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Empowering Penan Women Through Weaving

The Penans are one of the indigenous tribes of Borneo. They are believed to be the last nomadic hunter-gatherers in Malaysia, calling the rainforest their home.

As hunter-gatherers, they rely heavily on the rainforest to supply their needs – from food to shelter. Today, many have embraced modernity and live in resettlement communities though some still remain semi-nomadic.However, it has been challenging for the Penan in their transition to modern life.

The Penan have to learn how to sustain themselves as well as send their children to school. In this regard, Penan women face hardships too as they rely entirely on their husbands. If their husbands don’t have jobs, their families suffer. Many of them live in extreme poverty in the interior of Sarawak, Borneo.

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This is why we started the Penan Women Project (PWP). Our project focuses on helping the women of the Penan tribe with earning regular incomes from crafting handmade bags. This project also ensures the continuity of their heritage such as weaving as the Penan women are expert weavers despite having no formal education.Their patterns are intricate; the quality of their work is excellent.

100% of the proceeds from the sale of these indigenous handcrafted bags are channelled back to the Penan community. PWP buys the bags from the Penan women and helps to market them in community fairs, bazaars and sales day in Miri, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, and Penang. Some volunteers also organise sales at their own house with support from friends.

When you buy a Penan handwoven bag, know that you are helping support an entire community of Penan.

A Modern Twist On Handmade Bags

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We provide the Penan women with plastic strapping and equipment. Our volunteers guide them by selecting and pairing designs and colours, offering feedback as well as going the extra mile by checking the quality of these handmade bags. We buy these bags from them and help sell them within the state of Sarawak (Kuching and Miri), Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, as well as in Peninsular Malaysia (Penang and Kuala Lumpur).

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For our PWP weaving projects, we use plastic strapping commonly used for strapping boxes. Plastic strapping is cost-effective, durable and comes in fashionable colours, perfect for bag weaving. The Penan women use these plastic strapping to weave their heritage patterns and create attractive bags for sale.

Currently, we have about 36-40 Penan women who can produce some 600 to 900 bags in a
month time.

Check out our available bags at our sales venue!

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