Victory for Borneo tribe over oil palm Goliath

July 14, 2011

A Penan man in the Borneo rainforest. © Robin Hanbury-Tenison/Survival

This page was created in 2011 and may contain language which is now outdated.

A small group of Borneo hunter-gatherers have scored a major victory over a giant oil palm firm that was targeting their rainforest.

Survival revealed last month that the Malaysian firm Shin Yang was clearing forest and planting oil palm in an area where members of the Penan tribe were due to be resettled, to make way for the Murum dam.

Now the company has announced that it has halted work in the area ‘pending verification from the authorities’ that the land has been designated for the Penan.

The Penan have made clear that they do not want to move to make way for the dam, but believe they have no choice. The area they chose to move to is part of their ancestral land, but neither the government nor Shin Yang consulted them about the destruction of their forest.

Oil palms planted on recently-deforested land, Sarawak © M Ross/ Survival

The Penan rely on their forest for hunting animals such as wild boar and monkeys and for collecting sago, fruits and rattan for making baskets and other artefacts.
The Penan cannot survive without their forest. One man told Survival, ‘We are not like other people who can live with money, for us we can only live if our land is not destroyed. Without land we will not be able to survive.’

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘A great victory for the Penan. Planting oil palms in this area would have almost certainly resulted in the utter poverty and destitution of the tribe. The Malaysian government must continue to respect the Penan’s right to their land so no companies in the future can cut down their trees without their permission.’