Posted on 29 Apr 2023
Source of News: The Borneo Post

KOTA SAMARAHAN: Fifty-nine people attended a talk on ‘Rivers For Livelihood: Eastern Penan and Lun Bawang Perspectives’, hosted by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (Unimas) Institute of Borneo Studies (IBS) yesterday.

The talk focused on sustainable resource management of clean water from the rivers by the Penans in 19 settlements located between Mulu and Pulong Tau National Park, as well as the Lun Bawangs of Long Semadoh.

The session was held in a hybrid format, where 29 of the participants attended it via Zoom.

The speaker, Jayl Langub, an associate research fellow at IBS, discussed how the Penans and Lun Bawangs would rely on clean water to process their staple sago flour and rice fields respectively. He then delved into the two sustainable concepts guiding the Penans in managing their resources in the forest: ‘mihau’ and ‘molong’ – meaning ‘to preserve’, and how they relate to the Lun Bawang’s management of their rice fields.

“Logging activities in the 1980s and 1990s had seriously affected the Penan’s way of life and in some cases, their very survival include looking for food in rivers and having clean running water to process sago.”

Jayl said the Lun Bawangs, meanwhile, ‘adopted’ 71 rivers and streams in their area by leaving signs on trees stating: “This river is adopted by this community and don’t cut the trees here”.

Such an effort, added Jayl, was done by them and supported by the Wildlife Fund For Nature (WWF) to prevent logging in the area.

This, he added, was because rivers bring continuous fresh water with nutrients to grow rice.

“One difference between the irrigated rice fields up in the highlands and those swamp rice that you find in the coastal area is the constant flow of fresh water from the mountain streams – it’s running all the time. Whereas, the swamp rice we find in coastal areas are grown with water that is more or less stagnant.

“The quality of rice you get from the highlands is better because they have continuous nutrients from the mountains to nurture the rice plants in the highlands.

“Bamboo also plays some roles in the rice field – they prevent animals from attacking and serve as conduits to transfer water. They are also planted along rice fields and rivers. Additionally, bamboo enhances the beauty of the landscape,” he said.

When met by reporters after the talk, Jayl said over the years, his goal had been simply to seek the communities out and listen to some of the problems faced by them and how they would overcome their problems.

Although he did not go into details on the level of river pollution, he said there ‘would be more to be done’.

“The logging system and companies have been trying to improve their operations, but a lot still needs to be done. I think the worst is that oil palm plantations utilise all sorts of pesticides, but plantations don’t really affect many Penans since they live in the highlands.

“However, once you pump in too many chemicals, the river and the surrounding soil become polluted,” he pointed out.

The Borneo Post

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