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(P09) Who are Borneo’s hunter-gatherers? New research toward a (very) longue durée assessment (closed)

Convenor: Bernard Sellato, Centre Asie du Sud-Est (CNRS, EHESS, INaLCO), PSL Research University, Paris

Abstract: Focusing on present and former (forest and maritime) hunter-gatherer communities’ origins and identities, this panel brings together new research in various disciplines (including linguistics, archaeology, genetics) to obtain a comprehensive longue durée view of Borneo’s population history, possibly leading to alternative ways of defining hunter-gatherers.

Keywords: Borneo, population history, longue durée, life ways, ethnocultural identities

Format: standard panel

Precirculated papers: none required

Borneo island offers a unique opportunity to address broad questions of the origins and identities of its diverse present and former hunting-gathering communities with a parallel focus on tropical forest peoples (Penan, Punan, ...) and maritime peoples (Bajo, Sama Dilaut, ...). Overall, this session intends to bring together scholars in different disciplines to obtain, tentatively, a comprehensive, (very) longue durée view, articulating different time segments, hitherto separately studied, in Borneo’s history. This may lead to alternative, both long-term and contextual ways of defining hunter-gatherers.

Papers exploring the following fields of investigation are welcome:

1. Rapidly developing—and now often combined—genetic and historical linguistic studies, along with ground-breaking archaeological and historical ecological investigations, searching for the deep roots and long-range migration histories of the island’s hunting-gathering peoples;

2.  Research into the ideological, social, and economic basis of the strong resilience of forest hunting-gathering and marine foraging ways of life in Borneo, through centuries or millennia and, to some extent, up into our own globalized contemporary time, taking into account their protracted involvement in client-patron relationships with a wide network of long-distance trade in valuable forest and marine products; and

3.  Research into (forest or marine) “nomadic” communities’ historically fluid and repeatedly renegotiated ethnonyms and ethnocultural identities, and into their ongoing repositioning, based on (among other factors) their spatial and environmental changes and constraints, ethnic mixing and shifting linguistic situation, and occupational pressures or choices, in relation to upland farming neighbours, coastal peoples, and the island’s provincial/state and national scenes.

Papers contributing input from research on other parts of the world with relevance and comparative significance to the panel’s overall purpose are also welcome. 


30. Livelihoods, monetization, and identity: The history of the rise and evolution of Maasai ethnicity in Tanzania from pre-colonial times to our days

Antonio Allegretti, Saint Augustine University of Tanzania, Tanzania. antonio.allegretti[a]

Short abstract: This is an historical account of the rise and evolution of Maasai ethnicity in Tanzania. It purports to show the complex and changing relationship between livelihood type (pastoralism, hunter-gathering, farming), territoriality, and identity in Africa.

Long abstract: Sharing a communal lineage with hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists, the pastoral Maasai of Tanzania have historically seen their livelihood and identity shaped by external interventions. This historical account reports the rise and evolution of Maasai ethnicity as a site of social, cultural, and political transformations. The primary focus is on instances of monetization and market integration as a top-down project to make the Maasai livestock ‘producers’ and abandon their nomadic way of life. Questions of territoriality ever since the creation of the ‘Maasai district’ have heavily shaped Maasai livelihoods and identity. Prior to colonization, blurred social, cultural, and geographical boundaries existed between pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, and agriculturalists. With colonialism, Maasai ethnicity became institutionalized for purposes of ruling over a large territory, hence, geographical boundaries became a tangible expression of social, cultural, and ethnic (Maasai) identity connected to being pastoralists as distinct from hunting-gathering and farming. Having initially resisted to market integration, the Maasai have eventually embraced the neoliberal project since the 1980’s and become livestock traders by capitalizing on ethnicity-based networks of trust. Through the case of the Maasai, this article spotlights the complex and changing relationships between identity and livelihood type (pastoralism, hunting-gathering, or agriculture) in Africa.

