A few people had brought this worrying development to my attention. While there appears to be some regrowth at the summit of Bukit Relau, a large clearing has ripped up the mid-section of the hill. This looks like the result of rapid erosion or even a landslip.
Ironically, it was only this morning that US anthropologist Dr Gerrell Drawhorn reminded us of James Richardson Logan’s (1819-1869) concern about deforestation on Penang Hill and the impact it would have on climate change and flash floods. Apparently, the colonial government did not take him too seriously – though the degradation he witnessed back then was nothing like on the scale we have today.
I had blogged about what Logan had to say in 1848:
It was remarked that the whole of the eastern front of the range [of a mountain in Pinang] has within a few years been denuded of its forest…. In Singapore the present zealous Governor has, in an enlightened spirit … absolutely prohibited the further destruction of forests on the summits of hills…. Climate concerns the whole community and its protection from injury is one of the duties of Government…
Unless government will reserve at least the steeper mountain tracts, which are not adapted for permanent culture, there is nothing voluntary in the apprehension, for it has been realised in other localities, that in some prolonged drought after the naked sides of the hills have been exposed for a few weeks to the direct heat of the sun, every stream in the island will be dried up, and universal aridity ensue.
The great extent to which the plain of the mainland of Pinang has been shorn of its forest would of itself produce an urgent necessity for a stop being at once put to a war with nature, which must entail severe calamaties on the future.
Drawhorn was speaking at the Seberang Penang Lecture about Logan and his times.
Who was James Logan? According to the PHT website, he was “a lawyer, newspaper editor, a plantation owner, a philanthropist, a geologist, a climate change theorist, a linguist, a cultural evolutionary theorist, an explorer, and one of the first to collect cultural information on the orang asli. He was the editor of the Pinang Gazette and the founder and editor of the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, better known as ‘Logan’s Journals’. In addition, he was one of Province Wellesley’s largest landowners.”
It is incredible to think that someone had been concerned about the impact of climate change more than a century and a half ago. He was clearly a man ahead of his times.
Later I had the opportunity to check out a fascinating exhibition of old photos and postcards of Province Wellesley (yes, that is still the official name of mainland Penang) at a disused shophouse along Jalan Jeti Lama in the old Butterworth town centre of Bagan.
In the photo below Drawhorn is in the centre and Khoo Salma Nasution of the Penang Heritage Trust is on the left.
Some remarkable photos of old Province Wellesley as you have never seen it before. Tomorrow is the last day of the exhibition, held in conjunction with the Butterworth Fringe Festival, if you want to check it out. I hope the organisers can extend this exhibition until such time that the MPSP can make this a permanent fixture in Butterworth.
Province Wellesley badly needs a museum (or better still, one for each major town) and historical photo galleries to give residents a sense of pride of place and sense of continuity with generations past. This is especially crucial at a time when technology, crazy property development and materialistic notions of ‘development’ threaten to wipe out our social and cultural heritage.
Back to the fresh wounds on Botak Hill. What is MBPP and the state government going to do about it? By now, we know how the State Planning Committee surreptitiously approved the conversion of this land from hill land to housing in 2012.
We have to do more to protect our hills from those who are intent on profiting from them with scant regard to the damage they are causing to the rest of us and future generations as well.