Mutang Urud- The Borneo Case


Mutang Urud grows up in one of the world’s oldest rainforests, in Malaysia. But when the government starts cutting down trees in large numbers and destroys the rainforest to build dams, he decides to stand up and fight for the rights of his indigenous people.

Mutang Urud is a simple man. As a little boy, he lives in the jungle of Sarawak: an ancient rainforest on the Malaysian part of Borneo. He knows the name of every little stream, he can find his way through the dense forest and he lives off what nature has to offer, just like his ancestors have done, from generation to generation.

Until one day, in the nineties, large trucks drive into the rainforest, and start to cut down ancient trees en masse. The government wants to export an enormous amount of tropical hardwood and intends to build palm oil plantations and dams. Mutang looks upon this with sorrow and cannot help but stand up and fight for the rights of his indigenous people. Together with the Swiss activist Bruno Manser, he organises blockades to hold back the big logging companies.When it turns out that that is not enough, he travels all over the world to attract international attention for the wrongdoings in his native land. He speaks with world leaders and the UN.

Upon returning home in Malaysia imprisonment and torture awaits him. When he is released, he sees no other way out than to leave his beloved home and flee to Canada. There, he builds a new life, gets married and has a daughter and a son.

But twenty years later, he still cannot let go of the country he grew up in. He follows the news from his native region closely through Radio Free Sarawak, an illegal radio station that is run from London by a Malaysian DJ and a British-based investigative journalist. In Malaysia, the government does not tolerate any dissenting views.

When he hears that twelve new dams are going to be built and that one of those is going to flood the valley he grew up in, something snaps. He travels back. What he finds there cuts through his soul: ninety percent of the rainforest has disappeared. “It looks like a desert,” he says with tears in his eyes. His fellow tribesmen have been banished from the jungle and put in villages.

He is so appalled by this that he takes up activism again: he starts to work with the British investigative journalist and a historian to hold the Malaysian politicians’ feet to the fire. Together they ensure that mass deforestation, corruption and the violation of the indigenous people’s rights make the world news. “It is essential that we continue to tell our stories and memories so that we can prove that this land is ours.”