197. The Taz Selkup: Ethnoarchaeological insights into the interplay of migration, ethnicity and material culture of hunter-fisher-reindeer herders in the Western Siberia taiga

Vladimir Adaev, Institute for the Problems of the Development of the North, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia. whitebird4[a]
Henny Piezonka, Christian Albrechts University Kiel, Germany. hpiezonka[a]
Olga Poshekhonova, Institute for the Problems of the Development of the North, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia. poshehonova.olg[a]

Short abstract: Ethnoarchaeological research among the Taz Selkup in the West Siberian taiga investigates the effects of migration into a new environment on material and immaterial culture of a mobile hunter-fisher-reindeer herder group, and the archaeological visibility of these processes.

Long abstract: The Taz Selkup are a Siberian indigenous group with a Samoyedic language living in the northern taiga between Ob' and Yenisei. In the 17th and 18th centuries they migrated north from Tomsk region and in the new territory have preserved their nomadic ways as hunter-fishers and reindeer herders until today. The adaptation to the new environment and its effects on material and immaterial culture, language and self-perception are of great interest from an anthropological point of view – also compared to those Selkup communities that remained in the south. Ethnoarchaeological fieldwork of a Russian-German team focuses on temporary settlements and associated cemeteries, shedding light on patterns of site location, subsistence economy, dwelling types, customs and rituals. In the course of the relocation, the Selkup material and spiritual culture was transformed under the influence of the neighboring Eastern Khanty, Kets and Forest Entsy. On a larger perspective, the combination of various strands of evidence (archaeology, ethnology, ethnohistory, linguistics, genetics) reveals complex interrelations between language, ethnic self-perception, kinship relations and material culture, indicating just how much caution is needed when there is only the archaeological record left for the reconstruction of past conditions and realities, and for drawing and interpretating cultural maps.

328. Hunter-gatherers and the slave trade in coastal eastern Borneo, 18th-19th c.

Bernard Sellato, CNRS, France. bernard.sellato[a]

Short abstract: Large numbers of Melanesian slaves, purchased by coastal polities to boost Borneo’s NTFP production, were sent off to become nomadic forest collectors and intermingled with autochthonous hunting-gathering bands, to subsequently be identified as Punan groups.

Long abstract: Since the mid-first millennium, the Makassar Strait area has provided the long-distance maritime trade with gold and valuable forest and sea products. Also of some antiquity, slave trade networks connected the Sulu Archipelago, Makassar, Banda and the eastern islands, and coastal New Guinea. From the 16th-17th c., more intensely in the late 18th and 19th c., when international demand for forest and sea products significantly increased, Borneo’s coastal polities, trying to boost production and profit, acquired large numbers of Melanesian slaves. Gangs of imported slaves of mixed origins were assigned by coastal sultans to exploit parts of their territories, or transferred to the chieftains of local farming groups to be sent off as collectors to remote upriver forests, where they interacted with autochthonous hunter-gatherers and learnt to subsist like them. Historical, ethnographic, and linguistic data suggest that, because of their lifeways, some such groups eventually became identified as “Punan/Penan”, local catchall designations for forest nomads; that, therefore, some groups known today as Punan/Penan, e.g., in the Berau drainage, result from the intercourse of an exogenous, “secondary” hunting-gathering population with autochthonous Punan groups; and that some degree of Melanesian genetic admixture may be fairly commonly found in eastern Borneo’s coastal populations.

334. Ethnogenesis and identity: the case of the Semporna Bajau Laut

Clifford Sather, Borneo Research Council, United States. cliffordsather[a]

Short abstract: This paper explores the emergence of the Bajau Laut (or Sama Dilaut) as a sea nomadic community in the Semporna District of southeastern Sabah and the problematic nature of their identity in the context of the Malaysian state.

