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Threatened peoples: Contrasts in composition and environment
The threatened peoples dealt with in this chapter include, in a broad sense, all the impoverished socio-economic groups of South-East Asia. Not by design, but in practice, these people are all marginal, both socio-economically and environmentally, to the economic development taking place in the region. Their ability to fulfil even basic needs is reduced or threatened, because of changes taking place around them over which they have little control and in which they are unable to participate. Many of them are characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy to a degree below any reasonable definition of human decency. They are the people most likely to be without, or only have limited access to, adequate medical facilities in time of sickness and disability, without adequate schools to raise their level of literacy, and without hope for better employment. They also suffer from the social isolation of being 'unwanted'. Some belong to socio-economically inferior classes, forced into such a situation by custom, prejudice and political development, and required to accept the lowest paid and menial tasks, and be physically segregated. Who are these people?
In South-East Asia, they comprise numerous named socio-economic groups but, for convenience of discussion, they are broadly categorized here as the urban poor, smallholder and subsistence farmers and ethnic minorities. Although the last two categories have wide areas of overlap, ethnic minorities in the region deserve to be considered as a separate group because, beside other variables, their small population size, geographical distribution and location are significant factors in their underdevelopment.
As in most developing countries, the capitals and major cities of South-East Asia are not only the administrative and political centres but are also the heartlands and cores of economic development taking place within each country. They are regions where opportunities are relatively more abundant. A result is the movement of population from the rural areas into the cities in search of an alternative form of livelihood. But armed with nothing more than hope and sheer determination, and frequently without 'root' in the cities, the majority of newcomers head for the shanty towns which now fringe the outskirts of all South-East Asian cities; there they live in houses made from corrugated iron, plastic sheets and packing cases, without safe drinking water or adequate sanitation. With high-unemployment problems, the urban poor are trapped in a vicious circle. Those lucky enough to have a job suffer long hours, low wages and exposure to chemicals, dust, excessive noise and dangerous machinery.
In most cases. the squatter areas of these cities were left out of the rapid economic growth that these urban areas had enjoyed in recent decades. Many are unlikely to enjoy wide-ranging reforms in the future.
In short, they have remained, at best, economically and environmentally stagnated, like the Klong Toey community in the metropolitan district of Kraeng Thep Maha Nakhon, Bangkok. The Klong Toey community consists of 30,000 people squatting in houses often so crowded as to have 4 adults per room in dwellings built over a swamp. Only 3 in 100 have direct access to water supply; most people draw water from the filthy river. In addition, the lack of sewage and rubbish disposal is a constant threat to health. One-third of school-age children cannot attend school.
The same situations characterize many other major cities in South-East Asia such as the Tondo area of Metro Manila in the Philippines. However, even the meagre salary earned by these urban squatters, which in the case of those in the Tondo area amount to P10,000 per household per annum, is significantly higher than the national average of P5,800. As Myers (1985) has noted, the Klong Toey community is relatively well off compared with their rural counterparts, aside from the environmental threat. Even in Kuala Lumpur, where the degree of success in addressing squatters' problems is significantly better than in most countries, l 7 per cent (over 156,000 people) of the city's population were still squatters in 1985.
In the rural sector, Malaysia has easily outpaced her neighbours in efforts to reduce poverty. Even so, the conditions in some parts of the rural economy have changed only marginally. In the agricultural sector, a significant degree of disparity still exists. The poverty level among many categories of small-scale farmers is still very high; 43.4 per cent of rubber smallholders, 57.7 per cent of paddy farmers and 46.9 per cent of coconut farmers in Peninsular Malaysia are still living below the official poverty line. Although specific data are not available, the incidence of poverty is estimated to be even higher among the swidden farmers and other indigenous communities in Sabah and Sarawak who, unlike their peninsular counterparts, are frequently left out of development projects directly funded by the federal government.
However, among the perplexing aspects of modern Malaysia is the fact that some of the impoverished agricultural areas include large-scale development projects implemented by the government, notably those for the paddy farmers and rubber smallholders; for example, the Muda valley in the peninsular state of Kedah is not only the site of the largest wet-rice irrigation project, it is also managed and administered by a specially instituted statutory organization (the Muda Agricultural Development Authority) to 'ensure its success'. But apart from considerable success in the spread of double cropping and the promotion of more productive technology, the social benefits are limited. Almost half (46 per cent) of its paddy farmers earned less than M$60 per month in 1982, 10 years after the completion of the project (Shukor Kassim, Gibbon and Todd, 1984). A social condition worse than in other paddy areas of Peninsular Malaysia (Scott, 1985) is, therefore, only to be expected.
