An NGO has warned that a recent native ritual wrongly performed by state government 'leaders' will have adverse effects on the people and the Baram Dam project.
Raising his objections, Baram Protection Action Committee (BPAC) chairman Philip Jau said the Taib Mahmud-led regime and community leaders had abused a Kayan-Kenyah native ritual ceremony known as ‘manyau dalleh’ to start the second phase of soil studies of the proposed Baram Dam project.
The ritual, he said, was in fact meant to ‘cleanse’ the land and ‘protect’ the community from calamities.
“The purpose of the ceremony is entirely wrong and those taking part in the ceremony do not know the culture and tradition of the Orang Ulu.
“Manyau dalleh is a ceremony traditionally used to cleanse the land and the people after a calamity or disaster has struck the community.
“However there is no calamity or disaster in Baram therefore the ceremony was not supposed to be done,” said Jau.
He warned that having now stoked the anger of the Gods, ‘a calamity or disaster will happen’ if the project is carried out.
“A calamity or disaster will happen in the future if the Baram Dam project goes forward.
“Clearly they are abusing the culture and tradition of the Kayan-Kenyah,” he said.
The ritual ceremony was conducted over the weekend to seek the blessings of the spirits and to protect the developer – Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) – and the people of Baram affected by the project.
Drilling work to study the soil structure of the area is expected to begin soon.
Meanwhile, the event organised during the weekend at the proposed dam site was marred by a protest by about 30 villagers from Long Liam, Long San, Ba’ Abang, Long Beku, Long Laput, Long Ekang, Long Tap and concerned NGOs from Miri (main photo).
Currently, the only means of access to the dam site is by boat.
The protesters used longboats powered by outboard engines, displayed their banners and placard while shouting slogans in the various languages spoken in the Baram district urging the government to scrap the controversial project and take heed of the peoples’ concerns.
Conducting the ceremony for the state government was Senator Lihan Jok, who was assisted by Dennis Ngau, state assemblyman for Telang Usan, Ose Murang, deputy state secretary and a few community leaders led by Pahang Ding.
A day earlier a dialogue for community representatives in the Baram District was held by the state government agencies comprising the State Planning Unit (SPU), the Sarawak Natural Resources and Environmental Board (NREB), Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) and the Biro Tata Negara (BTN) of the Prime Minister’s Department.
State Assistant Minister of Culture and Heritage Liwan Lagang, who opened the dialogue told the gathering about the “success” story of the Bakun Dam Project.
Abun Sui Anyit, a Kenyah lawyer from Belaga however refuted Liwan’s success story about the people of Belaga who have been affected by the Bakun Dam.
“So many people are still angry about the broken promises made by the government in order to coerce them to move to Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme.
“Many are thinking about moving back to their old ancestral territories as living at Sungai Asap does not guarantee a good future,” said Sui Anyit.
The protest went on peacefully and lasted for an hour under the watchful eyes of the police and the Peoples’ Volunteer Corps (RELA).
Meanwhile SAVE Rivers Network chairman Peter Kallang questioned the rationale behind the formation of the Baram Hydroelectric Dam Development and Consultation Committee which is chaired by Lihan.
“So far as the people of Baram are concerned, we do not know about the formation of the committee.
“We never appointed him as chairman of any committee.
“Furthermore, Jacob Dungau Sagan, the MP for Baram had announced the formation of the Baram HEP Consultative Committee which was headed by himself.
“Why is there a need to form two committees and what is their purpose?” asked Kallang.
20,000 natives affected
Meanwhile, SEB chief executive officer Torstein Dale Sjotveit assured the people that SEB would give priority attention to their welfare before proceeding with the project.
He admitted that it would a great challenge for SEB to handle the project effectively as it involved lots of community-sensitive issues.
“Moving your ancestor lands and graveyards are most painful, and we understand that very much.
“I am aware that such mammoth project would inflict certain negativities on the affected areas such as the environment,” he said, giving an assurance that SEB had mapped out a comprehensive plan and contingency strategies to minimise all possible problems that might crop up.
Once completed, the dam will displace more than 20,000 people from more than 20 villages and longhouses and submerge 38,900 hectares of land, which is the size of Singapore.
The bulk of the land under water will be native customary rights (NCR) land.
Fully operational, it is expected to generate 1,200MW of electrical power.