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Penans can teach us values: Explorer
Published on: Wednesday, November 07, 2018

SHARJAH (United Arab Emirates): Today's consumer-driven society should learn how the pockets of ancient tribes that still exist in Asia and Africa go about their lives and change their consumption and lifestyle values accordingly.

Singling out the Penans in Malaysian Borneo, former Royal Marine, expedition leader and indigenous rights advocate Bruce Parry said living among the tested his own physical limits.

According to Bruce who documents these tribes for the BBC, the world is heading to a point where we forget to be mindful of others but only live for the moment and make the most of it.

"We are heading towards a future that will lose its balance to competition and aggression," he told the audience during his talk "A Voice From The Forest" at the ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair, the world's third largest.

A pet project of the Supreme Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the fair is into its 37th year and attracts not just leading publishers but also distinguished literati from all over the world as well as celebrities. Daily Express is the only Malaysian newspaper selected to cover the event.


"Look at where we are going. We all want what our neighbour has. We are all fighting for resources. We are all trying to assert power and authority on others in whatever way possible," he said.

Bruce warned that this has to change if this world is to sustain for future generations.

That's where learning from these tribals comes in, he said, adding that living among them taught him about our own survival and that of the planet.

"I got a deep insight into human nature when travelling the world and living among them."


Elaborating his experience with the Penans in Baram, Sarawak, he said:

"When I found the Penan, I thought here's a group of people unlike any other I've met in my life.

"They were completely different. They were living in a system where they had completely extinguished any outward expression of competition. They had no leaders, no chiefs...zero hierarchy."

Bruce said they (Penans) and others he came across, was exactly how we lived until the advent of agriculture and the Neolithic revolution.


"I can't think about my life (because)...competition is what earns my daily bread. We can learn from their experiences and way of life," he said.

Bruce said humans accept popular narratives as a way of life which are the narratives of power, money or even religion which "have the same effect on us as that egalitarianism has on the Penans.

Asked what he thought should be looked into for the Penans, he said it had to be land rights by the Malaysian Government so that their lives would not be displaced by logging and oil palm firms.

He praised NGOs for bringing the plight of the Penans to the world's attention by being their voice. - James Sarda

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