret contract, allowing the company to use the land belonging to the 10 communities, without the knowledge of the people. The signing had been witnessed by the penghulu (community leader), Jen anak Landong.

He said the contract stipulated RM1.50 would be paid for every tonne of logs extracted, to be shared equally among the five signatories, but made no mention of the rights of the villagers owning the NCR land.

After the fire at the logging camp, one unnamed villager was quoted by the newspaper as saying, “They have tested our patience and we just cannot take it anymore. We have lodged several reports and complaints to the authorities, but the logging activities continued. We are fed up. Our rights have been encroached, our crops destroyed.”

Dr Christopher Kiyui of the PKR, who lost to Manyin in the recent state assembly election, told shortwave station Radio Free Sarawak that 500 unnamed villagers had “burnt 13 Caterpillar and tractor machines and some lorries, around 10 in the morning. About 50 people came from each village.

“Bidayuh are mild and gentle people, but now they have lost patience. I hope the government gets this message… that what they are doing is too much.”

Christopher said the villagers’ actions had taken him by surprise, but he understood their frustration.

“This is their life, their land was taken,” he explained.

Defending their land in the courts

A leading land rights lawyer in Kuching told Malaysiakini that the communities would fare better by pursuing their NCR claims in court. He said the alleged arson might work against the NCR claimants in the long run.

Sporadic acts of defiance, sparked by disputes over land, have broken out during the reign of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud over the past 30 years.

Taib’s family has profited handsomely from logging concessions and takeovers of NCR land throughout the state, while logging and oil palm plantation blockades have been erected by the Iban, Malays, Penan and other Orang Ulu in various parts of Sarawak.

This, however, is the first incident of the Bidayuh taking the law into their own hands on this scale. The Bidayuh live mainly near the urban centre of Kuching and many have been well educated in mission schools.

However, within an hour’s drive from Kuching, many Bidayuh rice farmers live in startling poverty, without treated water or electricity.

These isolated acts of resistance against logging companies and their powerful backers in the ruling party are unlikely, by themselves, to change Sarawak’s political landscape. They will not translate to a mass movement of civil disobedience in this vast state.

Rural communities remain unconnected with one another, with the people largely unaware of land conflicts affecting NCR landowners in different parts of the state, separated by hundreds of kilometres.

However, NCR issues continue to stir disillusionment with Taib’s “politics of development”, often seen to directly benefit his family members and their close business associates.

There was a swing to the opposition among the Bidayuh and other Dayak communities in the recently concluded state election, although this translated to only two rural seats for the opposition, Krian and Ba’Kelalan.

The political awakening caused by NCR discontent among these rural communities may yet translate to greater opportunities for opposition parties DAP and PKR to lay their groundwork for rural support in the coming parliamentary election, and subsequent contests.

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist – ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at [email protected]

  1. #1 by megaman on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 - 4:26 pm

    Sorry but I can’t help to think that the people in Sarawak deserved this …

    They had the chance to make changes, to at least halt the oppression yet they failed to make good use of their votes in the previous state elections.

    Instead of voting for the future, they vote for a few hundred ringgits in handouts.

    Instead of being brave enough to risk for changes, they foolishly hold on to empty promises from snake oil peddlers.

    Now with the continuing robberies of their rights, they have no choice but to take the law into their hands, risking more but what have they achieved.

    Instead of stopping the carnage, they have provided the excuse for more clampdowns and even better protections for the loggers.

    They are afraid to lose and now they have lost it all.

  2. #2 by k1980 on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 - 4:29 pm

    When they have woke up, they are going to torch Taib’s palaces.

  3. #3 by tak tahan on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 - 7:59 pm

    Ya..then they will call the displaced Tarzan n zoo’s relatives n members to avenge their almost botak jungle.

  4. #4 by monsterball on Thursday, 12 May 2011 - 12:24 am

    Police make a move….all heads will be chopped off.
    These are fearless people..and whe the get mad…police better run for cover and do nothing.
    But our policemen are very brave…if they have water cannons …trucks and tanks.
    In the jungle…Tarzan is Lord of the Jungle…and no trucks ..tanks..bullets make them run.
    They can throw spears…accurately aiming at the foreheads…and die with no fear.
    They ony fear Tarzan.

  5. #5 by raven77 on Thursday, 12 May 2011 - 5:46 am

    If Taib thinks he has bought them with Tuak and RM100……he is sadly mistaken…..they fought before during Brooke….they will fight again….Sarawak may burn…….illa war…

    Is this the beginning of a guer

  6. #6 by raven77 on Thursday, 12 May 2011 - 5:47 am

    If Taib thinks he has bought them with Tuak and RM100……he is sadly mistaken…..they fought before during Brooke….they will fight again….Sarawak may burn…….illa war…

    Is this the beginning of a guerilla war

  7. #7 by undertaker888 on Thursday, 12 May 2011 - 8:11 am

    35 seats out of 35 seats for taib huh? so you guys think RM50 will save you? now the devil is saying pay back time, lads. he is asking 100 times back from what he gave you.

    you trust the devil you get fire.

  8. #8 by Freddy on Thursday, 12 May 2011 - 12:35 pm

    sad … but when they took those few hundred lousy ringgit in exchange for a signed blank cheque in the form of a vote, this is what they rightly deserved.

    hope all malaysians will wise up and not be blinded by a few hundred lousy ringgit in the next ge.

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