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Ooi Keat Gin, ed., Borneo and Sulawesi: Indigenous Peoples, Empires and Area Studies

New York & Oxford, Routledge, “Studies in the Modern History of Asia”, 2020, xvii + 214 p., glossary, bibliography, index
Bernard Sellato
p. 225-229
Référence(s) :

Ooi Keat Gin, ed., Borneo and Sulawesi: Indigenous Peoples, Empires and Area Studies, New York & Oxford, Routledge, “Studies in the Modern History of Asia”, 2020, xvii + 214 p., glossary, bibliography, index

Texte intégral

1When, in 1999, I began editing the present journal, I scheduled a series of articles, which I invited from various quarters, as state-of-the-art assessments of “social science research on/in Southeast Asia”, the focus the journal was explicitly devoted to. Among the very first scholars I contacted was Victor King, whose insightful and diligently written article we soon published (King 2001).

2The volume here reviewed, “in honour of Victor T. King, a leading scholar in the field of Southeast Asian studies”, emerged from a conference he convened in Busan, South Korea, in 2015, and was edited by Ooi Keat Gin, a professor of History and coordinator of the Asia Pacific Research Unit at Universiti Sains Malaysia and himself a leading scholar in the field, to offer a collection of seven contributions by six of Terry King’s former students, “an ethnically diverse lot”, at Hull and Leeds, UK.

3A professor at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, Busan University of Foreign Studies, South Korea, Yekyoum Kim took his Ph.D. in South-East Asian Studies (Social Anthropology) under King’s supervision at the University of Hull in 2004. His chapter, titled “‘Contested’ identities of ‘Orang Tomohon’, Minahasa, North Sulawesi”, focuses on the new municipality of Tomohon, located in the regency of Minahasa, northern Celebes, Indonesia. Contrasting with previously reported regional cases of ethnic self-identification, the Tomohon residents’ socio-cultural identities are shown to have shifted, through the combined effects of modernization, Christianization, exposure to the outside world, and regional autonomy, from the now blurred “ethno-cognitive” model to the “spatial” model, due to recurring revisions of administrative boundaries that altered the earlier, traditional boundaries of the indigenous walak ethno-cultural entities.

4Stephen C. Druce, who obtained his Ph.D. (History) from the Centre for South-East Asian Studies, University of Hull, has interests spanning the history, archaeology, and literature of southern Sulawesi and early Borneo, and conflict management in contemporary Southeast Asia. He teaches Brunei and Southeast Asian history at Universiti Brunei Darussalam and supervises a number of graduate students. His, chapter, “Of native concerns: Brooke, the Bugis, and Borneo”, examines the few years (1838-1842) when James Brooke, inspired by Raffles but not yet intent on becoming Sarawak’s White Rajah, contemplated political and commercial association with the Bugis kingdoms of Sulawesi, intending to contribute to the extension of “benevolent British influence”, which “would both save its inhabitants from the Dutch and their corrosive practices, and further British interests”. Based on Brooke’s own publications, journals, and letters, showing his genuine interest in Bugis societies and institutions, the chapter analyzes his actions and insightful observations as indicative of his later “better system of government” in Sarawak.

5Professor Ooi’s research interests range from socio-cultural and socioeconomic history, urban studies, museums and tourism, ethnic minorities, to war and conflict, and peripheral regions and marginalized groups with focus on Southeast Asia. Here he committed two chapters.

6The first, “‘Escape control’ and/or ‘out of control’: Chinese mining communities (kongsi) in West Borneo, 1780s–1850s”, describes how Hakka young men, brought by syndicates as bonded laborers or coolies to the ‘Gold mountain’ of northwestern Borneo and submitted to local Malay princes’ outrageous coercion, developed kongsi (sharing system) groups along dialect lines, with new political, social, economic, religious, and cultural norms. With their numbers expanding to the thousands, powerful kongsi eluded the Pontianak sultanate’s control and even, after 1818, the Dutch colonial state’s. The gold mining kongsi system of structure and governance over the Chinese communities was de facto, for the first half of the nineteenth century, the dominant political and military power in northwestern Borneo. These sovereign states “possessing all the infrastructures and paraphernalia of a bona fide modern state” were only brought to heel by the Dutch military in 1885 after six decades of “Kongsi Wars”.

