Isabelle Ricq

Letter to Bruno Manser

The implacable heat of the coast seems remote when we set foot on the tarmac of the tiny airport of Bario. We left the town of Miri about 30 minutes earlier to reach this village perched on a high plateau of the Borneo mountains, which could not be accessed by road before 2010. The Kelabit and Penan peoples have been co-existing here for centuries, the former cultivating Sarawak’s most fertile soil, the latter roaming the surrounding forests.

This is where on 23 May 2000 the Swiss activist Bruno Manser wrote a letter that to this day remains his last sign of life. He addressed it to his partner who had stayed in Europe and posted it from this village in eastern Malaysia.

After spending six years amid the Penan people, after sharing and initiating some of their struggles against logging companies, and after a price was put on his head by the local authorities, Bruno Manser disappeared without leaving a trace. He was officially declared dead in 2005.

We will not delve into his fate here. The tales told by those who claim to have seen him travel the same paths of the high Kelabit plateaus years later bear witness to the trace that Manser’s struggles left here.

For those who are not familiar with his story or that of the region, we will provide a broad outline over the course of our pictures. To Bruno Manser we address this photographic letter from Bario, where we were able to observe just how relevant his claims still are and the progress made by his enemies of yesterday.

This work has been completed with Christian Tochtermann.

The book Letter to Bruno Manser is available at
Sturm & Drang Publishers.

This project can be followed on Instagram.