'I trust in my heart we have the right to win' N., Penan.
17.10.2009 - 25.10.2009
It was only for 8 days that I got to be with the Penan. Certainly not enough. Not even close. However, it was enough to flip my soul over and change my life.
I was always reluctant to the idea that people can go places and get their lives so deeply and greatly changed. Until now.
I have troubles to express with language what I have been through and the journey undergone.
I keep having this image flashed in my brain that turns my heart and stomach as much as the adventure with the Penan has done.
I see myself emerging from the soil, like the wee seedlings on the ground of the rain forest, as naked and exposed as never before, yet stronger and more open than I ever knew myself to be. Crawling up and marching across the wild vegetation. Like I returned home and got to remember what it was like.
It was wild
yet so yearned and well received.
My body craved for wilderness while my soul knew this was my passage to return home once again.
The fresh strength in the smells
the vibrant and blinding colours everywhere
The crazily powerful presence of nature and the overpowering energy of the Earth and Heaven coming together in the mysty mountains of the heart of Sarawak, Borneo.
There was sensual air to breathe. Moist. Dump. Sticky. So close to the skin I could feel my veins and bones with my eyes.
There was a sexual life force, like we don't know it in "civilization", let alone in the West. Sexuality comes up in the East every morning, and dresses in silver every night, tinting with mysticism every leaf, gently blowing its essence from the deepest of the roots to the highest of the rocks and branches. As if blood had been shed and it had dribbled all over the jungle, covering it of an intense red.
It makes every moment and it kisses you with each and every breath you take. It washes you in the river when you go for a bath and it slips in between your legs, fingers and toes. It sends you to bed night-night, with the stars and the rich sounds of the jungle. It makes everything grow as wild as it is. It rips you away from yourself to strip you off everything you ever knew.
It gives you a blank space as it caresses your head and heart, allowing you to remember what it is like. What it is like to be alive and simply to BE - HUMAN in LIFE.
these words are vague to express the concreteness of what the experience means. For it shows you and feeds you the whole entire universe by simply making you feel the smallest cell on your body, every click that happens in hidden corners within your vessel.
It takes your speech away, but it gives you your legs back. No eloquence is to be found, yet your hands become miraculous. It dissolves your mind and thought, making them part of the jungle itself, no longer a separate entity, but part of somethi9ng bigger, wider, wilder, freer.
I felt my womb palpitate and move again. I felt her smile and relax in deep joy and peace, feeling safe, feeling home, as though a gypsy returning to her loving family full of joy and celebration. She celebrated. She celebrated as I cried in the river, eyes closed, so eternally grateful for having given her-myself this chance, this right, this life.
I couldn't understand a word of what the people would speak to me, although everything made more sense that it ever did; within and outside.
Upon arrival to Long Banga, the man who was supposed to be there, was absent, so I had to find my was to Long Siut, up a big logging road, where one of the biggest infamities of this planet takes place. Already my eyes got teary. I felt like I was returning to a place where I was long due. Later I understood better. From Long Siut, where I met wonderful Sia, I took a boat with him to Long Sepigen. there, I got to meet the kids, learn my first Penan words and fell into the so hospitable hands of Sia's sister and family. We caught wee prawns in the river and bathed under the stars.
I discovered the rich musicalities of the jungle at night.
From Long Sepigen, in Upper Baram, we took a boat to Long Kerong, and caught some fish on the way.
there we trekked in the jungle to a waterfall, camped overnight hanging off the trees, rocked on our hammocks under the wildest storm I ever experienced; the Earth roared like the king of the lions, the ground shook and the lightening was as bright as the summer sun in Australia. everything/body else went silent. There was rain. Water everywhere. We got sick. I vomited until nearly my guts came out. I walked back in half hallucinations due to exhaustion and fever. We caught frogs and cooked them on the fire, though we never got that lucky finding the pythons. We had a yellow-ring snake as a companion, who met Sia's machete's end and cost her her life.
Mila saved my stomach from coming out with nausea, and though her, we got to make "bread" with the women of the kampung at dawn.
I met Nelson, the man who can touch my heart and squeeze the sour-sweet-burning tears out of my soul with great ease when he speaks. Son of the "disappeared" previous Long Kerong headman, whose bones and skull were found by the river months after he never returned from the jungle.
Went fruitpicking with the women and men, dinned in circle the finest and most exotic simple meals after a wonderful night of speeches and hope. Nelson proclaimed: 'because I trust in my heart we have the right to win'.
We learnt about brother Bruno, and the struggles of the Penan until everybody felt asleep.
I got given bracelets by an elder, whose charm still shinnes strong, and sat with one of the most incredible active and strong Penan laughing and crying at stories of beauty and destruction more real than you and me.