7Keat Gin’s second chapter, “Of killing filthy dogs and Japanese pets: Military administration in Sarawak, the quisling issue, and inter-ethnic relations (September 1945 to April 1946)”, focuses on a very short period of power vacuum between the Japanese surrender and the restoration of the Brookes’ civilian government. During these months, an Australian task force, then the British Military Administration invested too little effort, to public resentment, in handling the sensitive subject of wartime collaboration, especially by community leaders, “like Malay datu, Iban penghulu, and Chinese towkay”, and subsequent communal clashes and racially motivated killings affecting inter-ethnic relations. “Most Malays, some Chinese, [and] nearly all Dyaks were pro Jap while Japs were in the ascendancy but changed round again when things look [sic] better”, Vyner Brooke wrote. The diverse reasons behind collaboration with Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere are examined, though the restored Brooke Raj took no action on the issue.

8After taking a MPhil from Cambridge (1989) and a Ph.D. from Hull (1995) on the Bhuket (Bukat or Ukit) of Borneo (Sarawak and Kalimantan), Shanthi Thambiah was coordinator of the Gender Studies Programme and Deputy Dean of Post Graduate Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and is now an Associate Professor at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. She has published widely on cultural change and changing gender relations in indigenous communities in Sarawak and among the Orang Asli in Peninsula Malaysia. Her chapter, “Revisiting the question of rank and egalitarianism in Borneo: the ways in which hierarchy is expressed, maintained, and lost amongst the Bhuket of Sarawak”, returns to the Bhuket to review earlier works on rank and egalitarianism among Borneo’s forest hunter-gatherers, from Leach and Needham to Rousseau and Sellato, and explain the complex interrelations of rank and egalitarian ideologies. “Bhuket hold strongly to an ethos of egalitarianism, but claim to possess a ranking system similar to their stratified neighbours, the Kayan”, she writes, and that their “claims to rank can be understood in terms of the internal dynamics of their egalitarianism”.

9An Iban from Sarawak, Jayum anak Jawan took his doctorate from Hull (1988). He held the Tun Abdul Razak Chair, Center for International Studies (2015–2017), and was Visiting Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. He is now Professor of Politics and Development, Department of Government and Civilisation Studies, Faculty of Human Ecology, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang. His chapter, “Dayak: moving forward”, argues that, six decades after the 1963 formation of the Federation of Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah, the Dayak, and particularly the Iban, have not, by far, received their fair share, politically and economically, in return for their initial support to the Federation; instead, they have been marginalized: no equitable participation in the governance of the country or equitable sharing in the benefits of economic development. Change for the Dayak and Iban, it concludes, “will not come from promises made by others... It must come from themselves”, to ensure that they would never again be taken for granted and treated as “second class indigenes”.

10Ioannis Gaitanidis, a Greek student of King’s in his later (2006) MA programme in East Asian Regional Development at the University of Leeds, UK, is now Assistant Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Chiba University, Japan, and specializes in Japanese studies with a focus on the contemporary period. His final chapter, titled “Jobbing as methodology: Victor T. King’s involvement with area studies and some implications for Japanese studies and beyond”, centers on, and concurs with, two of King’s interrelated arguments: one, that Southeast Asian Studies (and, by extension, area studies) does not require a specific methodology; the other, that “jobbing”, as a method King has used throughout his career, is a valid approach to conducting research in multidisciplinary settings. “Practicality, transdisciplinarity, heterogeneity, transience, and reflexivity”, he stresses, “are precisely what King’s jobbing has been aiming for” (p. 189).

  • 1 En français dans le texte.

