Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Narratives about space and place in Eastern Penan

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Peter Sercombe



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This article considers ways in which Eastern Penan speakers refer to and talk about place and space in their discourse. Landscape or seascape, in this case rainforest, has traditionally been critical for foragers and the Eastern Penan are no exception. Place is both an important point of reference and association, being of considerable practical and symbolic value, in terms of available resources and a strong (emotional) sense of topophilia. The Eastern Penan language is rich with deictic terminology for articulating interpersonal relations (in particular), as well as those that are locational, and spatial, albeit less so regarding temporality. Deixis for expressing interpersonal relations, particularly anaphorically, seems to be in decline (Sercombe, in press) and this seems no accident, in terms of fundamental changes in lifestyle that Penan are undergoing. The entry explores forms and functions of spatial deixis in Eastern Penan, drawing on orature, and video data collected in the rainforest, as well as affiliations expressed specifically while moving through this environment. The aim is to unearth insights into ways Eastern Penan explicitly and implicitly refer to place and space, in order to provide further understanding of the Penan term for ‘forest’, tanah, whose meaning seems to be undergoing reconfiguration (in juxtaposition with a reduction in the range of person deixis in Eastern Penan), as a result of unprecedented changes to the physical and social environments which are occupied by Eastern Penan in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, in Borneo.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Sercombe PG

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Hunter Gatherer Research

Year: 2020

Volume: 4

Issue: 3

Pages: 339-354

Online publication date: 01/05/2020

Acceptance date: 02/11/2019

Date deposited: 06/12/2019

ISSN (electronic): 2056-3264

Publisher: Liverpool University Press


DOI: 10.3828/hgr.2018.21


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric