The late Along Sega, who became world famous as an outspoken leader of the Penan’s struggle against the logging companies in the Upper Limban region of Sarawak, joins the ranks of towering Malaysians. This is an interview by the Switzerland-based Bruno Manser Fund in July 2005.
Bruno Manser Fund: Along Sega, how old are you?
Along Sega: I don’t know exactly because my birth date is not recorded. But I am certainly older than 60 years now.
BMF: Where were you born?
Along Sega: I was born at Ba Ureu, close to Ba Nyakit where we are mostly staying now. My parents used to stay in the area for a long time before I was born, for at least one generation.
BMF: Could you please describe to us some of your childhood memories.
I remember what I first learned from my father when I was still a young boy. I took a stick and used it like a spear. When I was first able to hit a target, I was good enough for hunting. My father made a first blowpipe for me out of a bamboo with which I practised. He said I was a good hunter. When I started to hit the target, my father asked me to hunt the birds around our camp with the blowpipe. Then he gave me a spear to hunt. Later on, my father taught me how to process the sago. In the beginning, I could only process one sago tree. Later on, I could process two
BMF: How many were in your group?
I was born as the youngest one of six brothers and sisters. There was my eldest brother Aya, my second brother Medok, my third brother Nyagung and my fourth brother Luau. All of them have passed away already. The only ones still alive are my sister Tioung, who lives at Long Adang, and I.
BMF: When did you first meet anyone from outside your group?
The first white man I met was Tuan Seripen (= Tuan Beripin), the then Marudi District Officer. There was also a man who looked for Sedin Perait, the reisin/glue.
BMF: Did you use to attend any Tamu trade meetings?
Yes, we attended the Tamu meetings at Long Melinau (Uluh). I also remember going to the city of Limbang, which we used to call Kubu Kalang Tarap at the time. I don’t remember the year when I first attended a Tamu trade meeting, but at the time I was still an unmarried young man.
BMF: What other contacts did you have with people from outside?
I remember having seen one Japanese soldier at Long Napir during the Japanese occupation of Sarawak during the Second World War. In the Mulu area, I first met Berawan people.
At the time when my father came to our area, the Murud people from Lawas/Ba Kelalan were already in the area. My father used to collect the reisin and exchanged it for dogs from the Murud people.
BMF: Did you always roam around in the same areas?
Yes, we have been staying in the area up to Batu Lawi for a long time. Ba Adang is inhabited by Kelabit people. The good spirit Shinan stays inside Batu Lawi. A long time ago, the two rocks of Batu Lawi used to be humans, husband and wife. When the bad spirits got jealous, they killed the wife. My grandparents protected the area. When they died, my father continued. Now I am the one there.
Tong Tana: Do you remember the British time?
I remember the time when Queen Elisabeth was still a princess. I was still a young man. My father informed me that she was the princess who would later on become the Queen. At the time, we only used to meet British people at the Long Melinau Tamu meetings.
Tong Tana: What products did you use to sell at the Tamu meetings?
The Berawan were the middle persons in our trading. Maybe someone of them in Long Kerawan is still alive. We used to sell rattan for mattresses, nyateng reisin from the pelayo tree, getipai rubber, hornbill beaks, monkey gallowstones for Chinese medicine and other products. At the time, we didn’t know how to use the blowpipe. We used bamboo to make them. We learned from the Berawan how to make blowpipes from hardwood.
Tong Tana: What products did you buy at the Tamu meetings?
We bought blowpipes, parangs made by Kayan people, axes made by the Chinese, woks (frying pans) and pots for cooking. Later on, we met with some British people who sold us shotguns. The highest price we ever paid for a shotgun was RM200.
Tong Tana: Do you still have the shotgun?
They buried it with my father at his burial site. But one of the headmen in our region Pusit still keeps a shotgun from the British time.
Tong Tana: Do you keep any other objects from the British time?
We still have bangles which we bought from the British. My wife still wears them.
BMF: Where is your wife from?
She was born in Ba Lipang.
BMF: Where is your father’s grave located?
It is located two hours’ walk from where I mostly stay now. This is why I stay nearby. My grandfather is also buried very close from there. Unfortunately, the logging company destroyed his grave. His name was Tawin and my grandmother’s name was Bresen.
Tong Tana: Are there still any poison dart (tajem) or reisin (nyateng) trees there?
The pelayo reisin tree is one of the most wanted timber trees, so they were mostly cut down. The dart poison trees and the trees for the blowpipes have been bulldozed. Only very few of these trees are left. This is why many nomadic Penan are now getting settled. There is no choice. Our sago palms (uvut) have been destroyed as well. The logging company destroyed all our area, even our graveyard, and they never paid any compensation for it. Sometimes they just come in, cut down all the trees and don’t even bother to take them out.
BMF: How do you remember your first meeting with Bruno Manser?
I met Bruno the first time at Long Napir. In the beginning, when he arrived with us, he did not know how to speak Penan. The only words he said were “Bakeh, bakeh (friend)”. First he stayed at Ba Ubung, then at Long Napir. From there, he moved to us. He stayed with Mendri’s father when we met the first time.
He came up to me and said: “I am Bruno. May I come and join your group?”
I replied: ‘If you want to stay with us, you are welcome.”
