Sunday, September 22

Penans weaving their life to modernity

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A map of Penan villages in Miri Division.

A map of Penan villages in Miri Division.

MIRI: The newly set up Miri Women Weaving Association (MWWA) registered on March 14, 2016, primarily to help needy nomadic and semi-nomadic Penans in Limbang and Miri divisions, made a good start with their recent sales of baskets and bags.

Association founder and advisor Shida Mojet said RM10,774 were raised through the sale of the products, all weaved by the Penans themselves with materials donated by the association and the public.

All proceeds were given back to the Penans to improve their quality of life, including revolving fund for the weaving project.

The aim is to assist the Penans to adapt to modernity, educate them on income generation for sustainability and help their children get formal education.

Why Penans and what are their needs?

These questions prompted thesundaypost to know and share the passion of those helping them and hoped that many others too will help so as to complement efforts by the authorities to bring development to the Penans.

Penans in Limbang and Miri

Todate, 1, 500 Penans from fourteen villagers in Limbang and Miri divisions have benefitted from the weaving project and other projects carried out by the association.

The villages in Limbang are Long Perisik, Long Rayah, Long Sulung , Long Sembayang, Long Tegan, Long Keneng, Long Gita, Long Napir ,long Balau and Long Seliang while in Miri Division are Long Karangan, Long Nen, Ba Marong and Long Kevok.

“Approximately 1,500 Penans including several nomadics in these villages benefitted from our projects..

“Additionally four Penan ladies from a golf club here also took part in the weaving project making a total of about 30 women,” said Shida.

One of the Penan ladies taking part in the weaving project.

One of the Penan ladies taking part in the weaving project.

Why Weaving?

The Penans are very skilful weavers.

Thus the project helps them to utilise their resources, encourages exploration and ensures continuity of traditional handicraft skills “Besides tapping their skills, our mission is to help the women to be independent, having own business producing hand-weaved bags and baskets and to bring them out of poverty.

We guide them on the designs, colours, quality and price of the products and we also help organise sales,” said Shida.

The monies raised were used to buy solar lights, mattresses, blankets, sheets, rice cookers, kettles, cleaning products, clothes and food for the Penans.

Penans and their visions

Shida together with several fellow expatriate wives and locals led by Ann Wong Shih En as MWWA’s chairperson saw the endless list of helping the Penans.

“Being nomadic and semi nomadic – indigenous people on this earth are in dire need of our help – from helping them to adapt from a nomadic lifestyle, living off the forest, to one of living in a community, in dwellings and growing their food and having education,” she said.

Shida, a Malaysian from Kedah, who had worked previously with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said the Penans still live a simple life with simple requests.

“When the Penans were asked what they needed most and their replies were – roof sheeting to complete dwelling partially constructed, polypipe to run water to the dwellings, improve hygiene, lighting that doesn’t require generators and fuel – Solar light kits and donations of clothes etc,” she revealed.

She added some of the Penan villages are isolated and are truly in the middle of the jungle devoid of basic necessities like clean water supply, electricity, health and sanitation services and education besides roads and vehicles.

Thus to help them with their major adjustments, MWWA carried out charity projects to raise money to purchase items to make their life a little easier.

Shea (right) and Shell engineer Jennifer Konzuk admiring the mat, that Shea bought.

Shea (right) and Shell engineer Jennifer Konzuk admiring the mat, that Shea bought.

Passion helping the Penans

Shida said her upbringing in the village in Kedah and her many visits to the Penan villages in the last ten years in Brunei and Miri, had prompted her to do charity for the Penans.

“Life has been a long journey for me. What drives me to help the Penans is my belief, from my own life experience, that being loving, caring and helping each other are fundamentals to human prosperity in life,” she said.

Shida added that every single Penan whom she met during those visits, dreams to make their life and their family’s life a little better so they do not have to beg for a bowl of rice from their neighbour to feed their children.

“I am very fortunate to know and learn more about the Penans and to be able to help a little. It has also been an extraordinary experience for me to see the ladies work so hard to make a difference for their families” said Shida who is in Miri following her husband Koos Jan Moyet, from Holland who works with Sarawak Shell.

Another MWWA volunteer, Elizabeth Wong from Sarawak likened her role as a calling in life.

“As a Sarawakian who lived outside Sarawak for more than half of my life, I have in recent years felt the calling to give back to the land I grew up in. The immediate thought was the indigenous people but who and where? To be honest, I didn’t choose the Penans but I chose based on the organisation which supported them because to me, knowing the integrity of the people behind the organisation is as important (if not more) as the cause itself,” said Wong.

Elizabeth who helped in the marketing and sales of the baskets and bags in the Klang Valley, said it was great knowing the Penan ladies will preserve their traditional weaving skill to generate income and improve their quality of life.

Several buyers of the baskets and bags sold recently in Miri commended MWWA for their commitment adding that they deserved support to help the less fortunate in the community.

“Shopping for the bags here also made me feel good helping them and the Penans while at the same time shopped for family and friends,” said Andrea Conrad, a visitor from Holland, Expatriate, Nicole Shea from Canada said her love for Penan’s craft have branched out to mats, saying that “I have been sending baskets back home. This sale is a great way to help the Penan women and their families”.

Meanwhle, Ann Wong said due to the good response from the major sale at PNR, they will hold another sale in August besides holding it monthly on first Sunday of the month, at Pujut 7 .

“We have superb day and sale. Thanks to The Borneo Post write up, we also received 250 orders of bags from Kuching,” said Wong.

The baskets and bags are priced from RM20 to RM70 while the laundry baskets around RM120.

Ann Wong said MWWA being a non-profit making nongovernmental organisation also appeals to the public to help the Penans in whatever ways they can.

Besides the weaving project, MWWA also helps with medical and maternity care and paying medical bills, provide milk, food and clothes for mothers, and babies, while they are in town away from their villages.

Other projects include teaching them to grow vegetables, supply them with seeds and farming tools, besides collecting and distributing donations, visit Penan families and students in schools.

“Give what you don’t need to those who need it most. Any new or used items which are in good conditions, such as clothing, toys, books, kitchen wares, school uniforms, stationaries, bags, etc,” she said.

Those interested can either email MWWA at [email protected] or call Ann Wong herself at +6013-825 8218.

With no modern basic necessity, the Penans still use traditional way of cooking.

With no modern basic necessity, the Penans still use traditional way of cooking.