Manser diaries donated to Basel museum

Bruno Manser talking about the plight of the Penan in 1994 Keystone / Str

The diaries of Bruno Manser, a Swiss environmental and human rights activist, have been donated to the Museum der Kulturen in Basel.

This content was published on January 26, 2021 - 18:26

The ethnologist became known far beyond the borders of Basel for his passionate but also perilous commitment to the Penan people of Borneo and the threatened tropical forests they called home. Manser went missing in 2000 and was officially declared dead in 2005.

He left behind 16 diaries in which he recorded his observations and his commitment through texts and drawings. Manser’s family has now donated these books as well as other documents to the Museum der Kulturen Basel.

Banned from Malaysia

Manser was working as a shepherd in Graubünden when he decided to move to Sarawak in 1984. He won the trust of the Penan, adopted their simple lifestyle, and ended up staying for six years before returning to Switzerland – from where he launched a tireless battle against the logging industry and its destruction of the jungle.

The Malaysian government was highly displeased with Manser’s activism, and banned him from the country – though he returned in secret more than once. To draw attention to his cause, Manser resorted to some extreme measures, such as a two-month hunger strike in front of the Swiss parliament and parachuting from a plane with a goat in his arms.

Today, the Basel-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) continues the work that Manser started on behalf of tropical forests. Its focus is on helping the Penan people in the Malaysian federal state of Sarawak.

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