Penan: a story from the Malaysian Borneo

This photo project was completed in Malaysian Borneo in 2011. It documents the daily life of the Penan, the last nomadic hunter-gatherers in South East Asia, as they struggle to survive deforestation.

The Penan live in the heart of Borneo, and have traditionally used the primary forests as their hunting and gathering grounds. This forest has been made part of the National Park, which means the Penan are now confined to the secondary forest, characterised by a very disturbed ecological balance. Edible and medicinal plants have been stripped from the secondary forests, leaving the Penan with few resources.Where once there was an abundance of fruit trees, varied plant and animal life, now there are rows and rows of palm oil plantations, and devastated land. The effect of all this on the health of the Penan has been catastrophic. Their way of life is edging closer to extinction. Most have been forced to settle, growing crops, living closer to villages so that medical attention could be accessed. Tuberculosis has become common for the Penan, due to contact with the exterior, in the pursuit of institutional education.Even the beliefs of the Penan are changing, as their culture is systematically denied, they are forced to speak Malay and take Malay names in order to be legally registered. In order to become Malay citizens, they must turn their back on their Penan culture. A culture in deep crisis, they continue to struggle, but are left with little choice. These are the last days of an egalitarian society.

About the author:
Sofia Yu is a portuguese-born independent photojournalist, and visual documentarian, who has worked on a variety of projects around the world.With a background in social work, Sofia started freelance photography in 2011 while completing a BA in photography at Leeds Beckett University.Sofia has collaborated with Getty Images Latin America, working alongside NGOs to document subjects pertaining to human and animal rights. Her work has been exhibited in Portugal, the UK and the USA. She currently resides in Leeds, and is undertaking a masters degree in photojournalism and documentary photography at the London College of Communication.

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