The Penan of Sarawak, East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, are an indigenous community who have adapted to survive under the strictures and expectations of the Malaysian nation-state while proudly holding on to their traditions and identities. One such tradition is the practice of Penan storytelling (tosok), which plays a remarkably effective exogenous role in engaging the attention of everyone from state functionaries to visiting anthropologists while continuing to perform the endogenous function of reinforcing community bonds. The role of storytelling in mediating the relationships between indigenous peoples and the nation-state, which claims the territory they inhabit, has rarely been subjected to scholarly scrutiny. This article explores how Penan elders and community members have used and adapted their practice of storytelling to engage with the Malaysian state, civil society, and the public imagination, ensuring that Penan voices are heard on issues as varied as access to education, the predations of logging companies, and the existential questions of land tenure. In setting aside space for a Penan storyteller to speak in his own eloquent words, this article is itself a channel for Penan perspectives to be heard, an opportunity the Penan are not hesitant to use where available.

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