The Sape Master of Sungai Asap

Sarawak Gone

The last forest communities of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Visit Sarawak Gone for the entire series and background information.

Sarawak Gone – The Bidayuh and the Dam (full-length 30 min version) from andrew garton on Vimeo.

Actually, he’s a driver… a driver for hire, but still lives in the forest, or what’s left it it. We stopped to take tea on the way to Long Suit. I asked, “Are there sounds from the forest you no longer hear? Sounds you were familiar with that you just don’t hear any more?” He described a soundscape of birds, where they would make certain sounds and during which season.

I’d not had this translated as the story is pretty clear as is and rather mesmerizing to watch and listen to.

Ulu Baram, Sarawak, 2009.

As forest cultures endure the loss of the customary lands, their elders suffer the realisation that theirs is the last generation to remember everything…

Seven generations of music are said to be held by a Sape Master living in the Bakun Dam resettlement scheme, 180km southeast of Bintulu. The Sape is one of the more well known traditional instruments of Sarawak, but few remain who can perform the music of former generations and in the style that represents that heritage. Sarawak Gone is an open licensed micro-docs series raising awareness to the persistent decline of indigenous life and culture in Sarawak, East Malaysia.

On the 23 October 2007 Kelesau Naan, the Headman of the Penan village, Long Kerong, left his wife at a rest area in the forest to check on his traps. He never returned. Two months later his remains were found scattered across the Segita River.

Presented by his son, Nick Kelesau, The Headman explores the events leading up to his disappearance. Kelesau Naan sought only to protect his people and their native customary right to the land they have lived in for centuries. His struggles may well had been his peril, but as Nick and his fellow Penan explain, his legacy endures.

Produced and Directed by Andrew Garton in association with Sarawak Access and with the support of Pro REGENWALD, Umverteilen! and the Artists in Residence program of the Dunmoochin Foundation, Australia.

Bidayuh travel to the Bakun Dam resettlement scheme and hear from the resettled Kenyah at Sungai Asap about their experiences and see first hand the results of relocation. They also meet with Iban at Rumah Agi who fought to retain customary right to their own land in the face of palm oil exploitation. For transcripts and more information go to

The Bidayuh, one of more than 40 sub-ethnic groups in Sarawak, face a threat to their livelihood, traditional lands and culture with the development of the controversial Bengoh Dam.

The Penan, one of the more unique of indigenous peoples of Sarawak, live in the forests of Ulu Baram. Some are still nomadic.

Miri, the nearest city, provides the closest hospital to all the indigenous communities of the Ulu Baram. The Penan of Long Kerong, upper Ulu Baram, have squatted in two rundown timber cottages for over 20 years. It has become a kind of half-way house for those who need frequent medical attention and others who need a place to stay when transiting between their village, Miri and / or other parts of Sarawak.

This micro-doc provides a snap-shot of life in the Penan’s Miri “home”. It was cobbled together quickly to assist in raising funds to move Penan from the squat to rented premises in Miri.

Shot with a Canon Powershot S5 IS digital SLR and an Acer Aspire One netbook.


Penan at “home” in Miri is the final episode of the Sarawak Gone series, Kelesau Naan and the Penan of Ulu Baram.

Kelesau Naan was the former headman of Long Kerong who went missing in October 2007. His partial remains were found in December of that same year. To date no official investigation has been undertaken into his death.

Kelesau was a key witness in a case being brought against the Government of Sarawak and the Samling Timber Company.

filmmaker, musician, artist