My good friend and jungle colleague of many years Louio, an Iban Dyak from the interior of Borneo’s Brunei.

When I first signed on for the military back in November 1971, I was reminded that if I listened to my instructors, followed by my seniors once in a unit, then I won’t go far wrong.

The individual who told me that all those decades ago wasn’t far wrong himself…but he wasn’t completely right either.

What he didn’t tell me, is that there are other actors outside of the military that can further my military education…in a big big way. To be fair to the sergeant, he probably didn’t know himself, as he may well have never benefitted from the scenarios that I’m about to explain.

Throughout my military career I’ve been lucky enough to have the benefit of spending time with indigenous people operating on their own patch. From my humble beginnings of being in Oman in the Middle East as a 17 year old, then through the years into Africa, Asia and the Americas, I’ve found that the indigenous people of those regions (pretty much world wide) all operate with the same way of thinking.

Our earth is everything, because it supplies us with everything. We don’t need money, we don’t need government, we don’t need police or jails, we don’t need prayer books. We don’t talk and talk with very little listening.

Instead, we stay silent, we watch the animals behaving with their young. We watch them defend their patch from predators. We watch them hunt. We watch how they move from hunter to hunted and by remaining silent and watching, we learn why.

We remain silent. We watch, listen, learn…then go with our instinct and act for ourselves.

Passed down verbally over centuries by elders, this is a global teaching of indigenous tribal peoples. None of it is written down, and none of these people had met one another from other parts of the world…yet it’s what they all do.

So it’s really a shame or even a stain…when Western military move into these parts for what ever reasons, and choose to ignore these amazing people who know far more about their environment than we ever will.

I’ve mentioned this before in a past post, but I first got to know Louio when he was understudy to his father in the Borneo jungle. His father was only about 5ft 2ins tall yet just as broad. He had long hair, a frog tattooed on his throat. A mouthful of bad teeth. A stare that could kill. And a bag of shrunken heads in a cloth bag wrapped around his bare waist…no footwear. He carried a Parang on the opposite side to the bag, and it sat comfortably staying parallel to the ground…much like Louio’s in the photo. The parang no longer being a weapon of war, but simply the most important tool in the jungle…the different areas of the blade used for just about everything, from food and fire to building shelter.

Eventually with his father confined to their longhouse from old age, Louio took over as the Iban teaching the SAS under the jungle canopy. He covered SAS Selection, and squadron trips of some 8 weeks at a time…a man that we couldn’t do without.

When I became the SMI chief instructor of the Jungle Warfare School in the early 90s, he was being employed there for courses. He told me that he was being paid less than the dishwashers in the school’s cook house…I was appalled.

Clearly, the OC, 2i/c and RSM were of a similar thinking to the sergeant recruiter who advised me all those years previous. In other words, the military will teach one another and the locals are there to be told what to do…at a bare minimum wage. The OC, 2i/c and RSM barely went into the trees, they spent more time on the local golf course.

It took me almost 6 months to get him a pay rise that was befitting to his amazing skills and thinking, having had several meetings to explain all of what I’ve written here about the importance of learning from the indigenous people, and especially without the likes of Louio we’d all be found floundering.

Published by: bobshepherdauthor

Bestselling author Bob Shepherd has spent nearly forty years operating in conflict areas around the world. A twenty year veteran of Britain’s elite 22 SAS Regiment with nearly two decades of private security work to his credit, Bob has successfully negotiated some of the most dangerous places on earth as a special forces soldier and a private citizen. Bob comments regularly on security issues and has appeared on CNN International, BBC, SKY News, and BBC Radio. He has also authored numerous articles and books including the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Circuit. In addition to writing and lecturing, Bob continues to advise individuals operating in hostile environments. For more of his insights on security and geopolitics visit

Categories Uncategorized4 Comments


  1. Two old buddies sharing a beer about a month before he died.  I was lucky enough to get back out to Brunei when my s

  2. Yet another interesting and thought provoking post Bob. I find stories and learning from the indigenous peoples fascinating subjects, and we could learn a lot from their attitudes to life, each other and nature. I’ve very fond memories of the time I spent in Brunei , during jungle survival and learning from the Iban peoples you write about. They were awe inspiring individuals, so quiet but so dignified in their manner.

  3. As always Bob total agree with you. Local Knowledge goes hand in hand, with hearts and minds, atmospherics and mutual respect.

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