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10 powerful quotes about native land rights from Bruno Manser’s Voices from The Rainforest

“Everyone of us has an inner voice. If you are a girl, you have the picture of a princess inside of you. If you are boy, you have the picture of a prince inside of you. May this book encourage you to follow your inner voice against all obstacles from the outside.”

Bruno Manser, Voices from The Rainforest (1992)

Bruno Manser wrote this in his book Voices from The Rainforest (1992) to introduce western readers to the life of a Penan in Sarawak. It was the only book he ever published before his mysterious disappearance in 2000.

Manser was a Swiss environmental activist, known for staying with the Penan in Sarawak. He lived with them from 1984 to 1990, learning their culture and language .

After he came out from the jungle in 1990, Manser actively voiced out against illegal logging and fighting for the rights of the Penan people.

He also founded an NGO called Bruno Manser Fonds in 1991.

Throughout his stay with the Penans, Manser kept diaries which also contained his drawings and descriptions of plants and animals.

Part of these illustrations were published in Voices from The Rainforest. In his books, he also collected testimonies from the Penans on their journey to defend their lands.

Here are ten powerful quotes by the Penan people about their native land from Manser’s Voices from The Rainforest:
1.Along Sega, from Ulu Limbang.

“Think about the trees. They did not create themselves, they don’t know how to talk. God (Balei Ngebutun, the creative spirit) created them. The earth, too, is created by God and doesn’t know how to communicate with humans. The animals are like that, too; they can talk to each other, but we don’t understand their speech. When a tree falls or is torn down by a bulldozer, its outflowing resin is its blood.

“The earth is like our mother, our father. If you from the government gives orders to the companies to invade our land, you might as well cut off our heads and our parents’ heads too. When the bulldozers tear open the earth, you can see her blood and her bones even though she can’t speak. Some company employees have fractured skulls and broken bones. Don’t you understand? It is the earth crying: ‘I don’t want to be killed.”

2.When asked why they refused to change their nomadic lifestyle, this was what Jugah Lesu from Long Ballau. According to Manser, Jugah was one of a handful Penan who spoke English fluently back then.

“Can you throw an ocean fish into a mountain river or a fish from the Ulu into the sea? They will surely die. Even though they are both fish, they have different lifestyles. We humans on earth are the same.”

He also added,

“We don’t know that (our land is government property). This land is our land, because we live on it. We roam through the forest for weeks on end without ever meeting the government. The further the company penetrates our land the emptier our bellies become. It is our bellies that make us stand up and say no to the timber companies’ destructive acts with one voice.”

3.Aiong Pada from Long Ballau

“My father is in the forest and so am I. No, building a house isn’t a project I want. The project I love is called sago palm, rattan, deer. My heart is happy in the ulu. There, I want to hear the voice of the argus pheasant, the deer and the hornbill.”

4.Berehem from Patik

“You in the town live off business, you are towkay or coolie. That’s why you ask others to work or work for others. But we are free people and live off our land. Our forest gives us life. If it gets destroyed, our customs die with it. As reward for suffering, God gives us paradise. First suffering, then reward. He doesn’t give it to idlers and lazybones.”

5.Pellutan from Ba Pulau

“In the old days, a shirt costs 50 cents. Today, it costs RM30. But our land provides us with food for free, and so, without a cent in our pocket, we have enough. Nobody tells us to sign anything or ask for the number on our identity card. What is it about the people in the town in their stores? Why do they have to install fans and air-conditioners in their apartments? They live in the heat because they have destroyed their forest. Here, under the big trees, is cool shadow. We don’t want to change places with them.”

6.Aji from Long Sembayang, Ulu Limbang

“Without our forest, we are like animals without bones, like a baby monkey fallen from its mother. Without our forest, we become orphans, and those who kill it and take away from us are like wicked step-parents to us.”

6.Uan Limun from Long Ballau

“What we need on our land are the sago palms and the rattans to weave our our mats, bags and carrying baskets, wood for blowpipes and tajem (dart poison), laue and daun (the leaves of the two dwarf palms) for our roof, pellaio (resins), ketipai, gerigit, jakan (wild species of rubber), bear and leopard… In the forest, we don’t need tinned sardine because we know how to find fish ourselves. But now, the fish in the river have disappeared, the deer have fled and rattan has become expensive.”

7.Ayat Lirong from Long Kevok

“In former times, one could hear the sound of the hornbills’ wings. Nowadays, you might as will forget about catching prey with the blowpipe or hearing your dogs rouse a deer or enjoying yourself in the clear of the river. Do we even have to tell you this? Can’t you see it yourself from the airplane? In the old days, the mountains were green, not red like now.

“ We trust and hope in God, that give us somebody who is like our father. If you wait too long, it will be too late for the lives of our crying children and wives!”

8.Saya Megut from Magoh

“We are tired of hearing bulldozers which are penetrating our land. Our land is no larger than the black edge of a finger nail. We have no other land. Come quickly! Come and see for yourselves. Be of strong heart. Success means preserving part of a primeval forest.”

9.Djauau Lat

“Our land means life. The forest gives us food and everything we need for our life.”

10.Lakei Petujek from Long Napir

“The jungle is our home and our house where all of us can find food. We need even the little trees- they are our arms and legs. When we hear the droning of a bulldozer, how can we help but be sad?”

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Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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