Of Photos and Memories


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Of pictures and memories: Archival photographs and community curation of cultural resources in Borneo

This project investigates archival photographs from the Sarawak Museum in Kuching, Malaysia, taken between 1951 and 1978 in remote communities of rural Borneo. The photographs, which have never been fully documented or viewed by the subject communities, are discussed as sites of memory and cultural resources, as members of the ethnic groups use them to anchor knowledge of their history and traditions to objects, people and locations shown in the photographs. Multiple interpretations of the pictures as colonial artifacts, ethnographic evidence, museum objects and family photographs are uncovered and contribute to their interpretation. The diverse meanings determine the social significance of the images, allowing for cultural, economic and political changes happening in these ethnic groups to be traced. The project uses methods including crowd sourcing and community curation, extending the scope of archival and museum practices to establish agency for the communities to contribute to the historical discourse.

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Of Photos and Memories

  1. 1. Of Pictures and MemoriesArchival photographs and community curation of cultural resources in BorneoPresented By Christine Horn, Institute For Social Research, Swinburne University Of Technogy, MelbournePenghulu Gau, his wife and sister in law in front of the Sarawak Museum, 1956 1
  2. 2. Photographs from Borneo✤ Sarawak and the Sarawak Museum✤ The archive of the Sarawak Museum and the photographs✤ The Baram and Tinjar rivers and the Kenyah and Kayan people✤ The photographer and the work of the Museum✤ The archive today - culture and change in the communities✤ Oral history and the documentation of the past✤ Methods of collaboration 2
  3. 3. South China Sea Celebes SeaMap of Borneo, Sarawak and the Baram region 3
  4. 4. 4
  5. 5. The imagesThe images were kept at the archive butnot described or researched. The photoswere known to some members of thecommunities in the city but in the villagesmostly unknown.In the course of this project thephotographs were taken to the villagesand described with the help of thecommunities.Prompted by the images, the oral history,genealogies, migrations but also mythsand legends were remembered andrecounted by the members of thecommunity.Contact prints at the archive of the Sarawak Museum 5
  6. 6. The archiveThe photographs at the Sarawak Museumarchive were taken from 1950 onwards,after Sarawak had been ceded by theRajah to British Colonial Government.The images were taken on trips by thelocal staff throughout the state, while thestaff was collecting artefacts, undertakingconservation work and research and otherprojects.Most of the images have never beenpublished or described. For the Kenyahand Kayan the collection contains around1.500 medium format photographsbetween 1950 and 1978.The photo archive of the Sarawak Museum 6
  7. 7. Negatives at the archive of the Sarawak Museum 7
  8. 8. Seria Miri Brunei Marudi Gn Mulu Limba Bekenu Kuala Tutoh Dulit range Fifth S Sibuti Lg. Kiput Batu Belah . Tu g Beluru Lg. Terawan oh Lg. Seridan South t Lg. Ikang Sg . A Sg Niah Lg. Teru po h .N China Lg. Banio Lg. Wat Umah Akeh Lg. Atip iah Lg. Puak Batu Gading Lg. Bedian Suai g. Lg. Lama S Lapok Sea Teru Loagan Lg. Laput Bunut Sungai Dua Pa i g. Sua Bt Lg. Jegan Lg. Miri Baram district Fourth Division Sg. Ba Lg. Batan Se am Sarawak mad oh Lg. Pilah r Lg. Loyang Lg. Lellang Lg. Aya T in jar Lg. Liam Lg. Tebangan Lg. Sobeng Leppo Leju Lg. Akah Bintulu district Du Lg. Aton Lg. San l ra Fourth Division it n Lg. Selapun Lg. Selatong Kapit district Lg. Lobang geBtg Third Division .K Lg. Buroi e m ena Lg. Apu Lg. Semiang Lio Matu Lg. Belapau Lg. JulanBintulu Lg. Sela’an Sebauh Lg. Anap B tg. Be Lg. Moh l a ga Lg. Palai The Baram and its tributaries 8
