Malaysia: the Murut struggle against palm oil, for land and life — Sophie Chao

Source: The Ecologist

Supported by state and national governments, palm oil plantations are advancing over the rainforest hills of Sabah, Malaysia, writes Sophie Chao. In their way: the indigenous Murut of Bigor, whose culture, livelihood and very lives are under threat as forests and farms fall to chainsaws and bulldozers, enriching loggers and distant investors beyond the dreams of avarice.

We must continue to fight, for our children need to eat, and our grandchildren need to know what is a forest, and what is the way of life of the Murut people who came before them, and who will come after them.

Bigor longhouse with land cleared for oil palm in the background. Photo: Sophie Chao.

Bigor longhouse with land cleared for oil palm in the background. Photo: Sophie Chao.

In the remote village of Bigor, about 250 kilometers southwest of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah, local community members gather in the longhouse (rumah panjang in Malay language), the traditional dwelling of the indigenous Murut people.

Slumped in his wheelchair, a makeshift sling supporting his right arm, the dying light of dusk casting shadows over his diminished frame, Statly Bin Ampihang (see photo), a 48 year old indigenous Murut Tagol man and head of Bigor village, tells the story of a tsunami.

“The oil palm company arrived, and made us sign contracts that we did not understand. They told us they would help us – make our lives better, give us jobs, increase our welfare. The government told us that the laws would help us secure our customary lands and forests.”

“Instead we were hit by a tsunami. But this tsunami was not a natural disaster. It was caused by our government. And now our lands are oil palm plantations. We have nowhere to hunt anymore. We have nowhere to plant our crops. Our economy has been destroyed. We are disappointed, for we have been deceived by our government.” Read more