Punan Tribe of Kalimantan


An elderly Punan man performing Bungan rites. Photo taken at Punan Sama
Total population 5,000 (Sarawak only)
Office website Punan.Net
Region Sarawak
Language Punan
Religion ChristianityAnimist
Related Ethnic Groups Sekapan, Kejaman, Lahanan’

Bah’ or Punan is an ethnic group found in SarawakMalaysia. They are distinct, unrelated to the Penan and also the other so called Punan found in the Indonesian part of Borneo. Their name stems from two rivers along the banks of which they have been living time immemorial. They do have other names – ‘Mikuang Bungulan’ or ‘Mikuang’ and ‘Aveang Buan’. But these terms are only used ritually these days.
The Punan (or Punan Bah) have never been nomad. In the old days they base their living on a mixed economy. Swidden agriculture with hill paddy as the main crop, supplemented by a range of tropical plants which include maniok, taro, sugar cane, tobacco, etc. Hunting especially wild boar, fishing, and gathering of forest resources are the other important factors in their economy.
However, in the late 1980s many Punan, notably the younger, more educated, gradually migrating to urban areas such as BintuluSibuKuching and Kuala Lumpur in search of better living. However that doesn’t they abandon their longhouses altogether. Many would still return home – especially during major festivities such as Harvest Festival / or Bungan festival as it is known among Punan.
Punan is a stratified society of ‘laja’ (aristocrats), ‘panyen’ (commoners), and ‘lipen’ (slaves). This is a fact determine their historical traditions that have been preserved. Just like most of the history of European Middle Ages is linked to and mainly concerned the various ruling monarchs, so are the historical and mythical traditions of Punan closely connected to their rulings aristocrats.
‘Are all Punan related tribes/ethnic?’ There is this popular misunderstanding that all the so called Punan on the island of Borneo are related and referring to the same tribe. In Sarawak there is the confusion between Punan and Penan. On the whole island of Borneo the term Punan have been indiscrimately use referring then an unknown tribes as such as Punan Busang, Penihing, Sajau Hovongan, Uheng Kareho, Merah, Aput, Tubu, Bukat, Ukit, Habongkot, Penyawung asPunan. Sadly this colonial naming system name stick until today. Hence, there are now more than 20 different tribes / ethnics found on the island of Borneo being called Punan. They are;



Punan Busang

Punan Penihing

Punan Batu

Punan Sajau

Punan Hovongan di Kapuas Hulu, Kalbar

Punan Uheng Kereho di Kapuas Hulu, Kalbar

Punan Murung di Murung Raya, Kalteng

Punan Aoheng (Suku Dayak Pnihing) di Kalimantan Timur

Punan Merah (Siau)

Punan Aput

Punan Merap

Punan Tubu

Punan Ukit/Bukitan

Dayak Bukat

Punan Habongkot

Punan Panyawung
These so called Punans are not related to the
Punan or Punan Bah as being described in this page.


Officially, as under the Sarawak Interpretation Ordinance and Article 161A, Clause 6 of the Malaysia
Constitution”, Punan is group under Kajang together with Sekapan, Kejaman, Lahanan and Sihan.
Unoffically, they are also included in the politically coined term
Orang Ulu – popularized by a political association known as Orang Ulu National Association or (OUNA). The association is a Kayan and Kenyah dominated association which they established in 1969.


‘Where are the Punan to found?’ Punan are mostly found around
Bintulu, Sarawak. Punan peoples can only be found at Pandan, Jelalong and Kakus in Bintulu Division; along the Rajang River, their longhouses dotted areas spanning fromMerit District to lower Belaga town.
The Punan are believed to be one of the earliest peoples to have settled in the central part of Borneo, the Rajang River and
Balui areas together with the Sekapan, Kejaman and Lahanan. However the mass migrations of Kayans, subsequently followed by the warfaring Ibans into Rejang and Balui areas approximately some 200 years ago, forcing the Punan communities living in these areas retreating to Kakus and subsequently to Kemena basin.
As in year 2006, there were more than 10 Punan settlements (longhouses) found along the Rejang, Kakus, Kemena and Jelalong river. These settlements (longhouses) are:

Punan Lovuk Sama,

Punan Lovuk Ba,

Punan Lovuk Biau,

Punan Lovuk Meluyou,

Punan Lovuk Lirung Belang (name by Rumah Bilong before and now as known as Rumah Ado)

Punan Lovuk Mina,

Punan Lovuk Pedan (also Rumah Nyipa Tingang), and

Punan Lo’o Buong (Jelalong also known as Rumah Adi).
Total Punan population is estimated to be around 3000 – 5000 people.


Punan speak a language categorized as
Punan Bah-Biau, a sub Rajang-Sajau language. Although often confused for the Penan, Punan language is actually closer to the language spoken by the Sekapans and Kejamans but not the Penan.
Here some word spoken in Punan:

1. Nu denge? – How are you?

2. Nu ngaro no? – What is your name?

3. Piro umun no? – How old are you?

4. Tupu koman si – Do you have your lunch/diner/breakfast?


Punan traditional regilion was a form
animist known as “Besavik”. The Brooke era saw the arrival of Christianmissionaries, bringing education and modern medicine into Sarawak. But the Punan communities remain with their traditional religion of Besavik and subsequently adopting a cult religion – Bungan brought by Jok Apui, a Kenyah from Kalimantan.
However in the late 1990 show an increase in the number of Punan converting to Christianity. This is partly due to more and more Punan have became educated and modernization. As in 2006 almost half of Punan are now Christian, leaving only the elderly, less educated still remain observing “Bungan” religion.

The Punan have a unique burial custom. In the early days they did not bury their aristocrats or “lajar”. Instead they built a pole known as kelirieng of 50 meter high to lay down their beloved leaders. In Sarawak it is estimated to be less than 30 kelirieng left standing. The Punan still practice secondary burial ceremony – whereby the dead body is kept at their longhouse for at least 3 – 7 days. This is partly to give more time for far away relatives to give their last respect to the deceased.


Nicolaisen, IDA.1976. ”Form and Function of Punan Bah Ethno-historical Tradition” in Sarawak Museum Journal Vol XXIV No.45 (New Series). Kuching.

‘Punan National Association’.

‘Leigh, MICHEAL’. 2002. ”Mapping the People of Sarawak”. UNIMAS. Samarahan.

The Official Punan Community site

The Official Punan Community Blog

Punan Community Forum

Calvin Jemarang


‘Note:’ There is still lack of literatures on Punan peoples. Available information about these peoples were often sourced from either passing notes written by Brooke and Colonial administrators not in-depth scholarly research. The earliest? literature on Punan is probably one written by Eduardo Beccari, an Italian botanist and traveller in 1876?. In the late 1950s, Rodney Needham, Tom Harrisson, de Martinoir wrote a brief notes on Punan people they either personally met or heard from their guides along the Rajang river. Because of the lack of information many have confused them for Penan and also the Punan of Kalimantan. In Sarawak for example the Punan was wrongly classified as Penan by the National Registeration Department in the late 1990. They are also often confused for a politically coined term such as “Kajang” and “Orang Ulu”. As such the Punan through their association ‘Punan National Association’ is willing to collaborate with both foreign and local scholars who interested in doing social, economic research among the communities.



7 thoughts on “Punan Tribe of Kalimantan

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