  9. 9. The villagesThe villages along the Baram and Tinjarbelong to the Kenyah and Kayancommunities.The Kenyah and Kayan practise slash-and-burn rice agriculture, supported byproduce from the forest and rivers. As partof the ancient religion based on the beliefin spirits and animal omens headhuntingwas practised widely, and warfare wascommon between the villages. All villagesconverted from the to Christianity in the1950s.There are around 50.000 Kenyah and30.000 Kayan living in Sarawak.Sculptor at work: Gurong Lanu at Long Buroi, 1956 9
  10. 10. Lungan Pusa with her nephew at Long Buroi 10
  11. 11. The photographerJunaidi Bolhassan was the staffphotographer at the Sarawak Museum for20 years from the 1950s onwards.Although a coastal Malay he was veryfamiliar with the rural inlandcommunities.He was in charge of the archive and filedand ordered all photographs, supplyingthe date of capture to each negative.His role did not include research ordescription of the images, which is whymost of the photographs remainundescribed today.The photographer, Junaidi Bolhassan at Long Teru 11right: Lian Yang, left: Madang Beluluk
  12. 12. Museum workThe museum work included thecollection of artefacts in the villages, suchas this heritage ceramic plate presented inthis photograph.The museum staff also conductedconservation work, for example takingcare of the carved and painted burialpoles. They also accompanied foreignresearchers and conducted their ownresearch projects published in theMuseum’s Journal.Several universities have been establishedin Sarawak which are now responsible formost research activities in the state.Woman presenting her ceramics, place unknown 12
  13. 13. Ukung Kajan playing the Kelunaye at Long Jegan 13
  14. 14. 14‘1 Malaysia’ headdress, Long Nawang, Indonesia, 2012
  15. 15. Development& changeThe villages in the Baram and Tinjar havemodernised, in particular those nearer tothe coast. Logging and oilpalmplantations have provided employmentoptions but also caused changes in theenvironment such as silted rivers andscarcity of forests and their produce, largetrees as building material and animals asa source of protein.As schooling is obligatory, many villagechildren board in the bigger villages andtowns during the week and often do notreturn to their villages after graduation.Laong Jalong and Laie Tanyit from Long Makabar 15
  16. 16. New traditionsMalaysia is a multicultural nation whichadvocates its many ethnic groups, inparticular in the tourism sector. At thesame time the prime minister ispromoting the theme of ‘1 Malaysia’, aprogram promoting ethnic harmony andnational unity.These economic and political factorsimpact on the way in which communitiesposition themselves in the attempt to finda unified voice. The communities are veryremote and development has been slow,with many villages lacking basicnecessities such as electricity, telephonereception and sealed roads.Traditional outfit, ca. 1978, place unknown 16
  17. 17. Oral historyThe traditional oral transmission ofstories and legends but also of historicalevents has been ruptured by the absenceof children and young people in thecommunity.The region has a multitude differentdialects in the region which are difficultto transcribe, which is why there are nowritten documents available for teachingthe dialects or languages.Some communities have begun to recordtheir songs, legends and histories, butoften their importance is not recognised.Alai and a member of the Borneo Literature Bureau at 17Long Teru, recording local oral history, 1975
  18. 18. 18Tama Belasap, Balan Lambong, Madau Musup at Kuching airport, 1955
  19. 19. OwnershipThe presence of the objects in thecollection of the Sarawak Museum is asource of pride and interest for thecommunities.Many artefacts were donated to themuseum by important politicalpersonalities such as the paramount chiefTemenggong Oyong Lawai Jau in the1960s and 70s, whose name is still wellknown and whose photographs arerecognised by any Kenyah or Kayan inSarawak.Other objects were donated by privateenthusiasts or bought by the Museum.Exhibits at the Sarawak Museum, 1966 19
  20. 20. CelebratingcultureThe villages today celebrate theirtraditional culture through their music,dances and festivals. The photographsfrom the archive show how ‘traditional’culture such as musical instruments,performances or dress have changed asnew features are being adapted.New features often reflect the politicaland economic situation. The style of themodern traditional dress for examplerepresents a socially acceptable style asmuch as cultural independence fromother groups in the state.Traditional Orang Ulu outfit, Marudi 2011 20
