Navigation – Plan du site
Comptes rendus

Publications on Borneo from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 2001-2002

Bernard Sellato
p. 154-156
Référence(s) :

Publications on Borneo from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 2001-2002

Texte intégral

1The Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS) was created at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) in 1998 with Professor Michael Leigh as its inaugural Director. Michael Leigh is a long-time scholar of Sarawak. His earlier publications include: The Chinese Community of Sarawak: a Study of Communal Relations (1964), The Rising Moon: Political Change in Sarawak (1974), and Council Negri Sarawak, Malaysia’s Oldest Legislature (1992). It was after a long career in Australia (University of Sydney) and peninsular Malaysia (Penang) that he took up the challenge of starting IEAS at the then newly-founded UNIMAS in Sarawak.

2Within IEAS, the Dayak Studies Program, chaired by Professor Clifford Sather, was inaugurated in January 2001, at the initiative of and sustained by a generous endowment from the Dayak Cultural Foundation, with the aim to promote long-term research on issues confronting the Dayak communities of Sarawak and, more generally, of the island of Borneo. Later, at the end of 2002, Professor Abdul Halim Ali was appointed to the Chair of Nusantara Studies at IEAS. He is undertaking a major research project on the coastal Malay communities.

3Clifford Sather has published extensively on the Bajau Laut and on the Iban, including his recent Seeds of Play, Words of Power: an ethnographic study of Iban shamanic chants (2001, see the review by P.Couderc, above), and has edited Origins, Ancestry and Alliance (with James Fox, 1996; see Moussons 99: 121-125). The Dayak Studies Program initiated two publication series, an Oral Literature Series and a Contemporary Society Series. The former saw four volumes published, the latter, one.

Dayak Studies, Oral Literature Series

4King Siliman and other Bidayuh folktales. Raja Siliman pas tingah tanun Bidayuh da bukun, compiled by Robert Sulis Ridu, Ritikos Jitab, and Jonas Noeb, OLS No. 1, 2001, 138 p.; Suket: Penan folk stories. Suket Penan, compiled by Jayl Langub, OLS No. 2, 2001, 198 p.; Apai Alui becomes a shaman and other Iban comic folktales. Apai Alui nyadi manang enggau ensera Iban bukai, compiled by Clifford Sather, OLS No. 3, 2001, 181 p. With the introduction of television, National Language schooling, urban migration, and other changes, the once rich corpus of Dayak oral literature is rapidly disappearing and, where it still survives, it is rapidly changing, either being radically reshaped or assuming new cultural roles and meanings. Each book includes a brief, but useful introduction by the volume’s editor or compiler, ten selected folk stories of, respectively, the Bidayuh (among whom they are called dondan), the Penan (suket), and the Iban (ensera), narrated by traditional storytellers, presented in English and in the original vernacular (edited), and illustrated with lively drawings. This endeavor to salvage oral literature and re-disseminate it (or re-inseminate it?) through the written medium should help strengthen or revive ethnocultural identities among Sarawak’s Dayak. At the same time, it nicely adds to our knowledge of Borneo’s genres of vernacular literature.

5The old Kayan religion and the Bungan religious reform, by Lake’ Baling, translated and annotated by Jérôme Rousseau, OLS No. 4, 2002, 124 p. Contrasting with the three earlier titles above, this book is based on a written composition. Lake’ Baling, a prominent traditional leader of the Kayan, “a clear thinker and a good communicator,” was also literate, and he wrote this unique book in the 1950s. Shortly before his death in 1976, he asked Professor Jérôme Rousseau to translate it into English. This book presents a brief introduction by Rousseau and both the original Kayan text and Rousseau’s translation cum annotations (almost 200 footnotes). It describes the old Kayan religion, Adat Dipui, and the religious reform of the 1950s, Adat Bungan—both now on the wane due to massive conversion to world religions—and is complement-ed by a short glossary. While this book is an important one for the Kayan themselves, it is also a valuable companion document to Rousseau’s 1998 Kayan Religion (see Moussons 99: 130-131).

Dayak Studies, Contemporary Society Series

6Changing borders and identities in the Kelabit highlands. Anthropological reflections on growing up in a Kelabit village near the international border, by Poline Bala, CSS No. 1, 2002, 142 p. The Kelabit are one of Sarawak’s most isolated peoples, yet they count among their younger generations a number of university graduates and, interestingly, several social scientists. In the late 1970s, Robert Lian Saging examined Kelabit ethnohistory, and Yahya Talla wrote one of the most important ethnographic studies ever on his own people. Several other young Kelabit followed suit. More recently, Poline Bala, having completed her M.A. thesis at Cornell University (1999), chose to produce an intimate account of the changing life of her people and, at the same time, to focus on a major contemporary question throughout Southeast Asia: the existence of international borders cutting across ethnic groups’ territories, the multiple meanings of the notion of boundaries, and the role these play in creating and mediating identities. This is definitely an interesting contribution to the study of hinterland borders. Its author is now pursuing further studies in anthropology at Cambridge University.

