I believe Perl predates
nawk. In fact, I've claimed at least once or twice that I'm glad nawk (and gawk) were not
readily available in 1987, or there might have been less pressure on Larry to write Perl in the first place.
From what I understand (although TimToady will correct me if I mess up here, perhaps), the problem Larry was trying to solve with awk involved stopping processing in one file to temporarily consult a second file (bug reports that refer to other bug reports). And that's what awk doesn't do, although I understand later awk versions handle fine. So, Larry was "forced" to write Perl, and create an entire industry and subculture as a result.