Longhouses

The Penan indigenous peoples of Sarawak have a tradition of living in multi-family longhouses and this tradition continues, albeit with some new materials and designs. These photos are from three communities, the top two from near Miri — one ultra modern and the other a little older. The individual family units are narrow, but extend over several levels and run a considerable distance back from the front door into the communal space. Satellite television brings the globe to the family hearth. In the lower right photograph is the remains of what happens in a longhouse when someone’s hearth goes wrong. In this case a fire in one family unit destroyed the whole longhouse of about 20 units. Rebuilding was under way but corrugated iron and other building materials had to be brought long distances by the needle-shaped river boats, powered by outboard motors.

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