This chapter will henceforth concentrate on the problems experienced by tribal minorities, but within the wider context presented above. Apart from being among the impoverished, the tribal minorities themselves are being increasingly marginalized. The nature of developmental and environmental problems encountered by these socio-economic groups by no means represents the vast range of socio-economic difficulties faced by the various threatened societies in South-East Asia, each of which can have a very different story. But it does offer a broad picture of the dimension of the concerns l:aced, the main driving forces, and the contending issues which need to be addressed in order to provide a more sustainable environmental future for the threatened peoples.
Tribal peoples of south-east Asia: Causes and nature of threat
From one perspective, the diverse ethnic composition of South-East Asia is among its most enchanting socio-cultural characteristics. Almost every one of the countries of the region contains as many as two to three dozen ethnic communities, each possessing and practicing a culture which is only superficially similar to that of the others. This situation is partly explained by the pattern of migration of the various ethnic groups into the region from the southern parts of China, as well as by political developments in the past (LeBar, 1972; Rambo, 1982). But most of these groups constitute small minorities. One or two racial or ethnic groups form between one-half and as much as three-quarters of the total population of each South-East Asian country; the rest comprise small tribal communities with populations frequently totalling only a few thousand. Minority status makes them relatively vulnerable to socio-economic and environmental changes led by, and largely for, the majority groups.
Since the 1980s, considerable interest has been focused on some of these small minority groups in South-East Asia, partly as a result of the fear-some of it based on fact and some based on assumptions-that disintegration if not the extinction of these groups or their cultures will be the culmination of their greater interaction with the outside world. This concern is particularly expressed for those tribal communities who continue to rely principally on the natural environment for a major portion of their subsistence. There are indications that tribal community interactions with outsiders have principally benefited the latter. It is claimed that these groups are increasingly being marginalized socio-politically, economically and environmentally.
Apart from the fact that this concern with the survival of ethnic minorities is now globalized, there is nothing particularly new about development leading to the erosion and disintegration of tribal cultures, and the degradation of their living environment' following intensification of their interaction with the outside world. There is abundant historical evidence (Pringle, 1970; Wang, 1958) and anthropological and archaeological testimony (Colless, 1969; Dunn, 1975; Hutterer, 1974, 1983b; Rambo, 1969, 1988; Wales, 1940) as well as information from geographical sources (Lien, 1988; Potter, 1988) on environmental abuse and economic exploitation of tribal people living in this region. As Dentan (1965) noted in his study of the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia, social, economic and physical exploitation is not recent.
Up until the early 1900s, the Orang Asli within the states of Perak and Pahang, for example, were known to have suffered adversely at the hands of the Malays.
Today, as in the past, the frontier regions are still the warehouses of resources demanded by the outside groups and the world at large. For centuries, South-East Asia was the scene of violence and exploitation, arising in the early periods from competitive demands for spices and valuable forest products such as sandalwood, and subsequently from forced cultivation of cash crops like coffee, coconut, rubber and sugar-cane by various colonial powers. Every student in South-East Asia has been taught in history lessons about numerous examples of economic exploitation of the larger groups, such as those associated with indentured labour in the agricultural plantations and estates in Malaya and the culture system introduced by the Dutch in Java, but they have learned less of the problems faced by the tribal minorities.
Lately, exploitation has moved in a big way into the remaining forests, within which many tribal peoples have continued to preserve their identity after having been driven from areas long ago converted to agriculture, or absorbed among the more densely settled majority populations of these areas. Although the variety and amount of forest resources that are currently being exploited still represent only a small portion of the wealth that the tropical rain forest environment offers, their extractions frequently result in the degradation and extinction of the remaining resources, and generate an enormously heavier impact on the forest-dwelling people than in the past.