Finally, a farewell by the same old man of the bracelets, with a strong standing open palm an a generous smile as we crossed the river and deepened into the jungle with his son.
the Penan are a great big family, and the minute you come close to them, you are considered family too. No questions asked. they literally guard you with their lives. They look after you with a naturality that comes without effort. Shyness may be dominant during the first couple of days, it takes them a while to warm up, but soon they follow you everywhere or they get you to follow them everywhere. They share everything amongst them. they share their very hearts with you.
hunting happens at night, when it's pitch dark, and they walk so fast not even the leeches can catch them. Their domain of the terrain is so good, they can spot a scorpion or the smallest frog in the wildest and busiest of the jungles corners.
Yet, if the rain forest gets logged, they will die.
The Penan live in perfect harmony with the roughest of natures. They only take what they need from the fores. No more. No less. They don't disturb. They don't invade. The people of the trees, the guardians of Mother Earth -hence their friends the small flying dragons of the Borneo jungle! real dragons! they exist! and I found them at last!- carers of the forest.
Both the Malaysian Government and the logging company Samling Global Limited have strong deep interests in the jungle of Borneo. It's a double bill deal for them. If they log it, they sell the wood to China, Korea, Japan and the UK (I believe more places as well, but need further researching for this)(check where your paper and wood comes from, it could well be that many Penan and millions of species are being killed to make the stuff you wipe your white ass with or make the trendy-cheap new bed you got yourself for your new apartment and so on!). This opens the path for palm oil production as well. the so called "green" new alternative to oil, the biofuel (palm oil) is costing many Penan their lives and freedom, and putting the entire rain forest of Borneo in deep danger.
the money makers plan to log so that they can then plant and produce palm oil intended to be used as biofuel. While other entire areas have already been logged and tribes and communities (like the Iban and Kenyah etc) are being bought into the sweet sounding corruption of Capitalism and the system, the Penan are the only tribe who remains faithful to its roots, ways and nature. If it wasn't for their strong resistance, blockades, actions and fights, the rain forest of Borneo would be gone by now. With it, millions of species that exist nowhere else int he world, and one of our Earth's lungs your had vanished. We'd all be in much deeper shit by now. They are the only ones standing on their bare feet against the armed.
From young people to old old women and men who can hardly walk as it is, they have trekked for days across the jungle to make blockades against the monstruos machines that come to cut the trees down.
the images of the Palestinians throwing rocks at the Israeli war tanks have gone around the globe making many hearts tremble. This is abother one os those realities which can make an iron-maiden crash. Tribal families not even carryinh their machetes, standing firm, in front of logging machines and armed men ordaining them to withdraw. REgardless of their age or condition, the Penan have been put in jail for at least 2 months for creating blockades and standing up for their rights (and saving us all our arses on the way).
Some have been shot.
Others are, to this day, hiding from the Government, the logging company and the mafia employed by the loggers and Gorv. who are in search for them to kill them.
In addition, some already have been killed though reported as disappeared.
the corruption of the power reaches limits that would shock the well schooled ones in matters of this nature. They persuade tribesmen in their sickbeds to sign documents to allow logging to take place. When they don't get it their way, they simply sign and fake the documents themselves. Whilst the rest of their team is killing those who are most active against the injustices.
Brother Bruno, a Swiss man who lived with the Penan for 6 years got killed in one of his trips from Kalimatan back to the kampung where he resided. Bruno started strong campains and actions to help the Penan both in Borneo and Europe. He, to this day, is officially reported as "missing" or 'disappeared'.
The other striking case is that of Nelson's father, the previous Long Kerong headman, strong activist and heavily involved in effective action against the government and the loggers. He left to check a hunting trap he had near his hut as he told his wife, but he never returned. Over two months later, they found his skull, bones, traditional talisman and jewels in a river miles away from the Kampung. Even though the whole tribe had scanned and walked the jungle back to front and left to right to not find anything, one of the tribesmen dreamt of a spirit coming to inform him of the whereabouts of the elder's remains. When the nephew of the disappeared went to check the location, he found them without fail.
this goes on and on eternally, not to mention the ones who are wanted so badly they are fugitives in the depths of the jungle running away from the bullets every day as the help the Penan in their cause.
the good thing is that there's plenty we can do to help. One of the primary and most simple steps being getting in touch with Office Bruno, in Europe (please visit www.bmf.ch), who already run different initiatives to provide help for the current struggle. Set up by brother Bruno, Office Bruno follows the ethos and perspective of the Swiss man who started it, which is based on strong respect for the tribe and only providing help for the decissions and moves the people take. Non-invasive or dominating. The annual membership fee is 40.00Euro, and that's just a little simple good start. However, there's plenty more to be done. If interested, please speak up, as I am currently putting a few projects together (slowly, as i am walking the world), but I also know people who are helping hand in hand from here (Borneo).
Any questions, ANY, you may have, fire up, let them out, you don't know how much your curiosity and doubts can help!
I hope in my heart these people can one day still communicate with the birds and the Spirit world and keep guarding the jungle.
It certainly has been medicine for the soul. No more I feel the heaviness or trivial matters that used to bring me down to depression. I hit home and something within has gone quiet understanding at peace.
SAVE THE TREES. SAVE THE PENAN. SAVE YOUR OWN TRIBE. KNOW THY ROOTS.
that's my humble prayer