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Why must land development displace, destitute hapless local communities

I dare not think of this happened so early in 2016, since in 1990 the Punan in Kakus were slightly well-off compared to other Punan communities in the country.

In 1980 when a logging company started its operation in Kakus, many gained employment at a nearby logging camp. Several were involved in the harvesting of birdnest at Bekuyat when it price picking up in the 1990s. Birdnest has always been a major source of income for Punan people in Kakus and Pandan since Brooke administration.

The Punan migrated to Kakus several hundred years ago and the first Punan appointed as Penghulu was Nyipa. He died in 1895 and is the great-grandfather of Ado Bilong – the current head woman of Punan Kakus. He was among the richest Punan due to his control of birdnest sources at Bekuyat.

However, the opening up of acacia plantation by Borneo Pulp and Paper in late 1990s led to the acquisition of thousand of hectares of Punan communal (NCL) and native customary rights (NCR) lands along the Kakus River – leaving only the land surrounding their villages for them. Then followed by the tussle over the right to birdnest harvest among themselves and involvement of thugs in the disputes made the thing from bad to worst. Things will never be the same again, thereafter for the Punan Kakus communities.

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History of Lovuk Tepeleang : Telawan Tragedy

Sometimes in the middle of 1950s, several inhabitants of Punan longhouse at Telawan known as ‘Punan Tepeleang’ suddenly fell ill, then died. In the span of few weeks, about eight peoples died suffering from unknown illness. Even perplexing was the fact that they were healthy individuals before their sudden death. Anxiety and fear enveloped the longhouse.

“In the morning was the funeral of a relative who died a few days earlier and in the evening, back from the funeral, my father became ill. That evening he too died,” recalled my mother. About a week earlier, the unknown illness took away her beloved mother from the family. My grandparent was still in their early 50s – just passed their prime age.

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Do you know that Kayan people called the Inuit ‘Punan’?

To the Kayans, Malay is  ‘Halo‘ and Inuit ‘Punan‘ (Rousseau 1990). That’s interesting fact many rarely know – including Sarawakians. In Borneo, specifically in Kalimantan – all the once nomadic peoples who are not Kayan are called ‘Punan’. Doesn’t matter these peoples might have differences in languages, history – to them they are all Punans. Naive observers of Borneo ethnic complexities were at lost because of these. That’s partly explained why there are at least 20 heterogeneous communities in Kalimantan called “Punan”

Prof. Emeritus Jerome Rousseau

Prof. Emeritus Jerome Rousseau

When I described my fieldwork among the Inuit, the Kayan stated unambiguously that the Inuit were Punan. I tried to point out that, while both Inuit and Punan were hunters and gatherers, they were otherwise very different genetically, historically, and linguistically, and that they occupied radically distinct environments; thus, I argued, while the Inuit are like the Punan in some ways, they are not Punan (Jerome Rousseau 1990:58)

The confusion between Punan (or Punan Ba people) with the Penan and other so called Punan in Borneo were complicated by Kayan’s usage of the term Punan.

Halo is not what the Malay call themselves and certainly many of the so called Punans in Kalimantan were not initially known as such – for example the Belusu, Lisum, Bukitan.

To the Kayans Punan literally mean nomadic people. They call all the former nomads such as Punan Aput, Punan Busang, Penan in Sarawak and at least 15 different groups of Punan in Kalimantan with the exonym ‘Punan’.

In central Borneo region Kayan is the lingua franca – and majority of the ethnics – Kenyah, Berawan, Kejaman, Lahanan speak the language except for the Punan (or Punan Ba) – as we live further away along the Rejang River downriver from the Kayan. Read more

The History of Punan in Kakus and Tatau

The Punans most likely started migrating to Kakus watershed in the 16th century (1600) in small groups, from Ba River, a tributary of Rejang – where the Punan Ba longhouse is located. These groups initially settled on the upper reaches of Kakus cultivating the lands and exploiting nearby jungle resources, particularly bird nest from the caves as source of income.

The migrations heightened in the middle of 18th century (circa 1770-1790) period (Guerreiro 1988), as the exodus of Kayan from Apo Kayan in Kalimantan began moving down Rejang River forcing Punan fleeing the region to avoid subjugation. Kakus River was largely inhabited at the time, with the Tatau occupying only the Tatau and Anap watershed. The Iban has yet to moved in.

The fertile undulating plain of Kakus and Tatau River were all to the Punan and Tatau peoples, albeit with some frictions when the latter began moving downriver to Anap and Tatau Rivers. Soon however, animosity turns to friendship when one of the Punan – Tugang married into a Malong family, the heir of the longhouse and formed his own Punan quarters among the Tatau (c.f S.G Jan 22nd 1878). Malong refers to one of Tatau longhouse in the area (Sandin 1970), believed to be near the present day Tatau town.

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