There are other causes of socio-economic and environmental destabilization of indigenous societies. Severe depopulation of tribal peoples was another familiar feature of the early years of frontier development until as late as the turn of the twentieth century. In Borneo, for instance, the introduction of new types and strains of viruses and diseases by foreign traders and European administrators in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a major cause of massive depopulation of many tribal communities, and the total extinction of some tribal clans (Lien, 1987). Other causes include punitive raids to impress tribal populations of the overwhelming force available at the government's disposal, and thereby to gain their 'co-operation' (Hose, 1926; Pringle, 1970). Such raids inevitably resulted in severe loss of life, directly by war and indirectly through seriously disturbing the subsistence economy. There have also been more subtle means of interference, such as the extension of government control to establish 'law and order' in frontier areas, followed by the introduction of formal and 'orderly process' of native administration replacing traditional systems. Setting one people against another has sometimes formed part of this process, such as the use of Iban tribesmen by the Brookes in their establishment of control over Sarawak.
Now there is the 'rule of law', and the impact of legislation and regulation relating to land, forest and natural resources. All these laws, except in Thailand, have been inherited from colonial governments without significant amendments. However, what is new and different about the current situation is the speed at which new development, taking advantage of these laws, has reached tribal communities. An increasingly complex process of change now affects almost all tribal peoples. In the post-war era, many new developments causing serious environmental and other problems have surfaced, while the number and intensity of the more common ones such as mining, logging, commercial agricultural and resettlement projects, dam and highway construction, and tourism have increased. Nowadays, tribal people in some regions are also forced to move from their homelands for strategic, military and security reasons.
Independence has brought about new perceptions and contexts of development' along with socio-political relationships and alignments. In some regions, such as in the mainland countries of South-East Asia and in the Philippines, government authorities see the existence of autonomous tribal populations within the boundaries of the state, or demands by tribal populations for some degree of political autonomy, as a challenge to their authority and a possible pretext for aggression by foreign powers. As each of the SouthEast Asian countries progresses, it develops new and complicated legislation which frequently and directly, though unconsciously, affects the livelihood, but takes little consideration of the needs, of tribal peoples. Economically, modern agricultural development projects in the region do not only involve massive efforts in replacing traditional crops and livestock production but also productive techniques which development planners and experts consider superior, frequently without analysing carefully their environmental implications.
Unfortunately, the many misguided efforts and attempts by 'local elites' to apply inappropriate development policies, strategies and technologies to fragile environments where tribal people live are, sometimes, reinforced by bilateral financial aid institutions and international assistance. The World Bank has come under heavy criticism in recent years for ignoring non-economic considerations, and contravening many United Nations declarations for the protection of tribal communities, in its approvals of development funds. Such criticisms, fortunately, have caused the World Bank to reduce its support for transmigration projects in Indonesia (Colchester, 1987), led to its disassociation from plans to construct dams along the Chico River valley in the Philippines (Bello, 1981), and more recently withdrawal of its support for the timber-related industries in the region (New Straits Times, 3 October 1991).
By and large, the marginalization of indigenous tribal people has increasingly been viewed as the result of their domination and exploitation by advanced, outside socioeconomic groups, and the destruction of the physical environment by external activities. The increased incidence of food shortage experienced by many nomadic groups in SouthEast Asia, such as the Penan tribe of Sarawak, is frequently seen as the direct result of environmental damage caused through economic encroachment by economically advanced outside groups (Eder, 1987). In the case of the Penan, blame is placed on the timber industry (Hong, 1987). Similar rhetoric citing poverty as the result of inadequate attention given by planners, and that industrialists see urban squatters as a cheap source of labour-has been used to explain impoverishment among these and other low-income groups. While admitting the significant roles of such external factors, one must, however, admit that internal factors play an equally important role.
