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Akademika74[07]

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  • 1. Ulasan Buku Akademika 74 (Disember) 2008: 123 - 126 123 Ulasan Buku/Book ReviewOverview of Representation, Identity and Multiculturalism in Sarawak (2008), editedby Wan Zawawi Ibrahim, at the official launch of the book in the presence of YangAmat Berhormat Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, Chief Minister of Sarawak, at theCrowne Plaza Hotel, Kuching, 5 August 2008 by Professor V.T. King.I am delighted to be invited to introduce and endorse Professor Wan ZawawiIbrahim’s latest book, especially as I have had the great good fortune to workwith him on previous occasions. Among other things, some years ago he verykindly contributed to our special publication series at the Centre for SoutheastAsian Studies at my then university, the University of Hull, on regionaldevelopment in rural Malaysia and the ‘tribal question’, and also at extremelyshort notice he responded to my request to write a concluding chapter on localenvironmental perspectives for a book which I was editing on EnvironmentalChallenges in Southeast Asia in the late 1990s. In this connection he has beenworking in a field which he has made very much his own – recording andgiving expression to ‘local voices’ in Malaysia, to the world-views, values,concerns and identities of ordinary people, the minority populations, and themarginalized. Aside from this current book on multiculturalism he is nowengaged in editing a book on important issues to do with the relationshipsbetween Malaysian social science and globalization debates and he hasgraciously invited me to contribute to that volume. Let me turn to the task in hand and attempt to contextualize the volume.The characteristics and processes of identity formation and representation havebeen crucial preoccupations in social scientific and historical studies of Sarawakand more widely in Borneo, and ethnicity has been one of the major themesacross research in the social sciences and humanities not only in Borneo Studiesbut also in the broader field of Southeast Asian Studies. One of the enduringand arresting features of this part of the world is its enormous cultural diversityand it has been one of the major attractions in empirical work and theoreticaldevelopments to which both local and foreign researchers have contributed. Itis also no coincidence that one of the most significant, influential and widelyquoted contributions in the social sciences during the past two decades, BenedictAnderson’s Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread ofNationalism (1991) emerged in part at least from his encounter with SoutheastAsian materials. Moreover it is no surprise for those of us who have beenattempting to address the complexities of cultural variation and transformationthat the concept of pluralism and the plural society should spring from attemptsto understand the ways in which colonial societies were structured and themechanisms of historical change in Southeast Asia. Professor Shamsul AmriBaharuddin has also devoted considerable attention to the plural characteristicsof the region in his discussion of some of the main preoccupations of the literature
  • 2. 124 Akademika 73on Southeast Asia. I well remember a very successful international conferencewhich was held here in Kuching in the late 1980s on ethnicity and ethnic identitiesin Sarawak and more widely, which followed a series of workshops held invarious parts of the state. It resulted in what has come to be an important andwide-ranging reference work in this area – the four-volume special issue of TheSarawak Museum Journal published soon after the conference – whichcomprised a relatively comprehensive compendium of material on the ethnicgroups of Sarawak. Importantly across the social sciences and humanities in their engagementwith Sarawak there has been a regular and sustained examination of identities,ethnicity and representation. However, what Wan Zawawi’s book does, alsoemphasized in the editorial introduction, is to demonstrate to us that in spite ofthis level of interest and activity there is still much to do in the Sarawak contextand, if I may venture to add, in the wider Borneo context. We have tended toconcentrate on particular groups at the expense of others. For example, theIbans are very well covered, the Bidayuhs, Malays, and various minority OrangUlu groups less so. We still know very little about ethnic relations in urbansettings and the politics of identity. We need to explore much more thoroughlythe interrelationships between identities and other principles of socialorganization. What strikes me about Wan Zawawi’s book is the need to shift the emphasisof our research to urban settings and to address the impacts that globalization,the international media and wider processes of change are having on the localethnic landscapes of Sarawak and on the ways these are represented. For veryobvious reasons scholars of Borneo have been preoccupied with ruraldevelopment issues and with the ways in which the transition from the rural(often referred to misleadingly as ‘the traditional’) to the urban (againencapsulated by the all-embracing and wholly