Penan Society

The following is quoted from the book "Nomads of the Dawn". You will find information about this book at the end of the main text.

Proper behavior is learned by example rather than rigorous discipline and the importance of sharing is instilled in children from the earliest age. Young boys mastering the use of a blowpipe, for example, are encouraged to divide the smallest of prey, allotting equal portions of the meat to other children. In one instance, a young Penan who had gone hungry for several days killed a telé, a pygmy squirrel, which he cooked and consumed alone. His failure to apportion the meat provoked not anger but laughter on the part of the adults. They simply bestowed on the boy the name telé, so that he would never forget his deed.

Perhaps the greatest transgression in Penan society is sihun , a term that translates roughly as a failure to share. Dependent on the forest for life, and each other for survival, the Penan have, in effect, institutionalized individual generosity as a means of insulating the group as a whole from the uncertainties inherent in a hunting and gathering way of life. Virtually all outside observers have commented on the lack of apparent conflict within traditional Penan society. Violent arguments and physical abuse are almost unknown. The Penan themselves acknowledge this cultural trait, and express surprise and disapproval when violent interactions occur amongst themselves or members of neighboring communities. So rare is physical confrontation that a single incident can be memorialized for all time. There is a house site in the territory of the Western Penan where, some forty years ago, two women quarreled furiously over an accusation of adultery. This locality is now known as Lamin Pagem, 'the house of hair pulling.'

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