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The Kuba'an-Puak Story, Journey towards a green corridor.

WWF-Malaysia, Kuching Branch Staff, compilers, 2018, The Kuba'an-Puak Story, Journey towards a green corridor. Kuching: WWF-Malaysia. ISBN: 978-967-0237-44-2.

This coffee table book does not disappoint the reader in showcasing the importance of sustainable forestry management and community engagement through the Kuba'an-Puak Project initiated in 2014. The project and the book were a collaboration between WWF-Malaysia, WWF-Germany, Sarawak Forestry Department, Sarawak Forestry Corporation, the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and eighteen Penan settlements. Can this green corridor, connecting Gunung Mulu, Gunung Buda and Pulong Tau National Parks in Sarawak to Sabah, Malaysia and crossing international borders into Brunei Darussalam and Kalimantan, Indonesia be managed sustainable as a High Conservation Value Forest by all the stakeholders involved: governments, timber companies, and the communities directly affected?

Of the eighteen settlements directly relating to the project, seven are featured in the book through photographs and direct quotes extending over the 144 pages. The book is divided into easy-to-read chapters that initially and objectively cover the project itself and places it in the larger context of this area of Borneo through large photographs of its landscape of mountains and rivers. We get an understanding of the place, the forest and its animals before moving into chapters covering the "forest dwellers," the Penan people. Here we go deeper and view the intimate and symbiotic relationship the Penan have had and still want to have with their environment today in the face of government licensed logging by private timber companies. Logging is an indisputable reality layered on top of generations of traditions and a way of life for the Penan. Sustainability, at this point, is perhaps best found in working together with all stakeholders; the gist of this project.

Often in this type of book we read the commentary of the people on the outside, looking in and making assessments and interpretations. The unique aspect of this book is that the photographic lens through which we see the portrayal of the project area and the people most affected by it, is that of the facilitators of the project, WWF-Malaysia and Sarawak Forestry Corporation and not hired professional photographers. This is a rare personal touch given by those directly involved showing us their message of respect and understanding; the photographs are their voices.

Each chapter has a very short text with information about the subject area covered. These include topics under Forests--The Provider: blowpipe, rattan, sago, the women's perspective; Oro which is a unique Penan sign language; musical instruments from the forest and folktales.

The real meat of the chapters is the accompanying Penan quotes that were meticulously translated into English by Ezra Uda, Jayl Langub and Jolly Jengan. Reading the words, the voice of the Penans, has an impact equal to the photographs in deepening our understanding of their heritage and their concerns. The most powerful sub-chapter near the end is "Voices of Hope on the Kuba'an-Puak Corridor Project." With white-lettered quotes, voices from six different communities are set against a foreboding dark black and white photograph of a river, the forest, and Penan walking away from the photographer Jason Hon of WWF-Malaysia. The written messages are clear, of support for the project--"In our hearts, we strongly want the land and forest conserved for survival"; a statement of their relationship to the rivers and forest--"They are part of us, our history;" and a message of concern--"..when you carry out your activities, you must adhere to the rules and regulations." Following this double-spread page, we read the voices of two women set against lush forest canopy. The women express their support for the project because of their fondness (tawai) for the forest and because the forest sustains their families in so many ways--the ways described in the previous chapters.

Finally, there is a lengthy text explaining the timber companies' commitment to Sustainable Forestry Management along with photographs of community engagement conducted by other partners and WWF. It all sounds very hopeful and leaves us wanting updates and perhaps information where we could keep track of the progress of this project through the eyes of the communities impacted.

Overall, the book is informative on many levels and does an excellent job of interpretating the project, giving a realistic and comprehensive voice to those most affected. On another level, it is an excellent text book for those wanting to know more about the traditions of the Penan. The excellent illustrations by Jayl Langub of the oro and accompanying photographs is a great primer on this unique forest sign language. There is a precise description with photographs of sago production which is useful. The book is useful to anyone studying the tangible and intangible heritage of the Penan.

If I were to make any criticism, it would be in my need to see more small maps which would help me visualize the many place names mentioned in the text. In order to help me feel even more connected to the Penan, I would have liked to see their names and settlements identified along with their photographs especially in the chapter Life--Women's Perspective. That said, however, I understand that some people might not wish to have their names published and that sometimes names are not "caught" by photographers. In these times we must respect identities at all costs. Welcome additions to the text are a glossary of Penan terms, a helpful list of acronyms and abbreviations associated with the project, and References on the final pages.

The Kuba'an-Puak Story is informative and respectful of its subject without being propaganda and would be a good addition to any library of heritage or forestry studies.

(Louise M. Macul, Doctoral Candidate, University of Leicester School of Museum Studies, and Advisor, Friends of Sarawak Museum, Kuching)


On 4 December 2018, as a follow up to celebrate the completion of the first three years of the Kuba'an-Puak Project, there was a day of sharing and celebration in Kuching hosted by WWF and the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Many of the Penans made the journey from their homes. In particular, Asai Berat, Chairman of the Community Representative Committee Kuba'an-Puak. He made a speech which was translated by Jayl Langub. In his concluding remarks he said, "Looking back over the past four years, I feel confident to say on behalf of the Kuba'an-Puak community that the quality of our life has improved in good measure. We now have good access to health centers, schools, and markets. Our social and economic activities have diversified. We have a better understanding of the outside world. Most importantly, our forest and its resources have not been destroyed drastically as they were in the 1990s. Our community looks forward to a continued sustainable management of our forest and its resources."
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Author:Macul, Louise M.
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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