Sunset Over Selungo: Documentary shows Penan tribes’ campaign to protect Borneo rainforest

Sunset Over Selungo is a short documentary which showcases the Penan tribe of Sarawak, Malaysia and their efforts to protect their rainforest home.

Filmed on location in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, Sunset Over Selungo is an inspiring story about belonging, freedom and justice. You can watch the full film below.

For centuries, the Penan people have lived in the jungle of northern Borneo, the largest island in Asia. Now they are fighting to defend their rainforest home. Their culture and identity rely on it.

The Penan number around 10,000 people, spread across many villages. Centuries-old traditions still prevail and flourish in these lands. Blowpipes and poison darts are still used and often favoured for hunting because they are silent. Medicinal plants are collected from the rainforest to treat illnesses, and rattan – the fibres of a wild palm – is woven into mats and baskets. The Penan still speak their own language, distinct from those of other tribal groups.

However, the rights of tribal peoples have been largely ignored by the government of Sarawak. The state leadership has granted logging companies concessions to most of its forests, without properly consulting the people who have always lived on those lands. This means the companies have permission from the state government to cut the Penan’s forests down.

Sunset Over Selungo, made by independent filmmaker Ross Harrison, shows the rainforest as the life and blood of the Penan people. It also provides insight into the Penan tribes’ quest for justice in getting the land they call home protected.

Eighteen Penan villages collaborated in 2009 to form The Penan Peace Park to create a proposal for a new protected area. The aim is to guard their lands against loggers and preserve their culture for generations to come.

Last month, Sarawak’s last Nomadic tribe, the Penan, presented to the state government a “detailed community map” to recognise their customary rights to land and a forest sanctuary they want called Baram Heritage Forest.

The set of 23 maps, which have been 15 years in the making, include locations of the tribes’ “lamin” – old nomadic camps – poisonous trees, trees they use to make their blowpipes, salt licks and sago palms.

Details for the maps were collected orally from village chief and elders, whom he called “forest scientists”, and historical documents.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insight, Komeok Joe, spokesman for the Penan chiefs and the map’s production coordinator, said: “For us Penans, it is a historical achievement to have produced these maps.

“The maps shows where we have foraged and lived. It shows the boundary of our nomadic range, where we have settled temporarily, our land use and even where we bury our dead.

“These are details you will never find in a Land and Survey Department map.”

For more information about how you can support the Penan tribe and their campaign, visit the Sunset Over Selungo website

Sunset Over Selungo

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

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