Penan Village at Long Iman in Mulu, Sarawak


Penan Village at Long Iman in Mulu Sarawak. This remote village is found on the Melinau river in Mulu and it is also close to the Mulu National Park and about 15 minutes longboat ride from the Royal Mulu Resort. Tourist have been going to various Penan, Berawan, Kelabit, Murut villages around the Gunung Mulu National Park which is home to these indigenous people. Just for your added information, the Penans are the last remaining semi-nomadic people of Malaysia.

Penan village longhouse at Long Iman, Mulu

Video of a Penan Longhouse

Penan people in Long Iman live in semi modern longhouses which are provided by the government. Following the traditional longhouse, these amazing homes can house anywhere from 30 to 100 families in just one long house. There are still a few Penans who refuse to be civilized but most of the Penan people have been settled in current longhouse communities as part of government “modernisation” programs.

Penan longboat making

These nomadic people are simple people with simple means. The men go out to work while the women stay back and look after the family. They hunt, fish, farm and occasionally build boats for a living. The boat in the above picture was being carved out of one piece of tree and it was about 30-40 feet long. Amazing skill as it takes the boat maker about 2-3 months to complete one boat.

Penan boy

Penan children of Long Iman are relatively carefree and do whatever they like. A local school is provided as I recall seeing one near the Mulu Airport. If you should know, the government does look after the Penans here by providing schools and so on.

Penan handicraft being sold to travelers

Besides the regular farming and hunting, tourism has brought some income back to the Penan people in Long Iman. Also reviving the nearly dying traditional bead work and weaving. Nowadays since Royal Mulu Resort and other lodges around the park have gained more popularity, the increase of Eco-tourism has brought many travelers to visit the Penans of Mulu.

An elderly Penan woman holding a Bamboo Guitar

At the Penan longhouse, when tourist start to arrive from the riverbanks of the Melinau River, the Penan people will start to bring out their handicraft and other wares to sell them to the tourist. They are generally shy but here at Long Iman, they are used to seeing tourist so photography is alright. But then again, always ask before taking your picture of the people. Or check with your guide.

Longhouse souvenirs

Each family will have their own space at the bottom of the longhouse where they display the hand made souvenirs. They live upstairs and the bottom of the longhouse has an empty space for playing or storing goods. Some of them even convert it into a little tuck shop for the locals.

Penan woman playing a nose flute

I personally bought a number of items from them as I have a collection of ethnic musical instruments. As the picture above, you see a Penan woman playing a nose flute which is carved out of bamboo. Assuming it would cost much, I was surprised when the price offered was a mere RM10.00 (US$3.30) for one nose flute. I bought two flutes from this lady which totally made her day.

Penan trinkets and woodcraft

As you walk along the bottom of the wooden longhouse, you will see a variety of handicrafts and souvenirs being displayed. You get woven bracelets, wooden spoons, beaded jewellery, basic traditional musical instruments, mock blow pipes, weaved mats and even some miniature carved statues which were most likely traded with other villages to be sold here. Prices are negotiable with the local Penan traders. But don't make it sound like you are going to pay only 10% of what they asked for. This is not a Chinatown market. Be reasonable when you bargain.

Penan weaved mats

After you pass each stall, they will instantly wrap up their goods and get back to what ever they were doing. It was a funny sight as I saw something I liked at one of the earlier stalls and when I walked half way, I turned around and saw that the Penan lady had packed up and went upstairs. So much for thinking twice.

Finally after spending about an hour there, I decided to make my way back to the Royal Mulu Resort. Note that most tour operators would only have you visit Long Iman for about 15 to 20 minutes and you can arrange this at the resort tour counter. Apart from the main Penan villages that are located in the Mulu National Park you can also choose to explore the many caves found around here. I have a list of Caves to visit in Sarawak if you want to know more. Again, I have to admit that it was indeed a beautiful day spent well here at the Penan Village in Long Iman, Mulu in Sarawak.

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