7A further purpose of the Dayak Studies Program was to create a permanent sound archive, maintained in co-operation by the Majlis Adat Istiadat, the Tun Jugah Foundation, the Dayak Cultural Foundation, and IEAS, to preserve original recordings of Dayak oral literature, including oral history, biography, and life-history narratives.

8Worthy of notice is another IEAS publication, in the Nusantara Studies Series: Life in the Malay kampongs of Kuching, fifty years ago, by A. Zainal Abidin and Abdullah Salleh, 2002, 87 p. In 1953, two young students of the Department of Geography at the University of Malaya captured a picture of the daily life of the Malay community in Kuching. Not much has ever been written on the subject of Sarawak Malays—apart from Tom Harrisson’s much critiqued 1970 study. Although, unfortunately, the original photographs are missing, this is a rare document, abundantly illustrated with maps, sketches, charts, and tables. One of the authors later became an ambassador, the other the president of the national petroleum company.

9Likewise, several bibliographies should be mentioned: Borneo biomedical bibliography, by Adela Baer, 2001, 16 p.; A bibliography of Sarawak Chinese publications in the Sarawak Chinese Cultural Association library, by Chua Chen Choon, 1999, 40 p.; Bibliography of studies on the Chinese communities in Sarawak (bilingual, English and Malay), by Chua Chen Choon, 1999, 4 p.; A provisional bibliographic list of published materials and manuscripts relating to the Lundayeh-Lun Bawang-Kelabit and related groups of Sarawak, Sabah, Brunei, and East Kalimantan, by Jay B. Crain and Vicki Pearson-Rounds, 1998, 28 p.; Bibliography of studies on Malay, Melanau and Kedayan communities in Sarawak, 1999, 16 p.; Bibliogra-phies of studies on the Orang Ulu communities in Sarawak, 1999, 31 p.; Bibliography of studies on the Iban and Bidayuh communities in Sarawak, 2000, 26 p. Of particular interest are Crain and Pearson-Rounds’ work, covering a set of related ethnic groups straddling the borders of three nations (see above), and Baer’s thematic reference list.

10The latest, and probably the last output of IEAS, as it was, is Michael Leigh’s large book (H 42.5 cm, W 30.5 cm): Mapping the Peoples of Sarawak, 2002, 123 p. The book opens with a classification of the ethnic groups of Sarawak, followed by brief demographic information. It then displays some seventy A3-size, full-color maps showing the pattern of settlement as it existed in 1968, before the massive changes that began in the 1970s—with the commercial opening of the rural forests and lands of Sarawak—and have continued throughout into this century. Some forty pages then display tables listing settlements, names of headmen, population, and ethnic affiliation. An original supplement to these tables is the author’s forthcoming set of overlays showing the ownership of all businesses, from large timber companies down to the smallest village shop. The 1970 population census is included at the end of the book. This book thus provides critical baseline documentation for the analysis of subsequent social, economic, and demographic transformations – its maps constitute a useful background to transparent overlaid sheets carrying more recent data or other types of data, from language use to land use patterns. It also demonstrates the usefulness of GIS technology in social science research.

11Early in 2003, Michael Leigh’s employment contract was renewed for only one year, and for that year he was not reappointed Institute Director, which precipitated his resignation. Although Clifford Sather’s reappointment was approved by the Dayak Studies committee, it was blocked by the Federal Public Service Commission, similarly bringing about his resignation. Let this brief review of IEAS’ recent publications draw attention to these two prominent senior Borneologists’ achievements and constitute a tribute of recognition to their long-standing dedication to Borneo studies.

12Institute of East Asian Studies, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
94300 Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia.
To order: fax 60-82- 672095 or e-mail

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Bernard Sellato, « Publications on Borneo from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 2001-2002 », Moussons, 7 | 2004, 154-156.

Référence électronique

Bernard Sellato, « Publications on Borneo from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 2001-2002 », Moussons [En ligne], 7 | 2004, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2013, consulté le 18 décembre 2017. URL :

Haut de page


Bernard Sellato

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de la revue Moussons sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page