Damming our Future: The Borneo Project


I am not anti-progress. I just hope for a more sustainable development. Sustainable development that does not destroy the heritage, livelihood and culture of the Bornean people.


An area estimated at 1/5 of Sarawak would be underwater once the 12 mega dams are built. Above is the picture of the area that will be submerged, and major archaeological and cultural sites drowned underneath methane releasing waters.

The infamous Bakun Dam dispaced 9,000 people, while plans for undersea HVDC cables to Peninsular Malaysia has been scrapped due to high costs and geographical concerns. Which means the Bakun Dam is not running at full capacity.

The Murum Dam will be complete soon and begin operation by 2015, displacing 2,000 people.

The Baram Dam is in the midst of construction, and will displace 20,00 people in the Kenyah and Kayan heartland.

Meanwhile, another nine more will be built.

These are the facts. You make your own judgements.

Damming Our Future from The Borneo Project on Vimeo.


A broken deal: The Borneo States after 1963

Singapore’s People’s Action Party initiated a merger with Malaya, but was resisted by it’s most dominant political power, UMNO, including Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR). The Malayans feared the possibility of left wing radicalism taking over the Singapore government in the elections as PAP suffered losses and rifts after an internal struggle in 1962. It is also the opinion of Malay politicians of the need to maintain racial imbalance, the political and cultural predominance of the Malays. In the Malaysia project, it was understood that in electoral and more broadly political terms the combined Chinese population of Singapore and Malaya, which outnumbered the Malays, would be offset by the “Malay” population of North Borneo and Sarawak. So that was TAR’s condition, that with the inclusion of Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak must follow suit.

According to Bob Reece, he opines that “a crucial influence on TAR’s ethno-religious calculations was a report made to UMNO by Malaya’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Senu bin Abdul Rahman…. (who) describing all the indigenous peoples of North Borneo and Sarawak as “Malays”… (concluding) that within a federation consisting of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo, “Malays” would remain the… majority.”

Says TAR reported in newspapers dated 24th July 1961,

“From the text-books as the schools and by meeting the Dyaks, I found out that the only difference between the so-called Dyak language and Malay is in the dialect just as there is a difference in the dialects of Selangor Malays and Kelantan Malays.”

In TAR’s major speech to the Malayan Parliament on 16th October 1961,

“From the Federation’s point of view, we are linked to the Borneo territories not only by proximity and close association but also because the Borneo territories have the same type of culture and racial origins as the Malayans ( i.e Malays). We have similar customs – except, of course, in their case, they have some peculiar local customs but they are local affairs – and we have similar problems, economically or otherwise, and we even share the same currency…”

At the time of the Malaysia Project, in Malaya ethnic Malays make up 50%, with Chinese 37%. In North Borneo, 1,645 were ethnic Malays with the majority Islamicized indigenous groups (i.e Bajau, Illanun who do not call themselves Malay) who make up most of the state’s  37.9%. The other largest homogenous ethnic group were the Kadazan-Dusun, mostly Christians and animist who make up 30%, followed by the Chinese (23%).

Datu Donald Stephens, in a major speech in Singapore dated 10th August 1961,

“My people feel that if North Borneo joins Malaya now as a state, it would mean that North Borneo would not become a state but a colony of the Federation of Malaya. As I have said before, these fears are genuine. Not actually fear or suspicion of the sincerity of Malaya to take us on as an equal partner but more the fear that by virtue of our status as a British colony we would automatically become a second-class state or colony of Malaya… We must at least have self-government before we can talk, before we, the people of the country, can decide for ourselves whether we want to become partners in Malaysia. Self government for us is the pre-requisite to final settlement of the Malaysia question.”

However, it is generally agreed by academic commentators that the crucial factor in the changing attitudes of the Borneo states leaders was the Brunei Rebellion and Indonesia’s opposition (which escalated into the Confrontation after 1963).

Leaders of Sabah submitted a document dated 29th August 1962 to the Inter-Governmental Committee (to decide on the constitutional details of the Malaysian Constitution) containing 20 Points, while their Sarawakian counterparts published their 18 Points on 27th February 1963, of which should be embodied in the Federal Constitution.

Point 16 of the 20 Points stated that no amendment or withdrawal of any special safeguards granted to North Borneo can be made by the Central Government without the consent of the State Government and the power to amend should belong exclusively to the people of the State.

The IGCR recommended that the power for amendments to the Borneo States position was better given to Parliament (since to amend they need 2/3 majority, but the Malayan parliamentary seats grew in percentage when Singapore left).

Thus the safeguard was never embodied into the Federal Constitution.

Malaysia came into being on 16th September, 1963.

