The last nomad of the Penans has passed away, leaving a peaceful resistance legacy for Malaysian youth activists to emulate.
Along Sega was no coward.
He was a father, a grandfather, a husband, a hunter.
He was also an iconic paramount leader of the last nomadic Penan group in the Upper Limbang region of Sarawak, Malaysia.
Before environmental protests became vogue, Along taught himself, and his small community in the 1980s, to conduct blockades against the logging companies that destroyed their forests. Their peaceful yet persistent resistance led to Along’s arrests twice, and Along became an outspoken leader, and spokesman for the Penan’s struggle.
Along was also a mentor and adoptive father to Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser, who spent several years living with Along’s group in the Adang and Limbang river region in the late 1980s.
He had explained why the forests are important, in a 2005 interview with the Bruno Manser Fund:
We want our forest to remain untouched. Beccause 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.
Yet the rapid depletion of Penan forests in the Upper Limbang area, had forced Along and his community to be sedentary in the early 2000s. This did not stop Along in leading his people in blockades against the logging companies.
In 1993, the Sarawak 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. 5000 hectares of the area would be located in the Long Adang area, yet Along had lamented that the Chief Minister’s promises were “all lies” and “nonsense”, and have not been realized.
Along had always believed in the youth to carry on the fight for Penan rights:
“When I die, they will continue our struggle because I asked them not to give up.”
On 2nd February 2011, at 5 p.m. local time, Along Sega passed away at Limbang hospital. Exact cause of his death remains unknown.
June is a Malaysian conservationist from Sarawak, where she was born and raised. She is of Krokong-Bringing (Dayak Bidayuh) and Filipino (Tagalog) descent and will curate the coming week’s blawg posts on the thorny subject of love. She tweets at @j_rubis