Poverty and tradition have also led to environmental damage in different ways. As Lian (1987) observed, the obsession with trying to escape from the clutch of repressive, traditional socio-political and economic systems has been important, and so too is the desire to emulate the economic achievements and to keep abreast with the level of socio-economic progress attained by their economically advanced neighbours. Even a desire to leap out of the agricultural sector has been among the factors which drove subsistence Kenyah farmers of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak to engage actively in nonagricultural activities. While such decisions and changes led to the weakening of the ecologically viable traditional system of swidden agriculture because a shortage of labour forced Kenyah farmers to use land closer to the village more intensively, resulting in lower farm production in the long term, the Kenyah saw such a move as economically more advantageous. It is also one of the effective means of keeping most of the population in their traditional homeland, and indirectly protecting it from outside incursion. The Kenyah tribe considers greater interaction with the outside world as a viable and relatively rational strategy of resource management; moreover, it is one which they see as reducing their exploitation by outside communities. A similar trend is observed among the Orang Asli tribes of Peninsular Malaysia (Gomes, 1990; Hood Salleh, 1989). As Gomes (1990: 12) argues, 'Against popular conception, capitalism did not completely destroy Orang Asli economies but actually transformed them in such a manner as to allow the continuance of subsistence-oriented economic activities and the preservation of the salient features of their traditional economy: diversity, flexibility and adaptability.'
Adaptability is probably one of the important issues that needs to be addressed in studying the environmental future of threatened people, especially the indigenous tribal people of South-East Asia. Are they capable of devising measures to shield their culture from being overwhelmed completely by outside influences? What are their limitations? These are stimulating questions for research. Contrary to popular opinion, tribal people, and probably almost all groups of threatened people, are not completely at the mercy of the advanced socio-economic groups, although there are limits to their ability to counter external influences which could destabilize their culture. The rest of this chapter examines this complex and sometimes controversial subject, and is based largely on the situation observed among some tribal groups in Sarawak.
The Orang Ulu Tribes of Sarawak
The Orang Ulu' of Sarawak, consisting of approximately two dozen distinct tribal groups, are among the smallest of the indigenous tribes found in Sarawak. Their small population size, as well as the fact that these communities were frequently in conflict with each other in the past, made them very vulnerable socio-economically and otherwise. Among the important features of their cultural history have been their constant movements from one river valley to another, both for security reasons and to establish control over jungles rich in important forest products (Lien, 1987; Southwell, 1959). Imported goods obtained from the exchange of jungle products played a very important role in the socio-cultural and economic systems of the Orang Ulu, and this has been true for centuries.
In view of the central importance of land in their livelihood, and acknowledging their weaknesses in any direct form of political conflict and confrontation with the early colonial Brooke regime, the Orang Ulu were compelled to compromise, and to surrender to the regime their past claims of political 'sovereignty' over territories which they occupied, in exchange for the security of rights over land and resources (Lien, 1987). They took advantage of the peaceful political atmosphere created by non-invasive colonialism under the Brookes between the mid-nineteenth century and 1941, to enhance their social and economic standards by migrating to new areas which were abundant in jungle resources, and which were also relatively more accessible to traders. Thus, the cession of the Baram River valley to the Brooke government by the Sultan of Brunei in I 882 was followed by constant migration of Orang Ulu communities into the Baram. The Baram River valley is more easily accessible by boats, far into its upper course, than is the upper Rejang River valley, the traditional homeland of most Orang Ulu. Some others moved from the remote volcanic plateau of the Usun Apau, close to the modem border with Kalimantan, into the river valleys of the Baram system.
None the less, the downriver migration of the Orang Ulu did not, until after the midtwentieth century, extend beyond the lower limits of dry undulating land. Lian (1987) relates this limitation to two main factors. First, it was to prevent cultural over-exposure to outside influence. Secondly, and more importantly, it was because of the lack of land suitable for practicing shifting cultivation beyond this topographic limit. Both factors have moulded the Kenyah, the Orang Ulu group to which the author belongs, to remain relatively cohesive until even today while maintaining their economic relationship with the outside world.
Today, the migration pattern is increasingly towards places where wage-employment opportunities are found, that is, principally in the rural areas, rather than being mostly rural-urban in nature. The Orang Ulu continue to abandon selected aspects of their culture and traditions-some of which had been important in serving their needs, especially their subsistence needs-in order to accommodate certain elements of the new socio-economic systems into their culture, while preventing the erosion of its more basic and fundamental aspects. For example, communal forms of production which had been an important economic strategy to attain self-sufficiency in food production have been replaced by a production system based on the household, which better suits the modern economy.
