by Jules Ong
A review of the 36-minute documentary by Hilary Chiew and Chi Too
What Environment? It’s occupation and terrorism.
I watched What Rainforest? and immediately felt that it should not be called an ‘environmental’ documentary. But it was conveniently lumped under environment at its debut showing at the 2008 Freedom Film Festival recently.
As environmental issues become mainstream, its messages becomes simplified and stereotyped…. and boring. Add the indigenous people, and the Hollywood theme of Guardian of the Rainforest gets even more tiresome.
Here goes – Primitive but wise with the way of the jungle, the indigenous people fight a losing battle against modern development to protect their way of life and identity. How heroic. How sad.
I think it’s time to move on. Because if you sing this refrain over and over, people stop caring. And it gives ammunition to those who don’t give two hoots about the environment or native rights to respond: Hey, wake up man. We have to develop. We have hungry stomachs to fill. Why should we be sorry for cutting down a few trees?
The West finished cutting their trees and now wants to stop us?! And those lazy natives, why are you so anti-development? You want to be uneducated, poor and hungry ah? (as if they were offered any choices).
That’s the typical answer politicians in Sarawak love to give when you present them facts about illegal logging. Never mind the criminal element of illegal logging, they will bring out that tiresome narrative about development vs environment.
The 36-minute documentary What Rainforest? by Chi Too and Hilary Chiew is a different sort of film with an environmental sounding name. It made me sit up. It made me burn. It’s not about development vs environment with pretty pictures of virgin rainforests and its cute denizens thrown in.
It’s really about occupation and terrorism. Much akin to what the Palestinians are facing in their homeland. Driven out of their land and occupied by others while the rest of the world looks on.
Except that in this case, it is perpetuated not by foreign enemies but done with the aggressive support of the state using our tax dollars backed by dubious sections of the law. So in effect, it’s state terrorism.
Ok, I’d say the Palestinians have it much worse, but the fact of the matter is that occupation and terrorism is happening in the Land of the Hornbills. Occupation - people’s land are being occupied illegally. Terrorism - people are being threatened and even beaten if they refuse to leave, if they put up blockades, or if they’re organising their people. There have also been cases of mysterious disappearances and deaths of activists. Recently, NGO’s have claimed that Penan women and girls were raped and sexually abused by loggers. All these are part of the terrorism tactics to cow a people into submission and to abandon their claim of the land.
If the same events were to be transplanted into Peninsular Malaysia middle-class life, there would be lawsuits, and rolling heads. No, it wouldn’t even happen to begin with. If it did, the closest thing that can bring that kind of outrage is the demolition of places of worship. It would bring no less than a Hindraf Makkal Sakti kind of respond.
When handbags get snatched, when houses get burglarised, especially when it’s a politician’s wife and a minister’s house, they get frontpaged. When someone’s land in Sarawak is being grabbed in broad daylight, and the owners terrorised by gangsters and police stand and watch, it’s either too sensitive or too complicating to report. Let me just put it simply.
Licence to log
Imagine someone coming into your house and carting all your furniture out. Then, they put their own furniture inside your house and tell you, get out, this house belongs to us now. You go to the police. They do nothing. Ok now, put yourself in the native’s shoes, or bare feet. Those bulldozers and loggers come, and they plunder your trees – trees that give shade, wood and fronds to build homes, herbs and roots for medicine, trees that shelter animals so you can hunt them for food, and strong roots to keep soil in place so you have water to drink and wash from clean rivers– in short, everything you need to survive. No need to venture into global warming talk or critters at the brink of extinction.
The greedy loggers don’t care about any of that. They show you their licence to log with Sarawak chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s signature on it and laugh in your face. They send their gangsters to intimidate you if you try to fight back. And while you’re slogging out in court moving at a snail’s pace to prove that the land belongs to you because your ancestors were there first, they flout court decrees and start logging anyway.
Before the judge can postpone the next trial date, they start planting oil palm. Then they claim the land is theirs because instead of leaving the land ‘idle’, they cultivate it. Next they apply for ownership papers to justify it.
What do you do? You’d better start planting oil palm before they come. Forget about your old life of living in harmony with nature. Forget about your cultural identity and traditional way of life, and most of all, the environment. Log the trees, sell the timber and with the money, plant oil palm. Lots of them. Then you can prove that the land is yours. Beat the greedy companies in their own game ha ha. That’s what the last man standing did, Segan anak Degon. Hmm, tidak Segan sama sekali, brave man. Hell, that’s what I’ll do if I were in his place.
Watch What Rainforest? online
(Note to future film fest organisers keen on showing this film: This film should be put under the category: Occupation and Terrorism and shown with other films of this nature, such as the Palestinian conflict, and the War against Terrorism. Not under Environment.)