Bukit Batu Lawi
|Bukit Batu Lawi|
Batu Lawi, seen from the peak of Mount Murud on 4 September 1998
|Elevation||2,046 m (6,713 ft)|
Batu Lawi is a twin-peaked mountain in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, Malaysia (Borneo) that has played important roles in both ancient mythology and modern history. The taller 'male' peak is 2046 metres above sea level, while the female summit is at 1850 metres. It is one of the highest mountains in the state of Sarawak.
Batu Lawi is sacred to many of the people who live in the region, such as the Kelabit and the Penan. According to the Kelabit people the mountain's peaks are a husband and wife—a pair of protector gods that are the parents of all highland peoples. Kelabit legends tell of a time when a mountain of fire called Batu Apoi tried to burn all living things. Batu Lawi fought back to defeat it and Batu Apoi's flames died out of spite. Kelabit people would traditionally visit Batu Lawi on pilgrimages from settlements such as Bario or Ba Kelalan—about a two-day walk through forest that is now part of Pulong Tau National Park. According to their customs, from the moment they first set eyes on the mountain to the moment they stand at its base, they must not utter the mountain's name for fear of antagonising the spirits on the summits.
Batu Lawi in World War II
In World War Two, the twin peaks of Batu Lawi served as an important landmark to pilots in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), during Allied missions to help recapture northern Borneo from Japan, which had invaded and occupied the region in 1941. The Allied response was to send commandos behind the Japanese lines to train the indigenous communities as part of the Z Special Unit to resist the Japanese invasion. One of those to parachute in was Tom Harrisson, the British scientist, journalist and founder of Mass Observation, who was then a second lieutenant in the British Army.
In those days, the maps of Borneo were of a very poor quality. The pilot of the RAAF Consolidated Liberator that carried Harrisson and seven other Z Force operatives behind the Japanese lines would have seen a thick green blanket of tropical forest for miles around. But the pale sandstone peaks of Batu Lawi stood out like a lighthouse and allowed the commandos to be sure they would land somewhere close to the settlement of Bario, and the Kelabit people they sought. The jump was a success but the plane was shot down on its return to the airbase at Morotai in the Philippines.
Attempts to climb Batu Lawi
In 1946, Tom Harrisson took part in the first successful ascent of the female peak, with Lejau Unad Doolinih and five other Kelabits. In her biography of Harrisson, The Most Offending Soul Alive, Judith M. Heimann reports that he placed a commemorative board just below the summit. It read:
- FOR MY FRIENDS
- S/LDR GRAHAM POCKLEIGH DFC
- MAJ. BEN ELLIS, BRITISH ARMY, AND THEIR CREW OF 200 FLIGHT RAAF.
- THEY SUCCESSFULLY DROPPED US AT BAREO 25/3/45 BUT THEY NEVER GOT BACK TO MOROTAI. BY BATU LAWI WE STEERED ON THIS AND FOUR PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS. THEIR MAP CALLED IT MT 200. I PLEDGED MY WORD TO CLIMB FOR THE FIRST TIME
- HERE IN LONELINESS I REMEMBER THESE FRIENDS
- TH 20/4/46
Since 1946, several other climbers have reached the female peak. In 1998, members of Malaysian Nature Society (Miri branch) climbed the peak on 31 August (Malaysia's National Day).
In 1986 British & Australian soldiers from the 14th/20th King’s Hussars, led by Johny Beardsall, made the first ascent of the male peak. In 2007, a group of Malaysian climbers reached the summit of the male peak for the first time.
Among those who have attempted to climb Batu Lawi was Bruno Manser, a Swiss national who lived for several years among the nomadic Penan people. Manser helped raised global awareness of the rapid rate of deforestation in Sarawak and the effect this had on forest-dependent people. This made him unpopular with the authorities in Sarawak. He entered the state for the final time illegally in 2000 and told his Penan companions that he planned to climb Batu Lawi but was never seen again. Penan trackers found no trace of him and the Swiss authorities declared him legally dead on 10 March 2005.
The vegetation on the female peak of Batu Lawi is classed as mountain heath, with low shrubs of Rhododendron and Callophyllum, ground herbs, ferns, orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes species) that include Nepenthes lowii. Many of the species present are also found on the summit of Gunung Murud, Sarawak's highest mountain, but are endemic to Borneo—that is, found nowhere else on the planet. Immediately below the female peak is a band of mossy elfin forest and, below that, oak-laurel forest.
A 1998 expedition by members of the Miri branch of the Malaysian Nature Society recorded 67 species of bird, including helmeted hornbill, and 20 species of mammal, including Bornean gibbon and sun bear, in the forest that surrounds Batu Lawi, but the only birds recorded from the summit of Batu Lawi itself were Ochraceous Bulbul and Mountain Blackeye. In 1946, Tom Harrisson saw a peregrine falcon on the male peak.
Protection and threats
In May 2008 the authorities in Sarawak approved the area around Batu Lawi as an extension to Pulong Tau National Park. This meant all logging there should have ceased, but satellite images taken in May 2009 indicated extensive logging within the Batu Lawi reserve area. The images appeared in a report that the Council on Ethics of Norway’s State Pension Fund published in August 2010.
- Malaysian Nature Society. 1998. Expedition to the proposed Pulong Tau National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia. Malaysian Nature Society, Miri Branch, Miri, Sarawak.
- Harrisson , T. 1949. Explorations in Central Borneo" Geographical Journal.Volume 114:129-149
- Judith M. Heimann. 1999. The Most Offending Soul Alive. Tom Harrisson and his remarkable life. University of Hawaii Press.
- Elegant, Simon (3 September 2001). "Without a Trace". Time magazine Asia. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
- "Bruno Manser’s biography". Bruno Manser Fonds-for the people of the rainforest. Bruno Manser Fonds. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
- Beaman, J. H. (1998). Preliminary enumeration of the summit flora, Mount Murud, Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak. In: Ghazally Ismail & Laily Bin Din (Eds.). A Scientific Journey through Borneo. Bario. The Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak. IBEC, UNIMAS. Pelanduk Publications.
- Lightner, Sam Jr. All Elevations Unknown. Account of the first expedition to climb Batu Lawi, interspersed with the story of Australian soldiers sent to recruit and arm the natives in the area against the Japanese occupiers during World War II.