To the Kayans, Malay is ‘Halo‘ and Inuit ‘Punan‘ (Rousseau 1990). That’s interesting fact many rarely know – including Sarawakians. In Borneo, specifically in Kalimantan – all the once nomadic peoples who are not Kayan are called ‘Punan’. Doesn’t matter these peoples might have differences in languages, history – to them they are all Punans. Naive observers of Borneo ethnic complexities were at lost because of these. That’s partly explained why there are at least 20 heterogeneous communities in Kalimantan called “Punan”
Prof. Emeritus Jerome Rousseau
When I described my fieldwork among the Inuit, the Kayan stated unambiguously that the Inuit were Punan. I tried to point out that, while both Inuit and Punan were hunters and gatherers, they were otherwise very different genetically, historically, and linguistically, and that they occupied radically distinct environments; thus, I argued, while the Inuit are like the Punan in some ways, they are not Punan (Jerome Rousseau 1990:58)
The confusion between Punan (or Punan Ba people) with the Penan and other so called Punan in Borneo were complicated by Kayan’s usage of the term Punan.
Halo is not what the Malay call themselves and certainly many of the so called Punans in Kalimantan were not initially known as such – for example the Belusu, Lisum, Bukitan.
To the Kayans Punan literally mean nomadic people. They call all the former nomads such as Punan Aput, Punan Busang, Penan in Sarawak and at least 15 different groups of Punan in Kalimantan with the exonym ‘Punan’.
In central Borneo region Kayan is the lingua franca – and majority of the ethnics – Kenyah, Berawan, Kejaman, Lahanan speak the language except for the Punan (or Punan Ba) – as we live further away along the Rejang River downriver from the Kayan. Read more