Tawai: A Voice from the Forest

The Penan have a word that describes their feeling for the forest, a word that doesn’t easily translate, a relationship that’s hard to describe. They call it: Tawai


This is Bruce Parry’s “Tawai: a voice from the forest”, where he explores the deep connection to nature that this nomadic hunter-gatherer community of Borneo have.

“What is our relationship with the natural world, and how has this changed over time? I went on a journey to discover what we might have lost, and how to find it once again.”

Bruce Parry, the BAFTA award-winning documentarian, discovers and lives amongst this traditionally nomadic group, who are now settling in communities but who still rely wholly on the forest and their surroundings. Parry investigates what has happened to humankind once we began to settle and looks at people who have rejected the individualistic society, from the jungles of Malaysia to the Pirahã tribe of the Amazon. I joined Bruce Parry in talking about his adventures and his experience producing and directing his film Tawai.

Parry himself rejected his own culture, moving away from being a royal marine officer where he disliked the people who found comfort in the hierarchical structure. He started leading conservation expeditions in Asia and the Arctic, before ending up on national television consuming hallucinogenic plants for his three series of “Tribe”.

But Parry’s insights into indigenous cultures always had a deeper meaning than just acting out rituals that included sticking hollowed out vegetables onto his penis. In these programmes, he was exploring the effect of globalization on these tribes- the logging, cocaine and palm oil industries and their consequences on the livelihoods of these people.


Deep Jungle healing

In January this year, I re-tweeted a Headtalks video by Bruce Parry (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGQkMw6yS6w) explaining “Deep Jungle Healing” where he describes the privilege of living amongst tribal people who have in abundance the connection to family, community and their own bodies.

I myself feel as if I have had the privilege of experiencing such things in my involvement last year living off the land in Scotland where our connection to nature and ourselves had to be profound. We had to reconnect with both the forest and the shores of Ardnamurchan, the peninsula of northwest Scotland where the 23 of us resided. We had to embrace the harsh weather and the infertile soils of our land and we flowed with nature, shaping it to our own needs. Most importantly, we had to be present in our own bodies and minds, a kind of jungle meditation; we had to overcome hunger, cold and boredom.

Tawai is Parry’s quest for reconnection, providing a powerful voice from the heart of the forest itself, and it can teach us how to embrace nature more. Being out in nature and realizing that what we do has a direct impact on the natural world can be sobering but also rewarding if that relationship is a positive one.


I watched Tawai in Hackney Picturehouse cinema with my main man from Eden Raf. Go to an equally as edgy cinema and watch it yourself!

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