AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 738

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Session 738: Hybrid Communities and the State in Malaysia

Organizer: Danny T. K. Wong, University of Malaya, Malaysia

Since colonial era, the definition of race and ethnicity in Malaysia has been provided through the official statistics collected at regular intervals. The categorisation employed were usually broad in nature thus submerging the local and more micro way of identification – one that is more closely associated with the respective community than with the state. Such definition though useful for policies formulation (by the state) – thus being utilitarian in nature, failed to appreciate the diversity of race and ethnicity in the country. This panel addresses this issue through the examination of four hybrid communities in Malaysia by looking at their origins and development during the colonial era and later in the post-colonial Malaya and Malaysia. Focus will be given to the manner of how they negotiated and developed with the newly emerged state, their search for identity and the manner they redefine themselves through new identity and new way of conducting business, in order to fit into the new nation-state and to bring benefit to the community. The select cases of hybrid communities includes the Peranakan Chinese of Penang, the Sino-Kadazan of West Coast, Sabah, the Kemena Riverine Community in northern Sarawak, and the Peranakan Malay. While the cases does not claim to represent all the hybrid communities in Malaysia, nevertheless, it is believed that the study of these hybrid communities will provide an alternate view of race and ethnicity in Malaysia.

The Sino-Kadazan and Kadazanism in Sabah, Malaysia
Danny T. K. Wong, University of Malaya, Malaysia

This paper will look at how the Sino-Kadazan championed for what they defined as a new identity of Kadazan throughout the 1950s through 1970s. The Sino-Kadazan of Sabah, East Malaysia, is a hybrid community that had emerged in the 1950s as an attempt to organise and transform a community of ethnic and cultural hybrids into a distinctive ethnic identification that would champion the rights and interests of this community. Given the situation, the community had to choose between retaining Chineseness in their culture or to adopt the indigenous elements of their cultural hybrid as the dominant factor in their culture. The paper will also look at how the community negotiated through the era of independent activities and the years immediately after independent where different ethnic groups were struggling and negotiating for the interests and rights of their respective community in defining the new political and ethnic boundaries of the new nation.

The Peranakan Chinese and Malaysian nationalism
Neil J. K. Khor, University of Malaya, Malaysia

This paper follows up on the development of Penang's Peranakan Chinese community from Malayan independence till the present day. The Peranakan Chinese are cultural hybrids with their origins in trade and Sino-Malay interactions. At the end of the British colonial period (1786-1957), English education and their participation in the colonial economy added a further "Western" influence on their cultural identity. This paper traces the development of Penang's Peranakan Chinese cultural identity by following the transformation of the Straits Chinese British Association and its membership; describing their activities and contemporary attempts to define and project a Penang Peranakan Chinese identity.

Upland-Lowland Continuum: The Kemena Riverine Community in Northern Sarawak, Malaysia
Noboru Ishikawa, Kyoto University, Japan

The Kemena basin society in northern Sarawak is conceptualized as a unitary social field in time and space, constituting an organic whole penetrated, connected, and structured by a major stream axis as well as a number of tributaries connecting upland and lowland. Such ariverine location is important to understand the essential nature of Bornean hybrid communities. Scant attention, however, has been given to it in the ethnography of Borneo, as researchers have been more concerned with the study of a single village community, an ethnic group, or a specific ecological niche. The paper attempts to reformulate the unit of analysis to better comprehend the dynamics of Bornean society by shifting its analytical reference away from closed units and expand it both in time and space as well as beyond boundaries among geosphere, biosphere, and human habitat.

Peranakan in the Malay World: Fine-Tuner of Nationality and Ethnicity
Hiroyuki Yamamoto, Kyoto University, Japan

In Malay language, the hybrid of foreign father and local mother is generally termed peranakan. Peranakan were at one time excluded from the local community for being “unpure” mixed-bloods but over time, there was an ebb and flow that gradually accepted this group. The significance of peranakan in the development of people-grouping concepts does not lie only in their multi-culturalism, but in the fact that peranakan have been known to inspire a certain fine tuning, or restructuring, of the entire social order. Peranakan can be interpreted to be either local-born or of mixed-blood, depending on the context in which a peranakan is placed. Sometimes peranakan feigned local-born peranakan – thereby being treated as equals by the locals who were not aware of their true ancestral backgrounds. In projecting themselves in such a way, peranakan often took on regional names or other general terms for their new collective identity, which did not necessarily relate to any of the existing local community. Although these ideas were not directly dealt with by the mainstream, in having to respond to such situations, the mainstream had to make its own adjustments – triggering a restructuring of the social order that by nature included the whole society.