11Quite naturally, in this “festschrift” volume, much attention is placed on King himself, his academic career and productions, as well as on area studies, one of his favorite themes, rather than on “Borneo and Sulawesi” or “indigenous peoples and empires”. Apart from Gaitanidis’ contribution, two chapters are especially devoted to him, viz. “Victor T. King: scholar par excellence,1 ethnicity and identity to heritage, and many things in between”, by Ooi Keat Gin, and “Victor T. King: opinions, thoughts, and reflections”.

  • 2 King is currently Professor of Borneo Studies, Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Daruss (...)

12Terry King, “scholar par excellence” – and a man with many hats2 – was one of the very first professionally trained anthropologists who, in the early 1970s, went to do fieldwork in interior Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, later taking his Ph.D. from the University of Hull with a thesis on the Maloh Dayak of the upper Kapuas River (see King 1985). We probably were both in West Kalimantan at the same time in the late 1973, but anthropologists’ and geologists’ paths do not always cross.

13Terry spent most of his career at the Centre for South-East Asian Studies (CSEAS) and the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology of the University of Hull, where he was appointed to a Professorship (in 1988) and, at various times, served as Director of the CSEAS, Dean of the School of Social and Political Sciences, Director of the University Graduate School, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor. When Southeast Asian studies went missing from the local academic landscape and the CSEAS closed, he transferred to Leeds University, where he was appointed to a Professorship (in 2005) and soon became Executive Director of the White Rose East Asia Centre (WREAC). He took early retirement from the University in 2010, but remains there today an Emeritus Professor of South East Asian Studies (Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, East Asian Studies) and continues on a part-time basis as Director of WREAC. In the late 2010s, he took an appointment at Universiti Brunei Darussalam—his “tropical Abode of Peace” (p. 8)—where he participated in training Bruneian social scientists.

  • 3 See a list of students, for whom King acted as internal or external examiner: (...)

14Through his several professorial decades at Hull, Leeds, and Brunei Darussalam, Terry taught, supervised, or examined large numbers of MA and Ph.D. students,3 many of whom Southeast Asians themselves, now teaching in Southeast Asian universities. Apart from academic (teaching and administrative) duties, he sat on boards, committees, councils, and panels for a number of institutions of higher education, organizations, foundations, journals, publishing houses, and other societies and bodies.

  • 4 See pp. 17-41: Ethnicity in South-East Asia (1982), The Military in Politics: Southeast Asian Exper (...)

15His academic specialty scope is summarized as “Socio-economic development and applied anthropology in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia; general sociology and cultural anthropology of South-East Asia”. But Terry is also a man of many long-standing interests, and the list of his themes of research is impressive—social and cultural change, rural development, tourism and heritage, ethnicity and identity, multidisciplinary area studies, museum and photographic studies —witness the list of his publications, covering some 25 pages (pp. 17-41) and including, over fifty years from the early 1970s, about as many volumes (single or co-authored, edited or co-edited), plus a surprising quantity of articles, not to mention pages and pages of references of book reviews. From amongst so many works, quite a few, listed to provide an idea of their range,4 should be of interest to the broader Southeastasianistic readership. As it appears, there are still more in the pipeline.

16Although he somewhat moved away from the strictly Bornean field in the 1990s to embrace broader Indo-Malaysian, then Southeast Asian themes, Terry found time to contribute to lively Borneo-centered debates, such as the meaning and symbolism of motifs and patterns in Iban sacred textiles or the modes and forms of claims to scientific authority in academic disputes.

  • 5 See IJAPS, 2013, 9 (1): 167-180, URL:
  • 6 On the “Southeast Asian Studies” theme, its development and methodology, as on the “jobbing” practi (...)