In the agricultural sector, while swidden remains an important part of economic activities, the length of time and the amount of labour devoted to this activity have decreased significantly as a result of the use of modern innovations: tools such as the motorized chain-saw and herbicides. Some Orang Ulu have adopted wet-rice cultivation. The Kenyah in the Tinjar valley of Sarawak have cultivated rubber and coffee since it was first introduced into the area by traders in the late 1940s, without any form of inducement from the government, because cash-crop cultivation brought about significant improvement to their lives. As Lian (1987: 161) noted: 'The farmers admit that the introduction of rubber and coffee was one of the major milestones in their economic development and for which the post-war governments have been given some praise.'
There are other socio-political and economic merits of adopting the modern economic systems. Most significantly, cash cropping facilitated erosion of the traditional economic domination of the commoners by aristocratic households. As the lower social classes form the majority of the Kenyah population, their participation in economic development has been crucial in the advancement of the society as a whole. This is one main reason why the Kenyah have been responsive to certain in situ agricultural development projects, but not to the land-resettlement schemes.
Since the early 1970s, the Orang Ulu have participated very actively in the timber industry, contrary to the opinion and claims expressed in much conservationist literature that they oppose logging (Hong, 1987; Sahabat Alam Malaysia, 1990). This has happened in spite of the fact that they are being discriminated against in job and other opportunities. Participation in the timber industry has provided the means by which they could fulfil some of their primary and secondary social and economic needs, objectives and aspirations. Indeed, the industry has enabled some to leap out of the agricultural into the non-agricultural sector. But, as in the past, the Orang Ulu planned their involvement in the timber industry in ways which would least disrupt important aspects of their traditional life, in particular the shifting-cultivation production of rice which is regarded as their basic 'survival kit'. Since wage employment is in direct competition with cash-crop cultivation, the consequent decline in their agricultural cash-crop economy is therefore to be expected.
Participation in the timber industry has also indirectly resulted in the degradation of their swidden land because the shortage of male labour for swidden led to the intensification of the use of fallow land close to the long-houses. But the Orang Ulu see this as a temporary problem, and of less pressing nature compared to the benefits gained from engaging in a timber industry which, as has clearly been understood, will be operating only temporarily.
This response to innovation clearly demonstrates that the penetration and introduction of outside systems can be used to strengthen tribal cultures. Many South-East Asian tribes are capable of accommodating and even insulating their cultures from excessive outside influence. In the Philippines, Keesing (1962) noted how the lowland Filipinos frequently escaped Spanish repression by moving to the mountains. This response is still used. Internal colonialization from both national and international sources has continued to push or force small tribal groups into marginal areas (Atal and Bennagen, 1983; Eder, 1987). Others have used more subtle means. In his brilliantly written book, Weapons of the Weak, Scott (1985) described how the small-scale paddy farmers in Kedah, in one of the main paddy-cultivation areas of Malaysia, succeeded in expressing their grievances and opposition to certain government development policies by using the 'foot-dragging' method of silent protest. The same is also true of many other tribal groups.
The indigenous socio-economic system: Is it sustainable?
While asserting the ability of many threatened peoples to adapt, and stressing the resilience of their traditional economic systems in handling many external influences, it still has to be asked whether the traditional system by itself can, in the light of continued pressure from outside as well as from within the society, provide tribal groups with a sustainable future. While indigenous skills could be an appropriate starting point for trying to improve technologies suitable for tribal societies, there is also evidence which suggests that not all indigenous resource-use practices are ecologically and environmentally sound. Increased population pressure on land resources, increased dependency on a commercial economy, and demand for cash incomes have brought about environmentally destructive changes in native resource-use patterns.
This is most evident in one of the principal traditional agricultural systems- swidden agriculture, which is frequently portrayed in modern environmental literature as ecologically sound. While it was indeed so in the past, all evidence in South-East Asia suggests that population density is a key variable in the sustainability of the swidden system (Cramb, 1978; Dove, 1981; Spencer, 1966). The maintenance of an adequate long fallow period-the critical basis for sustainability-depends on a sufficiently low man-land ratio. But in South-East Asia, even in the sparsely populated island of Borneo, there are only a few regions, especially agriculturally suitable areas, where such a situation still prevails. In other words, the assumption of socio-economic and environmental equilibrium in tribal societies is gradually becoming a misplaced notion. Economically, this is partly exemplified by changing land-use patterns, especially the pattern of a mixture of subsistence and commercial agriculture in place of swidden, which by the early 1990s characterizes the rural cultural landscape of large parts of South-East Asia.