inadequate concept of ‘themodern’) can be understood and analysed. Of course, rural communities willcontinue to be part of our concerns and they are represented in Wan Zawawi’sbook, but, in his present excursion into current multiculturalism some of hiscontributors begin to chart a significant and neglected path of research towardsurban contexts and the identities which are being forged as more and morecitizens in Sarawak (and indeed in Sabah and Kalimantan) live their lives andseek their livelihoods in urban situations. There seems to me to be a whole newagenda of research in Sarawak (and indeed in Sabah) in examining thedevelopment of these new, modern and changing identities. For example, thepioneering work that Professor Abdul Rahman Embong has undertaken on themiddle class and middle class identities primarily in peninsular Malaysia needsto be extended to the main urban centres of Malaysian Borneo. We are alsogiven glimpses in Wan Zawawi’s book of the gender dimensions of urbanizationand identity which Dr Hew Cheng Sim has been pursuing with vigour in Sarawakand which requires much closer and sustained attention. And another topic very
  • 3. Ulasan Buku 125close to my own interests during the past fifteen years is that of cultural andethnic tourism and its impacts on local identities and communities and on therepresentations of indigenous peoples in tourism promotional materials. Wan Zawawi has brought together in harmonious combination establishedand young scholars, and expatriate and local researchers, to provide newethnographic material on ethnicity and significant new data on under-researchedgroups as well as examine some of the complexities of identities andrepresentations. I am especially delighted to see so many contributions fromyoung Sarawak scholars and the presence of several authors from UniversitiMalaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), which attests to the vibrant research culture here,the health of the social sciences in Sarawak and the reassuring emergence ofthe next generation of researchers. It is evident that the book has been conceivedin Sarawak and has emerged from the state’s history and experiences. Interestingly we are also treated to studies of the European encounter withthe local in a re-examination of some of the work of Tom Harrisson and WilliamGeddes. Whatever our views might be about the colonial encounter and itsimpact on local societies and on the construction of knowledge about them(and I was brought up as a young lecturer in the intellectual ferment engenderedin the sociology of development by André Gunder Frank and the dependencytheorists, in engagement with Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, and inanthropology and its uncertain relationship to colonial regimes in the work ofmy very close colleague in those days at the University of Hull, Talal Asad),those who undertook research at that time made a contribution, which we shouldand must acknowledge and which Wan Zawawi’s volume explores. What hisbook also accomplishes is to alert us to the importance of moving beyondborders, including disciplinary ones, and though the volume concentrates onSarawak, we are also invited to think and move across political boundaries. A final and important thought about the book is that we are constantlytempted to view Sarawak (and Sabah) from the margins of Malaysia. Are wealways destined to do so? Professor Michael Leigh has pointed to theextraordinary inter-ethnic tolerance which Sarawak has achieved and maintainedwhich might serve as an exemplar to others, though we should not be blind tothe difficulties, obstacles, and reverses which have had to be overcome in findinga way along the tortuous pathways which multiculturalism presents to us. Myown country (the United Kingdom) is a case in point and multiculturalism is acrucial and problematical issue, which is being debated there as it is here. Butperhaps Sarawak gives us all lessons to learn in living together in relativeharmony and mutual understanding in increasingly open and globalized societies.Professor Wan Zawawi’s book gives us much to contemplate in this regard inrelation to the grand narratives of development, modernization, state and nation.I am convinced that it will become a major reference work for those of usconcerned with the problems and opportunities presented by multiculturalismand I hope it will convince us all, though we all share those attributes which
  • 4. 126 Akademika 73have been given to humankind by a greater power than ourselves, of theimportance of cherishing rather than seeking to reduce our cultural differences.As Wan Zawawi proposes in his editorial introduction, and with reference tothe work of Kottak and Kozaitis, that we should move from a notion ofmulticulturalism based on the maxim ‘out of many, one’ to an ethos whichembraces the ethos of ‘in one, many’. With this I’m honoured and delighted towelcome and in the process officially launch the publication of Professor WanZawawi Ibrahim’s important, locally grounded, and sensitively executed book.Victor T. KingProfessor of South East Asian StudiesExecutive DirectorWhite Rose East Asia CentreUniversity of LeedsUnited Kingdom

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