For decades, the 50-year-old ethnic Penan woman and her reclusive tribe lived quietly in the mist-swept jungles of central Borneo.

Her husband, like most Penan men, would hunt for food during the day, scouring the forest armed with spears and poisonous darts, while she weaved rattan handicrafts for local trade.But everything changed in 1998 when they were evicted to make way for the largest hydropower project in Southeast Asia – the Bakun dam. Now she lives in a decaying resettlement site encircled by oil palm plantations. Year by year, they have fallen deeper into poverty.”The government made us sweet promises so we came, but now we are suffering,” said Layo, squatting on the creaky terrace of a wooden longhouse. “We have no money, no food, and no forest.”Layo said the Sarawak state government promised them a good life, with 10 acres of farmland, good schools, free electricity and clean water supplies. Instead, each family received a small plot of land as far as 15km away from their resettlement site. Layo’s husband couldn’t afford the daily travel costs and now works as a labourer for a local timber company. She can’t earn a living because there is no source of rattan nearby.”Before we could get everything from the river and the forest, but here everything is about money,” Layo explained. “They cut off our water supply when we couldn’t afford to pay.”

READ MORE –> Drowning the dreams of indigenous Malaysians – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Advertisements