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.
Although initially, the plantation promises hope of permanent employment – (in return for their lands) for nearby longhouse communities, including Punan communities, it didn’t turn out as planned. Those employed by the company quitted their jobs immediately for various reasons. And Borneo Pulp itself collapsed after being dragged to Courts for trespassing into a longhouse NCR lands.
The logging company operating near their longhouse at Kakus also winding down its operation after all the forest within it concession in Kakus have been exhausted of it logs in 2012. The over-logged area then turns into an acacia plantation zone – permanently restricting the Punan access to the land – farming or hunting.
Thus, Punan youth begins migrating to Bintulu seeking employment. Those with a little bit of luck, perseverance and little qualifications – landed a slightly better job – better living conditions. Bintulu is one of the most expensive towns to live in Sarawak, thus leaving those with meagre income living in squatters – worst being homeless.
Returning to their village at Kakus is equally not a favourable option. As there is no more communal forest to develop into a farm. Available lands are all owned – and renting it out for a farm is not cheap.
This phenomenon is resonating everywhere – at Punan Pandan, Punan Mina, Punan Biau and Punan Sama. The Punan Ba will be slightly better off – if the outcome of pending court case in Sibu is favourable.
The Punan Biau and Punan Sama will be no better off than the Punan Kakus – as their NCR lands have been gazetted into massive oil palm and acacia tree plantations in coming years.
It is a truly sad scenario unimaginable by our ancestors hundred years ago would befall us – the Punan in Sarawak. Why must land development involved displacing, destitution of hapless local communities such as the Punan?