  21. 21. Orang Ulu presentation, Marudi 2011 21
  22. 22. Historical pastMost of the objects in the photographs arecause for discussion and reminiscence inthe communities and a measure for thechanges the villages have undergone.Most private collections have perished infires or floods so that many families haveno personal photographs of their families.The existence of the images from theMuseum caused surprises and discussionin all the villages.Woman dancing, Long Jegan, 1956 22
  23. 23. Performers and instruments, Long Busang, 2012 23
  24. 24. ExhibitionsSome photographs from the collection ofthe Sarawak Museum were exhibited inthe two main cities of Sarawak, Miri andKuching, over the last two years.Members of the community travelled forlong distances to see if their village ortheir relatives could be found in theimages.The first of the exhibition was part of theproject as it was an interactive event inwhich the audience was invited to sharetheir knowledge about the images. Thevisitors contributed to the body ofinformation and the descriptions whichhave been added to the database.Exhibition of photographs, Sarawak Museum 2012 24
  25. 25. New mediaMany Kenyah and Kayan have nowmigrated to the cities to findemployment. They bring technology suchas cameras, video cameras and soundrecording equipment to the villages torecord cultural performances and events.In the course of the project thephotographs from the archive wereexhibited online and the communitieswere invited to contribute to thecontextualisation. In spite of the livelyonline presence of ethnic Kenyah andKayan in chatrooms little information onthe images could be provided by theonline participants.Man filming traditional dances, Long Nawang, 2012 25
  26. 26. CollaborationPride in cultural resources, the wish tolearn about their own cultural past andthe desire to remember and communicateethnic traditions are some of the reasonsfor communities to collaborate withmuseums in their effort to curateindigenous objects and images.The museum gains from the diverseperspectives, narratives and knowledgewhich communities can contribute, aslong as participation is encouraged andrewarded. Communities often prioritiseother issues, such as economicdevelopment, and need to see the result ofprojects and their own perceived benefits.Man with heritage artefacts, Kuala Tutoh, 1968 26
  27. 27. Penghulu Apoi Njau,Temenggong Oyong Lawai Jau, Penghulu Tama Bulan Lian in Kuching 27
  28. 28. Representingwho?In the rural areas, most village retain theirtraditional lifestyle, customs and socialstructure, which results in a lived cultureable to include new elements.In the multicultural urban areas,traditional customs aren’t part of thedaily lives of the individuals but ethnicbelonging is a major part of individualidentity. Being ethnic Malay, Chinese,Indian or Dayak such as the Orang Uluimpacts on many practical aspects of lifesuch as employment, social groups andpolitical orientation.Woman looking at photographs, Long Sobeng, 2011 28
  29. 29. Alternativespaces?The traditional museum space offers freeaccess but in reality the museum does notfunction in the same way for the differentmembers of the community. Access toinformation depends on the location,level of education and economic status ofthe individual.The spaces for historical reflection in thevillages are only being established by theheads of the communities and theircommittees attempting to assemble thenarratives and documents that areavailable.Long Nawang cultural hall, 2012 29
  30. 30. The museum & the communities✤ Museum objects are an important source of historical information for the communities✤ Museums can help communities to find appropriate spaces to present and archive historical documents✤ Communities can use museum objects and research to promote but also adapt to the changes brought on by development ✤ New developments in museum practise offer a wider range of interactions with communities 30
  31. 31. Thank you!Temenggong Datuk Oyong Lawai Jau stepping out of a Malayan Airways airplane, date unknown 31