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A History of Orang Asli Studies

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Kajian Malaysia, Vol. 29, Supp. 1, 2011, 23–52 A HISTORY OF ORANG ASLI STUDIES: LANDMARKS AND GENERATIONS1 Lye Tuck-Po School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pulau Pinang E-mail: tuckpo@usm.my This essay reviews the history of Orang Asli studies, from colonial-era reports right up to the present. It chronicles generational changes in personnel and quality of work, and highlights significant studies and researchers in the field. It is intended to stimulate renewed interest in the
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   Kajian Malaysia, Vol. 29, Supp. 1, 2011, 23–52  © Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia, 2011 A HISTORY OF ORANG ASLI STUDIES: LANDMARKS ANDGENERATIONS 1 Lye Tuck-Po School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pulau Pinang   E-mail: tuckpo@usm.my This essay reviews the history of Orang Asli studies, from colonial-era reports right up tothe present. It chronicles generational changes in personnel and quality of work, and highlights significant studies and researchers in the field. It is intended to stimulaterenewed interest in the literature and provide a quick guide to the primary sources. Keywords: research review, achievements and gaps, genealogy of knowledge, Orang Asli INTRODUCTION Ten years ago, a network of researchers compiled a comprehensive and annotated bibliography of Orang Asli studies (Lye, 2001). This exhaustive effort yieldedover 1700 items, most of which were references to textual sources but alsoincluded multimedia productions and artefactual collections in museums, herbariaand archives. The bibliography showed how much work had already beenaccomplished in studying this heterogeneous ensemble of peoples. This literatureranges from studies of prehistory and human evolution to health, biomedicine andlinguistics to the classic anthropological concerns for kinship, mythology, socialorganisation and environmental relations to, more recently, political analyses of development, assimilation, poverty and land rights. Equally extensive are the popular writings of reporters and official reports by government agencies.Copies of the bibliography were quickly requested by researchers throughout theworld and distributed to the major archives and libraries in Malaysia andelsewhere. Although the initial reception was gratifying, the bibliography's long-term impact on the development of Orang Asli studies at home, in localinstitutions, has been difficult to detect. Many recent studies show a distressinglack of familiarity with the literature. All too often, tired old clichés anderroneous information are reproduced without comment, existing scholarship isignored and insufficient effort is made to revisit and build upon old studies andfindings. The professionalisation of Orang Asli studies still leaves a lot to bedesired. As other specialists have commented (for example, Dentan and Charles,1997; Razha, 1995b), recruitment among Malaysian scholars is very poor—in the past 15 years, there have only been 6 new Malaysian with doctorate specialising   Lye Tuck-Po 24 in Orang Asli. 2 In the hope of stimulating renewed interest in the literature and to provide a quick guide to the primary sources, I offer this extended revision of theintroduction that fronts the bibliography.My goal is to chart a brief history of scholarship on Orang Asli. Other  publications (for example, Baer, 1999; Burenhult, 1999) have reviewed the stateof knowledge on Orang Asli biomedicine and linguistics, and I will not deal withthose topics, except in passing.   Most recently, Benjamin (2011b) has completed adetailed and nuanced assessment of Orang Asli language endangerment, whichmakes a powerful argument for the significance of Aslian languages tounderstanding the cultural history of the region. Other topical and analyticalreviews can be found in Benjamin (1989) and Rambo (1979a). Reading thesereviews gives us a striking picture of change: both in the lives of Orang Asli andin the scholarly responses to that change. I will return to this point below. Mygoal is mainly to provide a chronological (generational) map of the conditionsunder which information on Orang Asli was gathered and therefore of the growthof Orang Asli studies. I am less interested here in substance (approaches, topicsand conclusions) than in placing these studies in their broader historical frame.Throughout, my focus is selective and tends to be on 'landmarks'—key personsand studies. 3 Wherever appropriate, I also highlight work that still needs to bedone. I am, of course, biased by my training and interests in environmentalanthropology.A final prefatory note is that Orang Asli (literally, 'srcinal people') is the officialname for the twenty-plus indigenous ethnic minorities of Peninsular Malaysia. 4  Although the name was not devised and adopted until the 1950s, for present purposes I will use it consistently throughout this essay. THE EARLY PERIOD It is difficult to determine when the history of Orang Asli literature should start.Court chronicles such as the Sejarah Melayu, for example, have been usefullyinvestigated by historians for information on the place of Orang Asli in earlyMalay states (for example, see Andaya and Andaya, 1982; Andaya, 2008). As adefined field of study, we can perhaps start 200–300 years ago, with the earliestencounters of explorers, travellers, government administrators, missionaries andmerchants. Other than the French Catholic missionaries, most of these earlyvisitors were British, and their documentation was intimately involved in thecolonial project of making local subjects 'legible' (Scott, 1999) to administration.For example, there was an ongoing preoccupation with identifying who andwhere the absrcinals were, how Malays stood in relation