Eden welcomed two very special visitors last Friday from Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. Mutang a Kelabit tribesperson, politically exiled in Canada for 15 years, and Balang who’s still living and working in Sarawak. Both had been visiting the extraordinary Bruno Manser Fund in Switzerland and kindly agreed to visit Eden to tell us their story.
Mutang, Balang and their volunteer workforce – made up of members of the horticulture and design teams – miraculously knocked up a typical Penan hut – using materials harvested entirely from the biome – in 8 hours flat. The hut would traditionally be used by nomadic family groups for about 4 months as their hunting and foraging base camp – but despite our very best efforts Mutang told me if he’d had a better labour force (i.e. a couple of Penan children) they could have made it in about half the time!
Despite the, obviously, shoddy machete-wielding Cornish workers there were some real highlights for the team. Justine Quinn, Eden’s Interpretation Manager, said she’d never forget the sight of 6 “strapping young men” (her words, not mine) “playing tug o’ war” with a 25 m Rattan palm growing up the edge of the biome. The coiled rattan now sits proudly outside the hut waiting to be turned into furniture or other useful bits of kit!
In a powerful twist of irony the roof for the hut was made from fronds from the Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) that are planted opposite the hut. It’s the massive and relentless spread of Oil Palm in Borneo and much of Southeast Asia that has contributed so much to the sad plight of local people and other forest dwellers such as the Orangutan. Eden’s gathered quotes from many people involved in, or affected by, the Oil Palm story so make sure you read them next time you’re visiting.
John Nichol, Rainforest Biome Supervisor, told me: “It’s magical that we could make an entire dwelling out of materials harvested from our forest in just a few hours. I can’t think of any other place in the UK that could do this. But most importantly we all made some good new friends, and that’s what Eden’s all about.”
Mutang and Balang’s visit wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Bruno Manser Fund so please visit their website to find out more about how you can help the Penan people in their fight against deforestation and the spread of Oil Palm plantations. And don’t forget to come and enjoy the hut and its stories next to the rubber exhibit in the Biome.
Article by Dan Ryan