Penan tribe

The Penan people of Sarawak state have been pushed out of their forests by dam projects [AP]
With the loss of their land, the Penan fear they will lose their independence.

In the damp, lush and humid rainforest of northern Sarawak, on Borneo, the indigenous Penan tribe who have lived on the island for centuries fight a daily battle against the logging juggernauts who want to raze their homes to the ground.

Living off the land and in tune with their natural environment, 12,000 of the hunter-gatherer Penan remain - some living nomadically, relying on the forest for their existence.

Having suffered decades of logging, plantation developments, massive dams and a government who have not protected their rights, the decimated Penan have finally decided to stand-up to the corporate giants by banding together to stand firm - and they have finally received recognition.

Penan people
In October, Malaysia's highest court, the Federal court passed down a ruling that the Penan who live in the Long Lamai region have a right to legally claim land as theirs, complete with protection from loggers or dam builders.

With veteran Malaysian land rights lawyer and politician Baru Bian representing them, the Penan are fighting against the logging firm Samling Global, who currently have the legal rights to the land.

Borneo deforestation

After spending time in the jungle, seeing the incredibly diverse flora and fauna and the lifestyles of the few tribes still able to live there
If they emerge victorious it will be a landmark ruling for indigenous rights in Sarawak and end the wide-spread logging commercial logging on tribal land across the beautiful island.

It will mark the first time the Sarawak state government has to recognize the Penan's rights to their land and mark the culmination of four-years of work since 18 Penan villages banded together to form the 'Penan Peace Park'.

Penan tribe
A legal as well as environmental body, the 'Peace Park' is engaged in large-scale reforestation as well as protecting a 163,000 hectare area of forests that the Pena want exempted from logging and oil palm plantation.

Since 1987, when they became desperate, many Penan communities began physically blockading the roads cut through the forest by the logging companies - leading to the arrest of 100 people.

In the 26-years since, the fight has continued, despite the government's refusal to even recognize the boundaries of the 'Penan Peace Park'.

However, that has not stopped the 18 communities, who are estimated to have planted over 14,000 new trees to replace those lost since 2009.

At the heart of the fight is the government's plan announced in 2008 to build twelve new hydroelectric dams that will flood many villages that are inhabited by the Penan.

Photographer Julien Coquentin spent two weeks living with the Penan in order to understand their plight - an experience which affected him greatly.

'Over the centuries, they have learned to understand the forest so intimately that it has become a natural and crucial extension of their culture,' Coquentin explains.

'This is their history and the wealth ultimately belongs to all. What is being destroyed by short-term logic is irredeemable.

'The Penan Peace Park charter is a way for people to regain control over their lives,' says Coquentin.

'Inspired by 'the declaration of indigenous rights' it provides the possibility to preserve their culture, with added environmental, cultural and economic benefits.'