This is still more true of economies with minimal involvement in agriculture, and reliance principally on wild or semi-sown food sources, and on the hunting and fishing of wildlife. A low population density is an essential part of the environment of such a system. The whole problem will therefore be illustrated here with reference to the situation observed among one of the now more famous tribal communities in South-East Asia-the Penan of Sarawak, who, as claimed in much recent writing (for example, Hong, 1987; INSAN, 1989; Sahabat Alam Malaysia, 1990), are still practicing an economic system which is ecologically in balance with the environment. It is proposed, especially by many environmentalists, that the best way to ensure a sustainable future for the Penan is to maintain their traditional way of life as a nomadic tribe.
The penan and the timber blockade
The Penan have attracted global attention since 1987 through their blockade of timber roads. In general, however, outsiders' perceptions of the Penan tend to differ from the actual situation. Despite all the changes that have occurred, most current descriptions of the Penan still tend to follow the ethnographic models: an isolated society hitherto unaffected by or not interested in interacting with the outside world; self-sufficient and contented with their traditional way of life even to the extent that they are not interested in any worldly possessions from the outside. While these notions may fit some pre-1960 Penan communities, it is no longer the case in over 90 per cent of the current Penan societies concerned. There is no doubt, of course, that the Penan everywhere in Borneo are economically the most backward.
In 1987, the Penan embarked on large-scale blockade of timber roads in the Baram district of Sarawak, one of the main logging areas in the state. A number of reasons have been put forward to explain the blockade. Prominent among these is the destabilization of the traditional economic systems of the Penan, principally the destruction of their food resources as a result of the timber industry. Some research tends to support this contention. In Sarawak, one group of studies which specifically focused on the impact of logging on wildlife found a significant reduction in the number and diversity of resident species and a decline in meat harvest from logged areas (Bennett, 1982; Caldecott, 1986; Caldecott and Nyaoi, 1985). But the Penan do not hunt all types of wildlife for food, and the studies did not examine the impact on those types of wildlife important to them as food resources.
The timber industry was also blamed for the depletion of the most important food resource-upland sago palm, the Penan's traditional staple. Here again, much of the argument was based on assumptions. Does logging destroy the traditional food resources of the Penan? While logging is a factor, the impact is largely indirect. The damage to the sago clumps resulted mainly from the exploitation of the sago shoots by local timber workers for whom they are a delicacy. Ongoing research by the author suggests that the damage caused by the felling of trees is minimal, for the main reason that most of the sago clumps are found in terrain which is difficult to log.
The depletion of sago and other jungle resources is not confined to areas affected by the logging industry. It also occurs in areas inhabited by semi-settled and settled Penan and which are not affected by logging. In fact, the situation is very serious in areas where the Penan have changed to a settled life. The communities in the Tinjar region, for instance, have experienced a shortage of wild sago since the mid-1960s, long before the emergence of the timber industry. Indeed, this scarcity was a main factor behind their decision to settle and cultivate, a factor which is also observed among Penan groups elsewhere.
The depletion of this traditional natural source of food supply is to a large extent caused by changes taking place within the society rather than being the direct consequence of external interference. These changes include a rapid rate of population growth among the Penan since the 1960s. as their region has become more accessible to medical facilities and there arose competition for food resources with other tribal groups who also began to expand into the interior as their population increased.
Moreover, the Penan themselves moved downriver and, as they settled and adopted farming, the unit of production changed from being largely communal to one now based on the household. An important consequence of this settlement is the competition for food resources even among the members of each community. This is because many modern-day Penan males are actively engaged in cashearning activities; thus, limiting the period in a year allocated for food production. This has caused considerable pressure on the limited stock of sago palm as each farmer tries to produce as much as possible during the short period set aside. As with other, and earlier, blockades of timber roads, the Penan defence of their actions is as much related to a desire to obtain a larger share in the benefits, as it is to preservation of the forest.
The case of the Penan is not an isolated example. Fujisaka (1986: 4) identified similar trends among some tribal communities in the Philippines; for example, among his main findings, he notes that 'increasing competition for resources within and among groups and greater pressures on resources and ecosystems sustainability accompany the population increases'.
There are many other internal changes which have significant impact on the traditional food resources of the Penan. The gradual depletion of traditional food sources is, to some extent, the result of transformations within the society- the result of changing needs and aspirations. The above findings directly question the model which calls for the deployment of the traditional social and economic systems as the means to safeguard the society and to provide it with a sustainable form of livelihood. If the proposal is interpreted largely within the narrow perspective of their old production system, it is clear that it will not solve the economic problems that are currently faced in the early 1990s.
The sustainability of the old system rests on following very rigid prescriptions: namely, a small population and low population growth; high land-man ratio; and a nomadic lifestyle. In 1990, over 95 per cent of the Penan had settled down. Present-day Penan, especially the younger generation, are not interested in their traditional way of life for various reasons. As Langub (1990) observed, it is only the older generation who still cherish the traditional way of life. The younger generation has been too deeply encapsulated into the modern economy to be able to survive under the traditional systems.
Clearly, therefore, the ability of the traditional system to sustain the Penan culturally, socially, economically and environmentally into the twenty-first century is highly questionable. The cost of not injecting some elements of the modern social and economic systems and development into Penan society could be disastrous in the long run. This does not deny the fact that certain aspects of the tribal culture can be used as a guide towards a more sustainable form of social and economic development. As Lian (1987) has argued in regard to the development strategy of the Kenyah, the better path is to build on an existing foundation instead of adopting a totally new form of social and economic structure, and to direct cash-earning activities towards a specific socioeconomic objective. In this way, there is hope of reducing the degree of 'economic shock' when a particular type of cash-earning activity comes to an end. In the case of the approaching end of the timber industry, Lian (1987: 199-200) concludes:
There is no doubt that living standards will drop. First to go will be items like the television sets, now commonly owned ... where it is possible to receive television transmission. Except for those with electric generators, most of the refrigerators too will be useless. Shortage or difficulty in earning cash will cause fewer people to use bigger outboard engines unless necessary.... But outboard engines will be one durable that will be sustained as they are currently one of the most important measures of living standards among the Kenyah. The ability of the Kenyah to prevent a significant drop from their current standard of living depends on their ability to adapt. However, the expected event is not completely new to the Kenyah. This will be the second time.... Another vital consideration is the Kenyah perception of the industry as essentially a transient economic 'bonus'. There is evidence to show that the Kenyah are already adapting to prepare for this eventuality.
On the other hand, the traditional economic systems of the Kenyah would not be able to resolve their long-term economic problems, especially their objective of keeping abreast with their neighbours, or to sustain their present level of economic achievement. For these, they will have to rely on outside sources. There is no doubt, for instance, that development in social fields such as education is vital if the Kenyah hope to live beyond the level of bare subsistence; steps are being taken towards this end. Kenyah parents now encourage some of their children to work in the urban areas.
Responses to the problems of the threatened peoples of south-east Asia
South-East Asian governments have employed various means to solve the problems faced by the impoverished sections of their countries. For those in the rural areas, the solutions involve a wide range from 'quick fix' measures to patient assistance. The former include the relocation of traditional subsistence farmers and tribal people into resettlement projects which have been established throughout the region, and the creation of reserves for some remote tribal communities such as the Orang Asli reserves in Peninsular Malaysia. The latter entail various informal forms of social and economic assistance, and giving tribal people or social groups some form of autonomy over their affairs, as has happened in the Philippines.
Most South-East Asian countries have also created agencies responsible for administering the affairs of tribal people and other weaker social groups, such as the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (Aborigines Affairs Department) in Peninsular Malaysia and the Office of the Presidential Assistant on National Minorities (PANAMIN) in the Philippines. Unfortunately, these agencies were, in most cases, created more out of government concern for some broader national issues rather than the problems of these weaker and vulnerable societies. Both agencies mentioned above were created to safeguard national security; they are not efforts geared largely towards improving the livelihood of the societies concerned. In most cases, these are 'front agencies' with 'tribal tags' to justify activities undertaken by the government. It is not surprising that very few, if any, of these bodies have been successful in enhancing the economy, and winning the desired co-operation of the threatened people involved. Even after a few decades of its existence, during which it was allocated millions of dollars in funds, the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli has had little success in improving the economic well-being of the people it was established to assist (Jinnin, 1987).
