The majority of the once nomadic Penans are found in Northern Sarawak. Those who remain as nomadic hunters and food gatherers can be met in various trading places or migratory tamu (market places) in Belaga and the various settlements in the Baram and the Fifth Divisions of Sarawak.
More than 50 years ago the colonial officers would have to establish trading posts in the Baram in order to get them to meet up. Those were indeed very interesting days. However today with better communications and transportation Penans are more visible.
They are quite easily recognisable as they are lean and fair. Some of the women are extremely small while some of the men may be taller than other indigenous men. Their facial features are quite distinct however. You can judge by their movements that they are nimble and light. These movements are the results of their life in the jungle.
The Penan lady dressed in well coordinated colours seem to be at ease in the Sirikin border market. the group of five move from one stall to another with confidence.
The Penan group was happy to be photographed when invited by my son. They were natural subjects.
The Penans travel in groups usually. So perhaps this is the whole family or they are very closely related. However I was really surprised to find them so far away from Belaga or Lawas. perhaps they have moved across from the Kalimantan Border . Sirikin is the border post at the Kalimantan border fairly near Bau. But then there are some Penans in Kalimantan too. It is not possible to identify them whether they are Indonesian or Sarawakian without seeing their ID.
The group did not attract much attention here because Sirikin has seen all sorts of people. But to us they were special. So they held our attention for a while.
My son would like to take a special photo of the Penan mother who is small and dainty. She also moves with the grace of a ballerina. She is shy and reluctant to be photographed. Finally it was the men who helped to persuade her to be photographed.
Finally my son managed to take this shot but he wished the background to be a little better.
People from Kuching and the surrounding areas come to Sirikin for the weekend to buy cheap Indonesian products. West Malaysians in particular like to buy their weekly supplies from here. Most of them buy mats and clothings to bring back to West Malaysia.
Sirikin is like a huge hypermarket but each of the stalls are individually owned by Indonesians who close their stalls on weekdays and move further back to Indonesia. This border market easily has 2000 people at any one time during the weekends.
A trip to Sirikin is always a good getaway for busy and harried city dwellers. It is also an eye opener for tourists who may like to experience a border market where bargains can be found. Prices are marked up so one has to bargain a little. A good hat and an umbrella should be taken. A face towel is something like a must bring because it is hot and humid. Wear a pair of good running shoes because it is a long walk from one end to the other and then back to the parking lot.
Give yourself a walking and "window" shopping treat if you have no intention of spending money. It will be definitely a well spent time if you consider the sweat and toxins you are going to let go of.
For me it was a good sauna experience too.
I will definitely go back for more sights and bargains.
(More photos...stay tuned!)