People-in-Country Profile

People Selector:
Print version:
Step 1 - Select a Country:   Send us your updates!
Step 2 - Select a People:  

Penan in Malaysia


Send us a photo of this people.  [1]

Penan in Malaysia map
Population [2] Language Religion % Christian % Evangl Online NT Jesus Film Progress
11,000 Penan, Eastern Ethnic Religions 5.00 % 0.30 % No   

Penan in Malaysia

Profile Text
Submit Profile Text:

Introduction / History
The Penan are one of the few remaining nomadic peoples who made their home in the rainforest of Borneo's interior. Today, only a few Penan maintain such a nomadic lifestyle. The Malaysian government has built longhouses for them to settle in. Most of the Penan are located around Baram (in the Miri Division) and around Belaga (in the Kapit Division). Smaller populations can be found in the Bintulu and Limbang Districts.

There are several distinct dialects of Penan, which are similar to the Kenyah languages but not mutually intelligible with them. However, some of the younger generations are beginning to learn Malay in order to communicate with other people groups.

What are their lives like?
The Penan who now live in longhouses cultivate large plots of terraced rice fields. While they have taken up sedentary agriculture as their main livelihood, the change from their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle has been difficult. They still hunt wild animals and collect rattan, fruit and other food plants in the forests, and they still depend on the jungles to collect trade items such as camphor, jelutong 'wild rubber', damar 'a type of resin', gaharu 'incense wood', and rattan for making baskets, hats, and bags. Their diet includes fish and prawns from the rivers.

The Penan are generally gentle and soft-spoken. They are closely knit as a community, and they share whatever food they get from the forest. The traditional hunting weapon of the Penan is a keleput 'blowpipe'. It is made from straight-grained wood, drilled by a long metal rod and uses darts dipped in poison called tajem 'poison obtained from a jungle tree or plant'. Older Penan, due to their nomadic lifestyle, have not had access to education. They cannot speak the national language and can neither read nor write their own language.

What are their beliefs?
The Penan still practice a system of animistic or traditional beliefs. They believe that every animal, tree, river, stream, and rock in the forest has its own spirit. In order to survive and prosper in the jungle, they must maintain harmonious relations with the spirits.

To the nomadic Penan, death is taken seriously. They believe that the soul of the dead should rest peacefully. As a result, children and adults should not make any noise near burial sites. After a dead person is buried, they will move out from that location to another location, and they will no longer mention the dead person's name. Afterwards, if a Penan wishes to mention the dead person, they will only refer to the burial site of the dead person.

What are their needs?
There is a great need for language development and education, both for older Penan and for the younger generation. Pray for more teachers to offer their skills and knowledge to these people in order to help them improve their livelihood and standard of living. Pray too that the results of such efforts would also give the Penan access to God's good news.

Many Penan still do not have legal documents such as birth certificates and Malaysian identity cards. As a result, many of them still find it difficult to look for better job opportunities and to make it possible for their children to receive an education. Pray that the Penan will gain access to all the benefits of being Malaysians.

View Penan in all countries.

Prayer Links
Global Prayer Digest: 2015-07-13
  Submit Update:
Country: Malaysia
Continent: Asia
Region: Asia, Southeast
Persecution Rank:46 (Only top 50 ranked, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
10/40 Window: Yes
Location in Country:Sarawak, Apoh river district, east of Baram river.
(Source: Ethnologue 2016)
  Peoples [3]
Submit Update:
People Name in Country: Penan
People Name General: Penan
Alternate People Names:
Penan, Eastern
ROP3 Code: 107968
Joshua Project People ID: 14357
Indigenous: Yes
Population in Country: 11,000
Population all Countries: 11,000
Least-Reached: Yes
Affinity Bloc: Malay Peoples
People Cluster: Borneo-Kalimantan
People Name General: Penan
Ethnic Code: MSY44z
Ethnic Relationships: Affinity Bloc -> People Cluster -> Peoples Ethnicity Tree
Submit Update:
Primary Language: Penan, Eastern (11,000 Speakers)
Language Code (ISO): pez    Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages: 1
Religion [4]
Submit Update:
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Major Religions:
Buddhism0.00 % 
Christianity5.00 %(Evangelical: 0.30 %)
Ethnic Religions65.00 % 
Hinduism0.00 % 
Islam30.00 % 
Non-Religious0.00 % 
Other / Small0.00 % 
Unknown0.00 % 
Christianity Segments:
Anglican0.00 %
Independent5.00 %
Protestant35.00 %
Orthodox0.00 %
Other Christian0.00 %
Roman Catholic60.00 %
(Evangelicals distributed across Christianity segments)
Progress Indicators [5]
Progress Scale[6]   Few evangelicals and few who claim to be Christians. Little, if any, history of Christianity.
Least-Reached: Yes
GSEC Status:Level 5   Greater than or equal to 5% Evangelical
Bible Translation Status
Submit Update:
Bible Portions: Yes
New Testament:
Complete Bible: None Reported
Possible Bible Sources: Forum of Bible Agencies
 World Bible Finder
 World Christian Resource Directory
 Gospel Go
Ministry Resources [7]
Audio RecordingsMegaVoice Audio Bible and Stories
Audio RecordingsOnline New Testament (FCBH)
Mobile AppDownload Audio Bible app as APK File fro ...
Text / Printed MatterOnline Bible text (Scripture Earth)
Ministry Activity
Register Ministry Activity:
Networking: Visit for networking possibilities.
Description: Register your ministry activity among this people group. Contact the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse and Unleashed for the Unreached to learn about others that might be focused on this people group.
Data Notes
Data Sources

Penan in Malaysia

Global                 Global
  Affinity Bloc             Global  
People Cluster
    Borneo-Kalimantan     Asia, Southeast    
      Penan Malaysia    
            People-by-Country (Profile)          
            Penan in Malaysia          
      Religion Language  
      Ethnic Religions     Penan, Eastern  
    All Religions                              

Direct link: