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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Punan

Punan Bah or Punan[1] is an ethnic group found in Sarawak, Malaysia. They are distinct, unrelated to the Penan and also the other so called Punan found in Kalimantan the Indonesian part of Borneo. Their name stems from two rivers along the banks of which they have been living time immemorial. They do have other names - Mikuang Bungulan or Mikuang and Aveang Buan. But these terms are only used ritually these days.

The Punan (or Punan Bah) have never been nomad. In the old days they base their living on a mixed economy. Swidden agriculture with hill paddy as the main crop, supplemented by a range of tropical plants which include maniok, taro, sugar cane, tobacco, etc. Hunting especially wild boar, fishing, and gathering of forest resources are the other important factors in their economy.

However, in the late 1980s many Punan, notably the younger, more educated, gradually migrating to urban areas such as Bintulu, Sibu, Kuching and Kuala Lumpur in search of better living. However, they didn't abandon their longhouses altogether. Many would still return home - especially during major festivities such as Harvest Festival / or Bungan festival as it is known among Punan.

Punan is a stratified society of 'laja' (aristocrats), 'panyen' (commoners), and 'lipen' (slaves). This is a fact determine their historical traditions that have been preserved. Just like most of the history of European Middle Ages is linked to and mainly concerned the various ruling monarchs, so are the historical and mythical traditions of Punan closely connected to their rulings aristocrats.

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