Punans set to get new home in Sukang

National 2 minutes, 43 seconds

BELAIT

THE Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA), through the Islamic Da’wah Centre, has confirmed plans to build a new home for the Punans of Ulu Belait, a move which will see them leave their first and only permanent home built 50 years ago.

Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Pg Dato Paduka Hj Bahrom Pg Hj Bahar told The Brunei Times that the idea came about as part of the centre’s long-term concern for the well-being of new Muslim converts, of whom the Punan form a significant number in recent years.

“The centre is looking into the details (of a new home). Hopefully, these plans will come to realisation soon. We want ensure that the Punans of Brunei Darussalam are able to live a comfortable life in a place that is conducive and safe,” said Pg Dato Paduka Hj Bahrom.

No date was put forward for the start of this project, however, the government is currently identifying a suitable plot of land in Sukang for the new home. The specifications for the home have yet to be finalised.

“We haven’t determined the type of dwelling. It could be another longhouse or terrace houses or something else. This depends on the needs of the Punan,” said the Deputy Minister, assuring that no Punan people would be left out of the plans, including the ten or so that have yet to embrace Islam.

One such non-Muslim Punan, Arin anak Paing, said that the news was interesting to the longhouse-dwellers, as the rumours about it have been floating around for years. “I have lived here all my life. Some of us are looking forward to the move but some of us are not. I have no expectations. If I don’t get a new home I will not be disappointed as I never asked for one,” said Arin.

Abd Rashid Abd Rahman, a skilled blowpipe user and expert at spear-fishing, makes a daily living by fishing along the rivers, from as far upstream as Kg Melilas which lies 10km away from the Punan longhouse. A Muslim convert from two years ago, he also remains neutral on the idea of a new home.

“Even if we move, I’ll still continue fishing here in the river. I hear that we may relocate closer to the main road (at least 3km away), but the distance from the river won’t be a problem,” said Abd Rashid, who earns a small income selling his extra catch.

A 2005 official census puts the total of dwellers at the Punan longhouse at just over 100, though in reality far fewer – mainly women and young children – still live there with the former longhouse head Luyah anak Keling. Despite their dwindling numbers, many of them are still raised to speak Punan and taught to use boating and hunting skills from an early age. The adults continue to practise much of their traditional hunter-gatherer way of life.

Formerly nomadic tribespeople, the Punan were coaxed out of the jungle to live together with the Dusun and Iban communities of Mukim Sukang by the founder of today’s Kg Sukang and its school, Datu Maharaja Setia Dian, shortly after the Brunei Rebellion. A wooden longhouse was built for the Punan, where they live to this day.

The Brunei Times