KUCHING: Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud’s last function as Chief Minister on Thursday saw him share his views on the Penan community.
He noted that in Sarawak “human beings have got to be treated as human beings”.
“With urbanisation and development, different racial groups will not maintain 100 per cent of their characteristics. I know in some countries, diversity though preserved is rather neglected than preserved. And because of that therefore in Sarawak we don’t want to see a policy of reservations.
“I have no right to treat the Penans differently from other races. If I do that, a lot of Penan boys and girls will remain in the jungle like their forefathers 100 years ago,” he told delegates of the eighth Malaysia Heads of Mission Conference during a dinner hosted by the state government.
Taib asserted Sarawak has a standard treatment of equality for all races.
He said the Penan community would eventually become modernised as many of them have graduated from university, with some joining the civil service.
“The Penans are no different than any other people in Sarawak, they are as intelligent as anybody. Only they didn’t have enough opportunities to equip themselves with modern knowledge in the days when they were so isolated and the government was too poor to be able to look after them, and reach out to them.”
He pointed out that today there are less than 5,000 Penan individuals who maintain a semi-nomadic or fully nomadic life.
“I think fully nomadic probably less than 2,000. Because of that therefore I have to tell you as far as we are concerned, we have to respect the basic concept of equality and observe the duty to develop all Malaysian citizens in Sarawak even if we are going to be accused of destroying some of the nomadic culture in Sarawak.”
He disclosed having adopted two children from the Penan community, adding that the girl attained top grades in university.
“But to my sorrow, she got married at the age of 18. There is nothing I can do, that’s their custom and you have to observe it.
“So everything in Sarawak has got to be judged by the standard sense of equality and human treatment, which we have held very dear, and that must not be violated just because some foreigners want to have some human species as museum (specimens) for them to enjoy.”
Taib added that the government appreciated the Penan community’s differences and their right to live their own lives.
However, he said they should be given the right of access to education.
He felt that the Penans would not choose the same way of life if they were given opportunities like other communities in the state.
“The Penans have got the habit of migrating from place to place, but then some of them, after being in contact with the Orang Ulu and other tribes in the country, tend to stay in one spot and then settle down.
“In fact, there are not many Penans wandering now. Most of them are not traceable because they mix very naturally with other indigenous people.”
Meanwhile, Taib said most Sarawakians look forward to a change for Sarawak to become a more industrialised state by 2020.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu, deputy secretary-general to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Datuk Ramlan Ibrahim and State Secretary Tan Sri Datuk Amar Mohd Morshidi Abdul Ghani were among those who attended the dinner.
“It is a slow evolution for people to be given the opportunity to have education, developing with the progress of the nation. So, Sarawak is inhabited by a lot of native groups all over the rural areas, their lives will change but they will keep the culture that is relevant with the changing of time.”
He added feeling pride for having served the country for over 50 years.
“In between, I have had the opportunity of knowing Malaysia better by being a federal minister. I treasure all these opportunities and the memory that I carry during all this period of over 50 years serving the government of Malaysia and the state of Sarawak.
“I am hoping to see in the future, more development, more integration but on a natural base.”