Penan: Warrior artist

A Penan family home, in the forest near Bario, Sarawak.

The Penan is one of the 200 (more or less) riverine and hill-dwelling indigenous Dayak people of Borneo; the third largest island in the world. About three quarters of the island is Indonesia’s Kalimantan; Malaysia’s Sarawak (biggest state) and Sabah occupy almost a quarter; with Brunei just about one per cent of Borneo’s land area.

Each ethnic subgroup has its own dialect, customs, laws, territory and culture. These Austronesian speaking peoples must have migrated here more than 20,000 years ago when the Southeast Asian landmass was not yet under water as it is today. As the sea rose, some Dayaks became seafarers too.

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