Then, within 2 years of the signing of the Malaysian Agreement, a series of events took place that demonstrated the new Malaysian Government in KL had not accepted the principals relating to the special standing of the two Borneo states, gradually treating them as unitary states needing strong centralized government control. The signs were:

1. The dramatic separation of Singapore in 1965

2. The expulsion of Datuk Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Sarawak’s 1st Chief Minister in 1966

3. The replacement of Tun Mustapha’s USNO-led government in Sabah in 1976

4. Creation of new parliamentary seats that favour Peninsular Malaysia

5. Certain amendments to the Federal Constitution (relating to the special position of the Borneo states).

Which brings us to the issue of the 20 Points and 18 Points Agreement that highlights the special position of Sabah and Sarawak. It had no legal/constitutional standing, but it was clearly looked upon by Borneo’s political leaders as a charter of state rights and the basis of the Borneo states future relationship with the Federal Government.

12th September 1991

PBS’ Datuk Monggoh Orrow asked Dr. Mahathir (then PM) for a referendum on the issue of remaining in Malaysia, to which he replied that it has been done and Sabah and Sarawak had decided to “swim or sink” with Malaysia and there are no second chances, when there has never been a referendum, except for the Cobbold Commission, which wasn’t.

January 1987, TAR

“All I can remember is that the Cobbold Comission headed by Lord Cobbold had drawn up the constitution which was accepted by Sabah. If I am not mistaken, Sabah readily signed the Malaysia Agreement and had accepted the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the head of Islam in the State.”

November 1992

Ghafar Baba, DPM issued challenges to the PBS to debate the 20 Points issue. The Kitingan brothers have been asking for the debate for the past 6 years, and by December 1992, Jeffrey Kitingan was detained under ISA, showing how hypocritical UMNO is.

There you have it. That’s what happened to the Borneo states’ 20 and 18 Point Agreement which guarded its special standing as equal partner to Malaya. Any demands to debate the Agreement has been viewed by Malaya as desire to secede and branded as traitors. In the course of the events leading up to today, the Federal Constitution has been amended to facilitate greater power and control over the two States. That is what 1Malaysia is all about, an attempt to salvage something beyond repair. We are the products of systematic destruction of our rights and our standing as equal humans and partners.

Because now, the sentiment is US against THEM. And we all know who THEY are.

The Red Rally

Movement for Change Sarawak will be organising a Red Rally, Walk for Democracy and Refrom at the Museum Gardens tomorrow, together with a wreath laying ceremony at fallen heroes memorial in Waterfront and the Gardens. Police permit has not been granted due to Ramadhan, while the ex-servicemen association are furious about the wreath laying (they say this will be politicised).

An excerpt from MoCS website,

On the aims and objectives of MoCS, Siah said its priority was to strive for a new political culture in Sarawak – free from money politics, corruption, nepotism, despotism and free from politics of patronage and economic banditry.

Secondly, it aims to strengthen democratic values and principles. Sarawakians must be made more aware of their rights in all spheres as citizens of a democratic, sovereign state and nation.

MoCS will also provide a platform for Sarawakians who are apolitical to be involved in a mass movement which they can believe in – a movement which struggles for their religious, cultural and economic rights.

And finally, MoCS will strive to educate the citizens of Sarawak of their duties and responsibilities in the governance of their state – that they have a stake in the state’s directions and future and to ensure that Sarawak is always managed and governed by leaders of integrity, foresight and high moral values.

It remains to be seen how the turnout will be. Kuchingites seem fairly unperturbed by it.

I am HARAM, is it?

Living in Sarawak  is unlike any other experience. Without sounding too cliched, the numerous ethnic groups (about 60 plus on last count) that populate the state makes for a very diverse and colorful environment. We probably have more cultural festivals (Borneo) combined than any other place in the world.

Living with neighbours that differ so much from us means that you get used to and accept the adat or traditions of the different ethnic groups. The ethnic composition of Sarawak is such that there is an almost equal balance of the major ethnic groups with the Ibans making up 30%, Malays 28% at 2nd place (rough estimates).

Which brings us to Sarawakian Malays. I have always prided in Sarawakian Malays. They are (mostly) open, tolerant and moderate people who has lived beside the Dayak with not much problems. Most of them have no qualms about eating in a Chinese cafe, or using crockeries/cutleries in a non-Muslims house. They understand their faith and what it stands for. They know what Islam means. Like the Mufti of Perlis Dr. Mohd. Asri Zainul Abididin said,

Soalan: Sebagai seorang bukan Islam, saya dimaklumkan terdapat juga orang Islam yang berasa tidak selesa berkongsi peralatan dapur seperti pinggan dan cawan di rumah saya. Bagaimanakah Islam memandang persoalan ini

Jawapan Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin: Mengarut! Apa perlu berkunjung rumah seseorang kenalan bukan Islam kalau kita menganggap tidak boleh makan atau minum di situ? Saya kecewa dengan pentafsiran Islam begini. Agama itu sebenarnya membuatkan kita menjadi lebih bijak. Pandangan ini menjadikan seseorang lebih bodoh.

Selagi sesuatu yang dijamu kepada kita itu halal, maka ia boleh dimakan, sama ada buah, ikan atau sebagainya. Kemungkinan-kemungkinan yang kita tidak nampak itu tidak wajib diambil kira. Kerahmatan ini tidak terhad kepada orang Islam sahaja.

