Punan Bah or Punan [Nicolaisen, IDA.1976. Form and Function of Punan Bah Ethno-historical Tradition in Sarawak Museum Journal Vol XXIV No.45 (New Series). Kuching.] is an ethnic group found in
Sarawak, Malaysia. They are distinct, unrelated to the Penanand also the other so called Punan found in Kalimantanthe 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, Kuchingand Kuala Lumpurin 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.
Relation to the "other" Punans
Are all Punan related tribes/ethnic? There is this popular misunderstanding that all the so called Punan on the island of Borneo are related and referring to the same tribe.In Sarawak, for example, there is the confusion between Punan and
Penan. On the other hand, throughout the island of Borneo, the term Punan often indiscrimately used referring to the then (unknown or yet to be classified) tribes as such as Punan Busang, Penihing, Sajau Hovongan, Uheng Kareho, Merah, Aput, Tubu, Bukat, Ukit, Habongkot, Penyawung as Punan. Sadly this colonial heritage stick until today.
As a result, there are now more than 20 different tribes / ethnics (unrelated to one another) found on the island of Borneo - still being called Punan. These tribes include;
*Punan Hovongan di Kapuas Hulu, Kalbar
*Punan Uheng Kereho di Kapuas Hulu, Kalbar
*Punan Murung di Murung Raya, Kalteng
*Punan Aoheng (Suku Dayak Pnihing) di Kalimantan Timur
*Punan Merah (Siau)
These so called Punans are not related to the
Punanor Punan Bah as being described in this page.
Officially, as under the Sarawak Interpretation Ordinance [Article 161A, Clause 6 of the Malaysia Constitution of Malaysia Federal Constitution] , Punan is group under Kajang together with Sekapan, Kejaman, Lahanan and Sihan.
Unofficially, they are also included in the politically coined term
Orang Ulu- popularized by a political association known as Orang Ulu National Association or (OUNA). The association is a Kayanand Kenyahdominated association which they established in 1969.
Where are the Punan to found? Punan are mostly found around
Bintulu, Sarawak. Punan peoples can only be found at Pandan, Jelalong and Kakus in Bintulu Division; along the Rajang River, their longhouses dotted areas spanning from MeritDistrict to lower Belagatown.
The Punan are believed to be one of the earliest peoples to have settled in the central part of Borneo, the Rajang River and Balui areas together with the Sekapan, Kejaman and Lahanan. However the mass migrations of
Kayans, subsequently followed by the warfaring Ibans into Rejang and Balui areas approximately some 200 years ago, forcing the Punan communities living in these areas retreating to Kakusand subsequently to Kemenabasin.
As in year 2006, there were more than 10 Punan settlements (
longhouses) found along the Rejang, Kakus, Kemena and Jelalong river. These settlements (longhouses) are:
*Punan Lovuk Sama,
*Punan Lovuk Ba [ Punan Bah longhouse razed in fire] ,
*Punan Lovuk Biau,
*Punan Lovuk Meluyou,
*Punan Lovuk Lirung Belang (name by Rumah Bilong before and now as known as Rumah Ado)
*Punan Lovuk Mina,
*Punan Lovuk Pedan (also Rumah Nyipa Tingang), and
*Punan Lo'o Buong (Jelalong also known as Rumah Adi).
Total Punan population is estimated to be around 3000 - 5000 people.
Punan speak a language categorized as [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=pna Punan Bah-Biau] , a sub Rajang-Sajau language. Although often confused for the Penan, Punan language is actually closer to the language spoken by the Sekapans and Kejamans but not the Penan.
Here some word spoken in Punan:
1. Nu denge? - How are you?
2. Nu ngaro no? - What is your name?
3. Piro umun no? - How old are you?
4. Tupu koman si - Do you have your lunch/diner/breakfast?
Religion & Beliefs
Punan traditional religion was a form of animist known as "Besavik". The
Brooke erasaw the arrival of Christianmissionaries, bringing education and modern medicine into Sarawak. But the Punan communities remain with their traditional religion of Besavik and subsequently adopting a cult religion - Bungan brought by Jok Apui, a Kenyah from Kalimantan.
However, the late 1990s showed an increase in the number of Punan converting to Christianity. This is partly due to more and more Punan becoming educated and modernized. As of 2006 almost half of Punan are now Christian, leaving only the elderly, less educated still remain observing "Bungan" religion.
The Punan have a unique burial custom. In the early days they did not bury their aristocrats or "lajar". Instead they built a pole known as "kelirieng" of 50-meter height to lay down their beloved leaders. In Sarawak it is estimated that there are fewer than 30 "kelirieng" left standing. The Punan still practice secondary burial ceremony, whereby the dead body is kept at their longhouse for at least 3–7 days. This is partly to give more time for far away relatives to give their last respect to the deceased.
* [http://punan.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=76&Itemid=94 Nicolaisen, IDA] .1976. "Form and Function of Punan Bah Ethno-historical Tradition" in Sarawak Museum Journal Vol XXIV No.45 (New Series). Kuching.
* [http://punan.info/ Punan National Association] .
*Leigh, MICHEAL. 2002. "Mapping the People of Sarawak". UNIMAS. Samarahan.
* [http://punan.info The Official Punan Community site]
Note: There is still lack of literatures on Punan peoples. Available information about these peoples were often sourced from either passing notes written by Brooke and Colonial administrators not in-depth scholarly research. The earliest? literature on Punan is probably one written by Eduardo Beccari, an Italian botanist and traveller in 1876?. In the late 1950s, Rodney Needham, Tom Harrisson, de Martinoir wrote a brief notes on Punan people they either personally met or heard from their guides along the Rajang river. Because of the lack of information many have confused them for Penan and also the Punan of Kalimantan. In Sarawak for example the Punan was wrongly classified as Penan by the National Registeration Department in the late 1990. They are also often confused for a politically coined term such as "Kajang" and "Orang Ulu". As such the Punan through their association Punan National Association is willing to collaborate with both foreign and local scholars who interested in doing social, economic research among the communities.
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