Earthly styles with the Penan tribe – Sarawak, Malaysia


(Hand made souvenirs, some with awesome tribal and ikat print)

A few of my posts are focused on ‘What to wear when travelling’ kind of topic when discussing style. The thing is, the inverse is also very very true. Fashion designers the world over travel to a place and get inspired by the colors, the traditional wear, the customs, or even sometimes something as simple as the way the sunlight hits. Whenever I travel, I try to pack to look presentable in the location that I’m going to, but I always make sure to have enough space in my bag for purchases on the way back. I personally find buying and supporting local brands/ designers to be a more fun experience and the chances of someone else walking by in the exact same outfit once you get back home is very very small.

Enter – the Penan tribe.

mulu-8957(The Long house corridor)

mulu-8966(Members of the Penan tribe. Some more recognizable by their tattoos)

The Penan is an indigenous tribe in Sarawak (East Malaysia or Borneo for those of you looking for its exotic name). They are a nomadic tribe based deep in the jungle. Historically having moved around a lot, they are now slowly settling down in long houses built especially for them. The long houses themselves look exactly as described. Long with some division of ‘houses’ or rooms that are shared by the entire community. Cool evenings will find a number of them sitting outside relaxing along their corridors.

Sarawak 012(Their settlement is right next to the river. Our gateway to Clearwater and Wind Cave) 

Having focused predominantly on agriculture and hunting (the Penan are also experts at the use of poisonous blow darts) they are starting to diversify a bit into commerce. On my trip to Mulu Caves (of which I will write a separate entry on), we stopped by one of the Penan settlements which formed the gateway to our river cruise (and visit to two more caves). It was an open ‘market’ which was really focused on all the tourists that had to pass by that area. Manned by mostly the elders, they offer a myriad of souvenirs; necklaces, keychains, woven baskets, bags and even some musical instruments.

Sarawak 007(Selling necklaces at the Penan settlement)


Their materials are mostly based off the things you can find in the forests. Necklaces made out of sago seeds, baskets made out of leaf. Its a colorful sight all right, and completely in trend with the seasonal and (truly) tribal feel for fashion collectives.

necklace  (My fav find, awesome necklace made of sago seeds)

Drop by, take a look and bring an awesome and authentic tribal item home!

mulu-9026(As you can probably tell by now, I’m more a shopping girl, though not really opposed to hiking girl)

Note: Some pics courtesy of the wonderful Ms. C, who managed to still look fabulous, do the hikes with me, takes incredible pictures and has been kind enough to allow me to use her pics here.