Penan – The indigenous tribe from Borneo
Our world is big and there are many different people living on our planet. There are many different cultures and one of them are the Penan. An indigenous tribe from the island of Borneo, that’s a part of Malaysia and Indonesia. I would like to present this tribe in more detail, I would like to achieve that with a short insight into the culture, as well as insights from an interview with Rudolf Isenschmid, a friend of Bruno Manser. Rudolf himself was in contact with the Penan several times (2001,2003,2007,2011) and was one of the few people who went in search of Bruno Manser in the rainforest of Borneo after his disappearance.
As mentioned before, this work was done in collaboration with Rudolf Isenschmid. At the time of writing, he was in Cambodia working as a pilot. He was part of a group that opposed the illegal logging of the rainforest, which made the collaboration difficult. Nevertheless, we both enjoyed working on this project together.
In addition, it was possible to get in touch with photographer Tomas Wüthrich, who was in contact with the Penan in 2019. I received permission from him to use his pictures for this project. I would like to already thank him in advance.
The Penan – Today
How do the Penan live?
The society they build for themselves is not hierarchical. The only separation they make is that the men go hunting, and the women make the sago flour. Beyond that, there is no other specialization. In the Penan community there is no such thing as private property, they share everything they own, not wanting to share is considered a crime. Although the Penan live without much private property, they are not spared from the problems of the modern world. Due to the deforestation of the rainforests, they lose their livelihood. This is also confirmed several times by Rudolf in the interview.
What can we do?
What did I learn?
For me personally, it was a fascinating topic. The things I learned definitely opened my eyes. I am certain that just a few other topics would have been able to do it in such a manner. The people I have met during the process of creating were one of a kind. For example my friend Rudolf Isenschmid, a guy who has been with the Penan on multiple occasions, or the photographer Tomas Wüthrich, who kindly allowed me to use his phenomenal pictures. Additionally, I started to appreciate what I actually have and how good we have it here in Switzerland. The problems we are facing are almost non-existent in comparison to what the Penan face on a daily basis. It is almost incomprehensible for us, having to fight for our homes, for example.
I realized, that I do not need much to be happy. This might sound a bit like something a lot of people would say, but to see how the Penan live really changed the view on this world. Through the interview, I was able to experience second hand what it means to interact with this special tribe.
Janis G. & Damian K.
Tomas Wüthrich Fotografie (tomaswuethrich.ch)
Interview mit Rudolf Isenschmid (PDF)