Penan demand acknowledgement of their nomadic livelihood

The Penan speak out against their discrimination as hunters and gatherers: the law should not only acknowledge rights to farmland but also to forest.

(MIRI / SARAWAK / MALAYSIA) The Penan from Malaysian Borneo are turning to their government requesting the acknowledgement of their right to land, on which they have lived as nomads for centuries. Last year, the federal court of Malaysia denied indigenous communities the right to own forested land and only recognized land titles for farmland.

In a letter to the government of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, 26 Penan leaders express their concerns that their traditional nomadic livelihood is not acknowledged as it was not based on farming: “We feel deeply neglected by the state’s laws which deny us the right to our traditionally used forests and to our territorial domain.”

Researchers have documented the Penan territorial concept of “Tana Pengurip”, which confines a Penan community’s hunting and foraging area. The Penan Community Maps released in late 2017 give further proof to the Penan’s livelihood depending on forest resources such as the sago palm.

Indigenous communities from Sarawak demand that the Iban concepts of the communal forest reserve and territorial domain be acknowledged in the state’s laws. Later this year, the state government of Sarawak will announce how they intend to deal with this currently conflict. Now, the Penan demand that their nomadic livelihood is addressed in the laws, too.

In the letter, the Penan addressed the Chief Minister Abang Johari as well as the Deputy Chief Minister, Douglas Uggah, who is in charge of the matter: “We kindly ask you to do your best to ensure that the Sarawak laws will reflect the various indigenous territorial concepts in the future and do not reduce land ownership to farmed land. Only if the society respects our rights, we can be full citizens of this country and contribute to the country’s development.”

Read the full letter here.