17As for the shorter “Victor T. King: opinions, thoughts, and reflections” chapter (pp. 43-53), the transcript of an interview titled “Scholarly Viewpoints, featuring Victor T. King” and published in 2013 in The International Journal of Asia Pacific Studies (Universiti Sains Malaysia), it is focused on current scholarly issues in the Asia Pacific region, and more specifically in Southeast Asian Studies. This is a stimulating and enlightening contemplation, the reading of which I recommend,5 of the evolution and present circumstances of our subfield, Southeast Asian Studies —the raison d’être of research bodies such as IRSEA and IrAsia or its Parisian counterpart, Centre Asie du Sud-Est—in its wider “Area Studies” theoretical framework and methodological approach and, at the same time, a meditation on the intellectual and academic life journey of a free, original, innovative, and very prolific thinker of this transdisciplinary field.6

18A major figure of Southeast Asian Studies along the last half century and a strong promoter of its progress in Southeast Asia, Victor King offers here, thanks to Ooi Keat Gin and colleagues, a relevant and useful follow-up, over two decades later, to his 2000 assessment in Moussons, while enthusiastically endorsing and advocating the “scholarly way of life” – which he regards as “a calling and a vocation”, though only “if it is done in the appropriate spirit of free-ranging, open-ended enquiry, not stifled by closely monitored office hours, form-filling and endless meetings” (p. 51). Terry King prominently features among those of us who would have loved to carry on with this way of life beyond the age of sixty-five, but were prevented from doing so, yet managed to carry on anyway and “continue to enjoy what we do and gain fulfilment from it” (pp. 51-52).

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KING, Victor T., 1985, The Maloh of West Kalimantan: an Ethnographic Study of Social Inequality and Social Change among an Indonesian Borneo People, Dordrecht: Foris Publications, Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, No. 108.

KING, Victor T., 2001, “Southeast Asia: An Anthropological Field of Study?”, Moussons, 3: 3-29, URL:

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Note de fin

1 En français dans le texte.

2 King is currently Professor of Borneo Studies, Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam; Emeritus Professor of South-East Asian Studies, University of Leeds, UK; Adjunct Professor at Chiang Mai University, Thailand; Professorial Research Associate, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; series editor, “Modern Anthropology of South-East Asia”, Routledge, London.

3 See a list of students, for whom King acted as internal or external examiner:

4 See pp. 17-41: Ethnicity in South-East Asia (1982), The Military in Politics: Southeast Asian Experiences (1990), Margins and Minorities: The Peripheral Areas and Peoples of Malaysia (1990), Issues in Rural Development in Malaysia (1991, 1992), Tourism in South-East Asia (1993, 2019), Images of Malay Indonesian Identity (1997), Environmental Challenges in South-East Asia (1998), Anthropology and Development in South-East Asia: Theory and Practice (1999), The Modern Anthropology of South-East Asia. An Introduction (2003, 2006, 2012), Ethnicity  and Electoral Politics in  Sarawak, East Malaysia (2004), The Sociology of Southeast Asia: Transformations in a Developing Region (2008, 2011), Tourism in Southeast Asia: Challenges and New Directions (2009), Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia (2010), Historical Construction of Southeast Asian Studies (2013), Southeast Asian Studies: Area, Method and Comparison (2015), Tourism and Monarchy in Southeast Asia (2016), Human Insecurities in Southeast Asia (2016), Tourism and Ethnodevelopment: Inclusion, Empowerment and Self-determination (2017), Alternative Approaches in Southeast Asian Studies: Compounding Area Studies and Cultural Studies (2018), Tourism in East and Southeast Asia: 4-volume Reader (2018), Origins, History and Social Structure in Brunei Darussalam & Continuity and Change in Brunei Darussalam, 2 vol. (2021).

5 See IJAPS, 2013, 9 (1): 167-180, URL:

6 On the “Southeast Asian Studies” theme, its development and methodology, as on the “jobbing” practice, see also a variety of relevant titles on pp. 17-41 and in King’s CV (see Note 3).

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Bernard Sellato, « Ooi Keat Gin, ed., Borneo and Sulawesi: Indigenous Peoples, Empires and Area Studies »Moussons, 39 | 2022, 225-229.

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Bernard Sellato, « Ooi Keat Gin, ed., Borneo and Sulawesi: Indigenous Peoples, Empires and Area Studies »Moussons [En ligne], 39 | 2022, mis en ligne le 29 juin 2022, consulté le 28 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Bernard Sellato

Senior scholar (emeritus), Centre Asie du Sud-Est (CNRS, EHESS, INALCO), Paris.

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