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Defending 'Stranger'

April 17, 1988

Referring to Jack Mathew's comments on my book, "Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo" (Book Review, March 20). Mathews begins with a tale of his recent holiday to Mulu National Park in Sarawak. This evidently establishes him as a local expert on the flora, fauna and environmental issues. He objects to nomadic hunters shooting birds, ruminates briefly over "missed dramatic opportunities buried in almost every paragraph" and finally provides us with this insight: If there are many more thoughtless, wild game poaching visitors such as Hansen there won't be any rain forest left for serious holiday-makers such as myself.

I find his comments surprising because I wrote the book as a plea for the preservation of the rain forest and the nomadic people who live there. The major threat to the Borneo rain forest is logging, not subsistance hunting as suggested in the review.

Far from being an irresponsible and casual visitor to Borneo--I have continued to publicize the issue of native customary land rights in Sarawak since 1982. In 1985, I produced a 45-minute ABC Radio documentary (Sydney, Australia)--"The Politics of Resource Development--Hill Logging in Sarawak"; and in 1987, I led an Australian television film crew (Channel 7) into the Borneo jungle for four weeks (to avoid police and army blockades), to film the Penan's fight for their land. The Malaysian government is presently pursuing a policy of intimidation (including mass arrests of opposition politicians, academics, villagers and members of social reform movements as recently as October, 1987) to keep the logging roads open. Journalists are systematically thrown out of Sarawak in hopes of keeping the story from reaching the international media. "Stranger in the Forest" was written to reach that wider audience.

ERIC HANSEN

NEW YORK, N.Y.

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