BMF: How long did Bruno stay with your group?
He spent three years with us and taught us how to do the blockade. The first three years, he had stayed with another group. At Long Napir, he stayed with Maleng.
BMF: What was Bruno’s importance in organising the resistance against logging?
We taught ourselves how to do the blockades. He used to remain in the forest and take photos of our blockades. Even after he disappeared, we continued to blockade. I have been to jail twice for blockading.
BMF: Were there any blockades before Bruno arrived with you?
No. We only started blockading after Bruno arrived. The reason is that before Bruno’s arrival there was no logging in our area. It all only started after he joined us. When they first caught Bruno, they brought him down to Limbang. On the way, they let him get down from the jeep to urinate. He jumped down and escaped into the jungle.
BMF: Which group was the first one to set up a blockade in the area?
The Kelabit from Long Napir and us, we started together.
BMF: How has your area changed since the logging company arrived?
After the police dismantled the blockade, the companies continuously logged the area. Later on, the Kelabit gave up there resistance and we were the only ones to continue. When we got arrested, Minister Jabu went to Long Adang and talked to the people to persuade them to give up the resistance and start with fish ponds and other projects.
BMF: Why is your land so important to you?
We want our forest to remain untouched. Because only then we can go hunting. We cannot process sago without clean water. Now we are in a very difficult situation: we often have to carry the sago very far to process it. We don’t want the animals to get disturbed. When I was young, no one disturbed the animals: the forest was good and we could go hunting close to where we lived. The women could easily catch the fish and get their food. Nowadays, life has become very difficult because of the logging in our area.
BMF: How many times has your forest been logged over?
They did a lot of logging before the year 2000, when they stopped. Now they are moving back for the second time.
BMF: How much of the forest was left after the first logging?
After the first encroachment, there were still some trees left. After the second time, they even cut down the small trees and nothing was left. If they stop logging now, we still have a chance to survive. If they continue, soon there will be nothing left.
BMF: What should be done to stop them from logging?
Only if the company’s licence is removed and an agreement is signed, we can say we are successful.
BMF: In 1993, Chief Minister Taib Mahmud promised to set up a biosphere reserve covering 30,000 hectares of primary forest, which should be reserved for the Penan. 5,000 hectares of the area would be located in the Long Adang area, where you are staying. What happened to this area?
The Chief Minister’s promise to keep an area for the Penan is nonsense. This is all lies and has never beeen realised.
BMF: What are you currently undertaking to protect your remaining forest?
We do mark our area and, from time to time, we set up some blockades. But these can stop the company at the best for a while. The only way to stop the companies from destroying our forest is if the Forest Department revokes the logging authorisation given to the company. Our problem is that we are not enough people to blockade effectively. When we started blockading, the company brought in some gangsters who intimidated us with Samurai swords. They wanted to fight with me, but I don’t want to fight with them.
BMF: Can you give any details about attempts to intimidate you?
Yes, a man from the timber company … named Joseph threatened to shoot my son Menit. Mr Aniw of the timber company also threatened us. The company manager told us: we will bring all of you down to Limbang by four-wheel drive. On the way down, the driver will jump out and the car will crash with you inside. He said they would pretend that an accident happened to us. This is why we are very scared to use any timber company transport to travel down to Limbang.
BMF: Why is it important for you to have access to transport?
It is important because without transport I cannot bring my son down to Limbang hospital. We will only be able to bring him down if we find the money for private transport. The transport from Long Pusit to Limbang costs RM300 one way.
BMF: Are there any other attempts to threaten you?
Yes, the company also told us: when Along goes down to Limbang, we will feed him a drug so he will die. If he is no longer there, no one will be against us anymore.
BMF: How does the younger generation think about the Penan struggle?
Now I am still alive and moving. I am the one who teaches the younger generation how to lead the struggle for our rights. When I die, they will continue our struggle because I asked them not to give up.
BMF: Are there any attempts by the company to buy you over?
Before we came here, the timber company offered us compensation. We did not accept it because that would have meant that we agreed to what they did.
BMF: What significance does the recently established map of your terrritory have for you?
We want the map as a tool to negotiate with the government and with whoever wants to come to our area. The map is for those who do not know our boundaries.
BMF: What message do you want to give to the people around the world?
To the people who are aware of our problems I would like to say: this is our map. We claim this area as our forest. The government and the company told us, “We will not give you any support or development project because you are opposed to logging.”
We need support from outside because we are against the timber companies. They don’t provide us either with transport or anything else. Many people who are in favour of logging get free transport.
BMF: What do you think happened to Bruno?
AS: This is the thing I don’t know. He stayed with the Penan for six years. Now we cannot trace him at all. This is what I told R. when we met in Bario. I cannot blame anybody because I didn’t see anything. However, many people were angry with Bruno and wanted to kill him. At the time when Bruno disappeared, there were many helicopters in the Batu Lawi area. This was around the time they opened the Mulu National Park. When Bruno was still with us, he helped us to protect the forest. Now he is gone, we try to keep up the struggle ourselves.
Ba Tik, 8 Juli 2005
(Translated from Penan to English)
Along Sega, in his 70s, passed away on 2 February 2011 at Limbang Hospital. He leaves behind his wife Yut and a number of children and grandchildren