Penan

I had the most extraordinary experience last night, a screening of the documentary on the work of my friend Ian with the Penan in Borneo. My friend Stephen, who introduced me to Ian, has described the documentary in his blog Arod in San Francisco, so I won’t try to rewrite him. Do click on that link, which has links to Ian’s work. Unfortunately, the link to the documentary film itself does not work unless you are in Canada. Something about distribution rights or whatever.

All I can do is say that I was profoundly moved to see how the way of life of a nomadic people was made non-viable by the advance of “civilization”, in this case the logging industry, which is busily chopping down the last barrier to global warming.

Of course in the sixteenth through nineteenth century the native American cultures here were destroyed in much the same manner for precisely the same reason – there was profit to be made by displacing them, and nothing has ever stood long in the path of profit.

Just as linguists and anthropologists here are trying to record the moribund native American languages and oral history, so Ian has written a dictionary and grammar of the language of the Penan and is now recording their oral history.

A sad undertaking, but a noble one, and I am fortunate to know a man so fine.

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