How do they live?
The Penan are nomadic hunter-gatherers. Although many have now been settled, about 300 Penan still lead a completely nomadic life in the forest. Even the settled Penan continue to rely heavily on the forest.
The Penan have a gentle and egalitarian society without any hierarchy. Sharing is taken for granted in Penan society: a hunter must not eat a single bite more than he gives to others, however small his prey.
The forest is essential to the Penan, providing them with everything they need to survive. In particular, they rely heavily on sago, which they use for building houses, making baskets and to eat – the Penan love to eat it fried in pig fat and mixed with blood.
What problems do they face?
Since the 1970s, all the tribal peoples of Sarawak have had their land taken to make way for logging, dam construction and oil palm plantations – driving them into towns where they are reduced to abject poverty. The Penan have been told by the government that they have no rights to land at all until they ‘settle down’ or start farming.
The logging industry has a particularly devastating impact. The Malaysian government claims that Sarawak is being logged sustainably – but in fact its forests are being destroyed at one of the fastest rates in the world.
As the forests are logged, the rivers are silted up, killing the fish. The game is being scared deeper into the few remaining forests. Since 1987, the Penan have been fighting back by blockading the logging roads – and suffering acute food shortages as a result.
Many Penan have been arrested for holding these peaceful blockades. Some have managed to prevent the companies from entering their land, but others have seen much of their forest devastated. Where all of the valuable trees have been cut down, the companies are starting to remove the forests completely in order to establish oil palm plantations.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
How do they live?