Kalau kita buat baik kepada orang bukan Islam, kita juga mendapat pahala, macam kita memberi sedekah kepada orang bukan Islam. Perkara ini soal keinsanan dan nilai agama yang tamadun.

And there’s this.

Persatuan Peguam-peguam Muslim Malaysia (PPMM) meminta Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (Jakim) dan majlis agama islam negeri turut menyiasat dakwaan bahawa menjadi kebiasaan bagi kedai kopi di Sarawak menjual makanan halal dan haram di tempat yang sama.

Presiden PPMM Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar berkata, ini kerana makanan yang bercampur boleh menukarkan yang halal kepada haram.

“Apatah lagi cara penyucian peralatan yang digunakan seperti pinggan mangkuk, sudu garpu dan sebagainya perlu juga diteliti.”

Many Muslims work at Chinese cafes. Unknown to many, the Chinese owners always makes sure that the Muslim staff do not touch the plates/fork/spoons but only to collect the glasses and wash them. I work in the industry, I know. Most stalls collect their own plates too.

So what if a Muslim food stall stands next to a Kolo Mi stall? Is the Kolo Mi owner going to throw pieces of pork into the kuah Mi Jawa? If even plates/spoons contaminated by “najis” unusable, then what about made in China products? My hands touch pork all the times, does it mean you must samak if I shake your hand?

Sad to say most Muslims never actually fully understand the Quran. They wave it at protests, hang it in their cars, but do they truly know what they are mindlessly reciting? Most Muslim practices today aren’t found in the Quran. Instead they’re traditions, or based on the Hadith. Even the hijab doesn’t exist in the Quran. It’s meant to keep sand out, unles you’re pro-Taliban.

This type of extremism didn’t exist a decades ago. Now the more extreme brand of Islam is contaminating the Sarawakian Malays who have never had any problems eating with their non-Muslim friends or at their homes. I worry. The source of Malayan(PPMM is one such entity) fear over the sovereignity of Islam (which I MUST stress is never Sarawak’s official religion) is deeply rooted in the fact they don’t know much about their own. They undermine the religion of others to pamper their own insecurities.

I dread the day when the Muslims here turn into zealots like their Malayan counterparts. (Like my brother studying in Terengganu said, “The Kelatanese are quick to explain (about Islam), the Kedahans are quick to convert (you).”)

You get thrown to hell for touching pork? Or breathing in air that has pork particles (whatever the hell that is)?

If your faith is strong, you wouldn’t have any problems with others. Must I even tell you what your own Prophet said? Sheesh.


The old and incontinent

The Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) decided to host a Gawai celebration of sorts at its newly built hall near Jln. Ong Tiang Swee.

When? 1st June, 2011.

Now how dumb is that?

There you are dragging all the Dayaks involved to the city, preparing this ‘festival’ for the benefit of a few, depriving them of time to spend with their families at the kampung and the Gawai mood. Taib doesn’t celebrate Gawai so it doesn’t matter to him. Some of my relatives had to go all the way down to Kuching from Serian, on Gawai itself until close to midnight to perform etc.

Why can’t they do it say a week after Gawai, maybe a weekend when many have returned? Like Gawai REDEEM in Singai, a big festival held in the middle of June.

Which brings us to another matter. Dayak and politics.

Culture and politics should be separate. But the reality is that DBNA, supposedly to uphold, promote and help the Bidayuh are so entwined with politics, it’s survival and activities depends solely on the Government. How many programs have been launched to promote the Bidayuh culture and language among its youth? How many youths even know what the word ‘Bidayuh’ means?

Even I speak in Bidayuh mixed with words that aren’t even Bidayuh to begin with like nyadong (Iban) and bayam (Malay).

They are too complacent, and populated with old people whose ideas are no longer relevant. This is too hard, that’s impossible. Bah! If you check out their website, they have no new programmes and their Literature section has 3 articles. The man that did research on the origins of the Bidayuh and it’s migration patterns, the kampungs and it’s movement, has been done, by a Chinese. Now how embarassing is that? Where are all the Bidayuh Graduates? What’s the point of a Bidayuh Graduates Association? I don’t even know what it’s for. And then when they read the books he published they scorn and ridicule it, saying what does a Chinese know? They don’t even want to make an effort to do anything about it and casually criticize someone who does just because he is not one of them. (Like how the Orang Ulu make fun of a non-Dayak playing sape’. Excuse me, he can, what about you?)

Within the DBNA itself there are factions, where certain groups dominate. The Bukar Sadong group is grossly underrepresented, with the Jagoi Singai Biatah group dominating proceedings and are adamant with using their own dialects. How’s that for equality?

Outreach and charity programmes are mostly done by Christian groups and other NGOs. It’s time the Bidayuh youths stepped up and take control. We should create an entity that is dynamic, active and passionate.

Who wants in?