About The Penan Tribe Architecture Essay


The review that I would like to made among the 5 tribes that acted by the Bruce Parry is the Penan tribe. First of all, I would like to introduce briefly about the character of Bruce Parry. Bruce Parry is an activist that venture into the most remote area of Sarawak state in Malaysian Borneo. He believes that the only ways to knows more about the culture anthropology and knowledge for a tribe is to have a participant observation in his fieldwork. Participant observations mean that living within a given culture for an extended period of time, and take part in its cultural daily life in all its richness and diversity.

The Penan is a nomadic aborigine that roved on the land of Sarawak Borneo and some other parts on Brunei Bandar Seri Begawan. Nowadays, the number of Penan had officially stated approximate to 10,000 people and around 350-500 of them are nomadic that scattered over Ulu Baram, Limbang, Tutoh and Lawas of Sarawak. (Figures retrieved from: http://www.survival-international.org) The present Penans are consisted with settled, semi-nomadic and total nomadic communities that fully depend on the forest products. In Penan society, the natives are highly developed in an egalitarian society and little gender division. It means that the social stratification among the man and women are almost equal. For instance, the man and women shared most of the chores among them. Such as, gathering the forest product and extracted sago from the sago palms, but they are still some part of chores that dominated by male, for example, hunting in the forest.

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Penan is a group of native that practiced the ritual of "Molong" which means that "never take more than necessary." The majority of the Penan natives are work as nomadic hunter-gatherers. The nomadic Penan usually moves in group that consisted approximately 40 people included children and old people. They do not stayed for a long time in a particular place. The period of time that they stay is depend on the resources at the place that they stayed and when the resources became fewer, they will choose other suitable places and moved again.

The nomadic Penan native that lived in the forest was very much depending on their traditional diet-Sago that starch from the Sago palm. Once, the Sago palms are matured and fully grown, the sago palm trees will be cut down. The leader of the collecting sago palm will make sure an amount of sago starched is enough for each family and kept adequately for their supply. After that no more sago palm will be chop down until they are ran out of food. Besides that, the Penan native also preys on wild animals like wild boars, mouse deer and monkeys. The hunters hunt by using a blowpipe, made with the Belian wood and carved out with a bone drill. The poison darts that they used are made from the sago palm's tree bark and on its tip; the Penan dipped it with kind of powerful poisonous latex that extracted from a tree from the forest. However, the Penan natives also cultivate the planting of paddy and domestic animal breeding for their own foods not for sales.

Furthermore, I would like to discuss briefly about the Penan culture change, the nomadic Penan move in groups and they have their own clan territories, the groups are consisted of a family of five or six members and some family even consisted of 30 people. The nomadic Penan will leave their old selap (huts) and move to another domain of forest when their sago supplies are exhausted. The Penan natives' possessions are few and everything is carried in simple with a strong backpacks made from rattan. Selap are made from thick poles tied together with rattan strips. Every family has one hut for living and a smaller one for sleeping. The majority of the roofs are tarpaulins and there are seldom roof made by giant palm leaves. The floors are four feet off the ground and above a hearth of mud are two wooden racks for storing cooking equipment and drying fire wood.

In the aspect of material cultures, only Penan elders dress in anything approaching traditional dress, with "chawats" (loin cloths), bands on their legs and wrists and large holes in their earlobes. Nowadays, the Penan natives are making the tattoos by themselves which is almost like prison tattoos. Only few Penan now go in barefoot, most of them are wearing cheap, plastic football boots with rounded studs to protect their foots.

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In addition, I would like to discuss about the weapons that are used for hunting. For example the Penan's blowpipes, which called keleput, are about 6 feet long and made from one solid piece of iron wood in about 2 weeks. The hole is made using a long metal bar with a screwdriver-like tip, which is simply driven into the wood and turned, over and over, then build a jig for it. Then, attached to the end of the blowpipe is a metal spear head, attached with rattan and rubber-like resin. This is used for killing large wounded animals and offers protection from wild beasts. The much shorter blowpipes are sometimes made for hunting at close range in dense forest. Another weapon used for hunting is poison darts. The process of making the Penan poison darts is cutting off the bark of the tajem tree to extract milky latex that is warmed over a fire to produce the poison. Tajem interferes with the functioning of the heart, causing lethal arrhythmias. Blowpipe darts are made from palm fronds with a lightweight stopper to make an air-tight seal. Darts with metal tips (cut from tin cans) are used for big game like deer and bearded pig, whilst those for small game are simply sharpened before being dipped into poison. The last weapon used by Penan hunters is knives. The Penan hunters are carrying two knives. The first knife is called a poeh, is large and machete-like and used frequently. The second knife is called darhad which is much smaller knife and is used for cutting meat, whittling blowpipe darts and fine work. Both knives are carried close together in separate sheathes, sometimes wooden, now often plastic.

Besides that, in the aspect of religion believe for Penan native, the Penan have been converting their animism belief to Christianity since in the 1930s. According to the functionalist Emile Durkheim, "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden beliefs and practice which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." (Robert Van Krieken, Daphne Habibis, Philip Smith, Brett Hutchins, Michael Haralambos, Martin Holborn, 2006, page 390) However, some of the Penan native still having a strong believe in myths and spirits. The Penan leaders still practice the ritual of blood pacts with neighboring tribe when doing the political agreement. The ritual of blood pacts was believed that anyone who breach of this pact will cause to vomiting of blood and a violent death.

Moreover, in the aspect of economic for Penan native, most of the Penan are work as a hunter gatherer in forest and selling the main resource of the forest which is sago. The economy can be defined as a system of production, distribution, and consumption of resources, including the cultural belief that supports economic processes. During the colonial times, the British government will arrange trading missions called tamu close to the forests of the Penan to offered forest products like damar (now used in eco-paints), rattan mats and baskets, rhino horn, gaharu wood (or eagle-wood), wild rubber, monkey gallstones (for Chinese medicine), bills of hornbills, and deer antlers. These items were traded for manufacturing goods like knives, cooking pots and shotguns. None of these forest products are now abundant, but many Penans will sell surplus meat to logging camps. The Penan native also sold the high quality gaharu from gaharu tree but that can take years to accumulate. Gaharu is used as incense, for medicinal and religious purposes, and as a perfume in the Middle East countries. For the division of labor for Penan, the man will always go for hunting and the woman will generally gather the sago from the sago palm tree and do the house chores. The pattern of economic subsistence for Penan native is foraging. They are foraging in groups for wild plants and hunting for wild animals like wild boar and mouse deer.