Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who is Bruno Manser?

Bruno Manser is an environmental activist who were born in Basel on 25 August 1954. He spend some years living and working on Swiss alpine pastures and took an interest in speleology, therapeutics, and handicraft. He was inspired to live a life without money, led him to travel to Borneo with the aim of 'getting to know people who still living close to its origin.

Bruno Manser was well known in Switzerland for his public activism for rainforest preservation and the protection of indigenous peoples. He is commonly known for his open and international protest for Sarawak indigenous people, especially the Penan. He made a richly illustrated notebook during his stay with the Penan people during his stay in 1984 to 1990, in the jungle of Sarawak, Malaysia.

The Penan people of Sarawak is among the last groups of people on Earth to still be living as nomads in the primeval forest. They have been struggling to maintain they way of life and often endangered by the encroaching logging activities. Bruno helped the Penan people to resist the loggers and teach them how to make barricades to hinder the logger advances. In time, he became the international mouthpiece for the threatened nomadic forest dwellers.

He is also one of the founders of the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), with the helps of his friends. It was founded in 1991 after the return of Bruno from the rainforest. In 1992, Bruno published a book titled, 'Voices from the Rainforest' and held numerous lectures to attract attention from various groups.

One of his many spectacular protest was the 60-days hunger strike in front of the Swiss federal parliament building in Berne in 1993 to protest against the import of tropical timber and to promote the  introduction of mandatory declarations for timber. He even made a landing by motorised hang glider next to the residence of Sarawak's Chief Minister in the capital of Sarawak, Kuching, in 1999 to show his determination. Even though his actions earned him a great deal of attention in Switzerland and abroad, Bruno however was declared persona non grata in Malaysia and had to leave the country with a bounty of $40,000 on his head.

Bruno Manser and Along Sega.
Bruno Manser was quite popular with the Penan people, earning him the name of 'Lakei Penan' (Penan Man). During his stay in Sarawak, he lived among the Penan people and was known to have a Penan mentor named Along Sega. Together, they fought for the recognition of the indigenous people land rights to their ancestral forest territories.

However, Bruno Manser actions had no real significant successes in Sarawak itself. Sarawakian government still proceed with its short-sighted and destructive policy that caused less than 10% of Sarawak's original primeval forest remained.

Bruno Manser kept on going back and forth from Switzerland and Sarawak to visit the Penan people, until he went missing on the year of 2000. He was last seen in May 2000 in the isolated village of Bario in Sarawak. His last know message was letter mailed to his girlfriend on 22nd May of 2000 from the village of Bario in the Kelabit Highland of Sarawak.

Several search parties went looking for him but remain fruitless. Finally, on 10th March 2005, a civil court in Basel of Switzerland, officially declared him to be missing, presumed to be dead. Bruno Manser's adoptive father and mentor, Along Sega, was known to express his sadness over the disappearance of Bruno. Without Bruno, Along Sega would have no choice but to continue his people's struggle to attain back their ancestral land right without the chance of ever attracting the international attention.

In 2nd February 2011, the iconic paramount leader of the last nomadic Penan group in the Upper Limbang region of Sarawak, Along Sega too passed away at Limbang hospital due to strong pains in his legs. The late Penan leader too was never able to track down the missing Bruno Manser, despite the reputation of Penan people of great skills in tracking and hunting. The late Along Sega however did mentioned that the day that Bruno Manser went missing, there were many helicopters in the Batu Lawi area. That was around the same time as the opening day of the Mulu National Park in Sarawak.    

Even with the loss of Bruno Manser and Along Sega, the Bruno Manser Fund still continue the work of Bruno Manser until today.


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