to them, and how thevarious languages spoken in the Peninsula compared with one another. However,   Landmarks and Generations in Orang Asli Studies   25 many of the earliest encounters read like artefacts of chance rather than of deliberate ethnological mapping. Wherever colonials travelled in the Peninsula,they either heard of or encountered people who were different from the Malays.For one thing, most of these indigenes were not Muslims; they had rich andvibrant religious lives of their own (Marsden, 1966: 1811). These early writings(generally little more than nuggets of information) often reproduce rumours,subjective impressions and no small degree of exaggeration (see, for example,Anderson, 1965 [1824], appendix: xxvii–xlvii). Despite their unreliability, acareful reading can reveal much of Orang Asli lives and conditions then.One of the most important developments was James Logan's founding of the  Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia (which ran from 1847– 1859). Logan himself contributed numerous articles (Logan, 1847a, b, c, d, e, f,g, 1848a, b) and, as editor, published or reprinted many other accounts of Malayand Orang Asli lives. As such, the journal provides an excellent record of life inthe first half of the century as perceived by the colonials. There were also Malayaccounts conveying interesting information on the indigenes' modes of life andhow they were treated and perceived [see, for example, the accounts of AbdullahKadir (Abdullah, 1960) or Munshi Abdullah and his son Mohamed IbrahimMunshi (Mohamed, 1975)]. Least read today are works by German, French,Dutch and other European scholars and travellers, most of whose writings remainuntranslated (see Borie, 1865, 1886, 1887; Miklucho-Maclay, 1878a, 1878b;Saint-Pol Lias, 1883). ENTERING THE 20TH CENTURY  Not until Walter William Skeat and Charles O. Blagden systematised these earlyobservations in the two-volume  Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula (Skeat andBlagden, 1906) did something of a consensus emerge on who and what the waysof life of the indigenes were, what to call them, and how to group and classifythem. Though the classificatory scheme they used is now out of date, Skeat andBlagden's monumental volumes remain indispensable: they are a rich source of historical, ethnographic and linguistic information and include excerpts from theolder and less accessible literature. 5 Skeat also paid tribute to those who had gone before and in particular, suggested that his volumes be read in complement toRudolf Martin's  Die Inlandstämme der Malayischen Halbinsel  ( The inland tribesof the Malay Peninsula ) [Martin, 1905], which had appeared a year earlier andwas mainly, though not entirely, concerned with physical anthropology.In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, new styles of writing were blossoming.On the one hand, travellers, planters and administrators were churning out popular accounts and memoirs (for example, Ainsworth, 1933; Bird, 1967,   Lye Tuck-Po 26 [1883]; Cerruti, 1904; Wells, 1925). An important person writing in this genrewas Hugh Clifford, a colonial administrator. He published a number of fictionalcollections based on his experiences, including his encounters with the OrangAsli, which revealed an impressive talent for insightful observation (for example,Clifford, 1897, 1904, 1929). Part of the impetus for this genre of work—other than the imperialist fervour for explorations, scientific or otherwise—was probably an early sense of ecological panic (fear of species extinction andlandscape degradation) and its corresponding response, the protectionist ideal,spreading through the United States and Europe in the late 19th century (Farber,2000).Malaya has a place in this larger narrative. Stamford Raffles, best known inSoutheast Asia as the 'founder' of Singapore, was to become an influentialfounder of the London Zoological Society. While still in Southeast Asia, hestrongly encouraged specimen collections (see Gullick, 1993: 205–206) and uponhis return to London was a proponent of the position that zoological collectionsshould reflect the diversity found in the British Empire. Such imperialisticsentiments undoubtedly lay behind the systematic appropriation of exoticspecimens, although the transfer through trade of species and cultigens from one part of the world to another is, of course, of great antiquity (Dunn, 1975). Half acentury after Raffles came William Temple Hornaday, who encountered  Jacoons  (Temuan) while hunting in the Batu Caves area (Hornaday, 1885). Hornaday wasto become director of the newly founded Bronx Zoo in New York, where he pioneered wildlife conservation. The industry of 'nature writing' wasdeveloping fast and furiously at the close of the 19th century, alongside the popularisation of natural history through zoos, museums and botanical gardens. Itwas inevitable that specimen collectors, hunters and sightseers would also trampthrough Orang Asli territories (for example, see Kelsall, 1894). They prefigurethe tourists of today. INCREASING PROFESSIONALISATION At the turn of the 20th century, however, research on the indigenes wasdominated by just a handful of 'recurring names.' Systematic and fieldwork-basedscholarship by the likes of Skeat, Martin and the flamboyant Vaughan-Stevens(see, for example, Vaughan-Stevens, 1892–1894) was increasingly focused oncareful, concrete accounts of defined groups of people. Vaughan-Stevens had hismoments of insight but was, however, often unreliable; fortunately, his mostuseful findings were incorporated by Skeat and Blagden (1906) into  Pagan Races , thus saving future generations from the near-impossible task of sifting factfrom fiction. Most studies in this generation did not rise beyond description andreportage, though they were occasionally flavoured by debates over the truth or 
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