245 pages, b/w photos, maps
"What can I tell you that you do not know? That as I sit here, home in Montana after two years away, Borneo is a dream of green, of insects honking like car horns, of rain like cataracts, of beautiful people who put a hand into yours as if placing the world's last butterfly, fallen and dazed, back on a leaf [...] That their land is being taken away, bit by bit, the length and breadth of Sarawak, north Borneo; that their rainforest, the oldest in the world, is being cut; that they stand in feathered hats, earlobes stretched to the breasts, spears and blowpipes in hand, in front of Japanese bulldozers."
– William Bevis
After a year as exchange professor at a Tokyo university, William Bevis spent part of the next year traveling in Sarawak, a Malaysian state located on the northern part of the island of Borneo. About the size of New York, it has a population of 1.7 million people living, outside of a few towns, in a world of jungle and brown rivers. There the rainforest is being cut rapidly, local corruption and greed siphon off most of the profit, native rights and land uses are being obliterated, and much of the fine timber is shipped to Japan to become plywood forms for concrete that are thrown away after two uses.
Borneo Log: The Struggle for Sarawak's Forests is a travel narrative and also a serious environmental study of exploitation of third-world resources. During his stay in Sarawak, the author lived with both native activists and timber camp managers, seeking to understand the motives and actions of Japanese companies, Chinese entrepreneurs, and thea native population most affected by the timber trade.
Interspersed with chapters narrating the author's journey are chapters dealing with the history, economy, and political life of the region. Fascinating profiles of major figures who have influenced the course of events include James Wong, Minister of Environment for Sarawak and owner of one of the largest timber concessions, and Bruno Manser, a Swiss adventurer who was adopted by the nomadic Penan tribe and hunted by the police for organizing opposition to the timber trade.
Borneo Log: The Struggle for Sarawak's Forests is not simply a book about environmental politics in a far-away place. The power of Borneo Log: The Struggle for Sarawak's Forests lies in the author's extraordinary ability to bring home the related global disasters of the destruction of the world's rainforests and its indigenous peoples. This is a personal and passionate account of how ordinary men and women are fighting to defend a way of life that is rapidly disappearing along with their country's resources, and how the problems of their lives echo in our own.
"In lyrical, evocative prose, William Bevis documents one of the great concerns of our time: the destruction of the rainforest. Bevis follows the destiny of a `nurse' tree that becomes plywood for a Tokyo skyscraper, examines life in the indigenous longhouses of Sarawak, and explores the moral dilemmas of foreign exploiters and their local allies"
– 1995 Western States Book Awards Jury
"This compelling, eloquently and artistically told narrative is vastly important. Read it and respond."
– William Kittredge
"A crucial report on the new form of colonialism that destroys the life and hope of traditional peoples and diminishes the wonder of the earth for children everywhere."
– Peter Matthiessen
"Witty, trenchant, informed, and, ultimately, gripping."
– Eugene Register-Guard
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William W. Bevis is professor of English at the University of Montana. He is the author of Ten Tough Trips: Montana Writers and the West and Mind of Winter: Wallace Stevens, Meditation and Literature, and was a member of the editorial board for The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology.