Helping Hands Penan's mission is to empower the women from the Penan Tribe, a nomadic indigenous people living in Sarawak, to help themselves and their family. They are dedicated to the betterment of living conditions in the Penan communities, facilitation of education for Penan children and the economic empowerment of Penan families through the production and sale of their craft.
The Penan call the forested region of the upper Baram in northern Sarawak their home. They are a gentle people, whose simple ways of life still manage to embody elusive values such as a deep and spiritual respect for nature, never taking more than they immediately need, as well as a strong sense of sharing, with very little emphasis on individual and material ownership. They possess a vast knowledge of the rainforest, especially its healing and medicinal powers, and are skilled weavers and craftsmen, producing fine bags and baskets, even spears and blowpipes.
However, rampant logging taking place in their ancestral forests has greatly devastated their ability to sustain themselves from nature. Due to this, they are indeed a people at a crossroads. Various efforts by NGOs over the years have attempted to improve the wellbeing of the Penan, with efforts ranging from provision of essentials, to installing piped water supply and solar lighting, but most importantly, efforts to empower the young Penan via education up to tertiary levels, and economically empowering Penan women via the production and sale of Penan bags and baskets.
The unique thing about these handcrafted Penan bags is that they are all slightly different, sometimes a bit wider or narrower, sometimes the pattern slightly smaller or higher, etc. We feel this emphasises the uniqueness of each item sold – your bag is probably one of a kind!
Also, it is a great insight into the beautiful ways of the Penan, who are perhaps shielded from the monotony and downsides of the mass-production mentality many of us are conditioned with, something for us to seriously reflect on in our world today.
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