The Orang Asli communities remain the most impoverished in Malaysia, poorer even than the tribal societies of Sabah and Sarawak, who did not receive nor were given such concerted attention. Apart from Malaysia, where the achievement of some of its landdevelopment projects is fairly impressive both in the social and economic fields, this cannot be said for many similar efforts carried out in the regions affected by the transmigration programme in Indonesia, especially those in Kalimantan.
These projects and agencies, however, did achieve some of the desire,d objectives of the government, especially those for which they were specifically targeted. The creation of the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli contributed in some ways to the success in fighting the Communist insurgency in Peninsular Malaysia. Unfortunately, most of the blame for the failure of such development projects was directed at the poor groups themselves. While it is true that many development projects failed due to the lack of co-operation from poor rural communities, there are strong reasons for such responses. In almost all cases, rural groups were not consulted or involved in the planning, implementation and administration of projects which directly interfered with their livelihood. Many schemes are also based more on the perceptions and aspirations of outside planners than those of the rural communities.
This is also true of urban squatters. Singapore aside, only Malaysia has shown some credibility in handling problems faced by these people. This might be related to the fact that Malaysian cities, even Kuala Lumpur, are smaller in population size than other SouthEast Asian cities. Even so, the situation is gradually changing as Malaysian cities expand and start to encompass surrounding rural areas which are now integrated into the urban social and economic system.
How should the threatened peoples be assisted? Broadly, two theories exist in the literature, especially with respect to tribal communities. The first approach is the 'idealist' one; an idea mooted as early as 1872 by Joseph Kaines, and which is favoured especially by environmentalists and those championing the rights of the various threatened groups. The concept proposes that tribal people and related groups should be left alone. The creation of 'tribal sanctuaries' and biosphere reserves, which have won United Nations (UN) support since 1970 in the form of the UN Biosphere Reserves programme is one practical manifestation of this ideology.
The second approach is the 'realist' one, which argues that tribal peoples cannot survive in seclusion. They cannot be left alone. They need some form of external assistance to upgrade their quality of life. This approach considers the demise of some aspects of tribal culture as inevitable. It is a concept which is more acceptable to bureaucrats and politicians.
Both ideologies have specific merits, and both have been employed in the region, though frequently not together. This in itself indicates another dimension of the issue of addressing problems related to threatened peoples everywhere; that is, the solution to their problems is constrained by the self-interest of others, including, unfortunately, academics on whom falls the responsibility of finding the answers. In this as in other regions of the Third World, many experts dealing with this subject have recommended the employment of traditional socio-economic systems as alternative means of improving and sustaining the economy, livelihood and culture of indigenous people. The rationale and merit of the idea rest on the recognition that the traditional systems are environmentally friendly and have succeeded in fulfilling the needs of these societies for centuries. This argument is found in many current works (for example, Bodley, 1990; Paul Richards, 1985).
Is this approach a viable alternative? Based on the preceding analysis, it is imperative that until the term 'traditional' is clearly defined; until the core (primary) can be identified and separated from the secondary (and less important) attributes of traditional culture; and until at least the important undercurrents within the societies involved, and numerous other related issues, are fully understood, the 'populist' approach will remain only an avenue for theorizing. It is no doubt a very romantic concept. However, traditional systems are sustainable only under some very rigid conditions: demographic, social and economic. Even in the case of the Penan (including the nomadic groups), its validity is doubtful. Indigenous socio-economic systems in themselves are very dynamic, as was seen among the Orang Ulu. Such dynamism was essential in order to contain exploitation by the more advanced socioeconomic groups.
Moreover, if threatened peoples are to be able to compete with, and to avoid being dominated by, the relatively advanced outside communities, it is essential that they should learn and understand at least the basic mechanisms of the socio-economic systems of these outside groups. It is only with this knowledge that they could develop some form of defensive or offensive strategies. There are aspects of the traditional societies which could be used to resolve some of the modern problems faced by these vulnerable groups in the region, and which could be 'married' with some modern systems as an alternative development strategy, provided that indigenous peoples can participate in the planning and management of their own welfare, and incorporate more of their perceptions and aspirations of development.
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