Long abstract: The origins of seafaring began long before the neolithic and are evidenced in the early spread of human populations from the Indian Ocean to the western rim of the Pacific. In Southeast Asia, the evolution of society, including marine foraging communities, has been profoundly shaped by subsequent developments in seafaring and maritime trade. This paper explores the ethnogenesis of one such community, the Bajau Laut of southern Sulu and the eastern coast of Borneo. Originating in southeastern Borneo, Bajau-speaking peoples emerged as an increasingly sea-oriented population following the formation of coastal states. The transition of a minority to maritime nomadism coincided with the development of an ethnically-stratified economy in which the Bajau Laut played a specialized role as suppliers of sea products. Here ethnic identity was defined by locality and relations to centers of state power. In both respects the Bajau Laut were problematic. Unlike others, they identified themselves, not locally, but with the ‘sea’ (laut); thus creating a transportable identity readily projected across spatial horizons, while their economic specialization relegated them to marginal areas of limited state control. Today both features conflict with national ideologies and border concerns, while landlessness complicates Bajau Laut claims to aboriginal status.

336. A patron-client relationship between Indonesian Bajo (Sama-Bajau) and Bugis from the cultural point of view

Philippe Grangé, Université de La Rochelle, France. pgrange[a]

Short abstract: Indonesian Bajos (part of the Sama-Bajau diaspora) generally exploit marine resources whose marketing is often controlled by the Bugis. This paper examines the cultural aspects of this patron-client relationship, reflected in Bajo myths and lexicon.

Long abstract: The Bajo (Indonesian Sama-Bajau) dependence on their Bugis patrons (South Celebes) is common throughout the sea-oriented Bajo diaspora. In this paper, economical or ecological aspects are left aside, to focus on the cultural features of this long-lasting patron-client relationship. Nowadays, almost all Indonesian Bajos are bounded to fishing and marine resources harvesting. However, memories of a more adventurous past are reflected in Bajo myths and lexicon. The iko-iko epics, beside heroic adventures, mention realistic long distance maritime routes. The freight consisted of marine commodities, but until XIXth century could include slaves. Several locations ashore the Makassar Strait, once used as ports of call by pirates, now harbour Bajo communities. Bugis dwellers also live in these coastal villages, where Bajo and Bugis communities often mix. 
Bajo language around the Flores Sea and along Borneo east coast borrowed lexicon from Bugis; I will mention some of these loanwords, clues to a long-lasting cultural contact, and absent from other Sama-Bajau languages. This patron-client relationship is also revealed through myths, especially the marriage of a stranded Bajo princess and a Bugis ruler, while some eventful moments of the Bugis literary masterpiece I La Galigo have been absorbed into Bajo mythology and further elaborated on. 

340. What can languages tell us about the Punan/Penan ethnolinguistic groups?

Antonia Soriente, University of Naples Orientale, Italy. asoriente[a]

Short abstract: What has to be (linguistically) Punan? An answer can be found in the complex network of relations the Punan populations have entertained with the non-Punan people living next to them. Very similar patterns of language contact, not sufficiently described so far, have been observed among the Punan languages.

Long abstract: Punan and Penan groups of Borneo are very distinct linguistically. Despite the impossibility to establish a common origin for these distinct languages, a very important question is still relevant. What has to be (linguistically) Punan? An answer can be found in the complex network of relations the Punan populations have entertained with the non-Punan people living next to them. Very similar patterns of language contact, not sufficiently described so far, have been observed among the Punan languages. For instance members of the big group Punan Tuvu'-Mentarang-Malinau show that despite these languages have a common origin, they differ from each other depending on the agriculturalist groups they deal with. For instance the Punan Merap have been strongly influenced by the Merap, whereas the Punan Dulau and Semeriot by the Bulusu' belonging respectively to the Kayanic and the Murutic respectively and the interaction with them produces very different results. On the other hand, a language like the Punan Aput that shares a number of phonological, lexical and morphological traits with the Punan Tuvu' displays interesting features like the expression of passive that is clearly similar to that of the Kayan-Kenyah group to which these people have been for long time associated.

343. Eastern Penan and the concept of identity

Peter Sercombe, Newcastle University, United Kingdom. peter.sercombe[a]

Short abstract: This presentation will illustrate how Eastern Penan occupy unusual social positions (compared to settled Dayaks) as a result of the ‘environment(s)’ they inhabit, and ways they demonstrate Penan-ness as well as a pan-Central Bornean identity.

Long abstract: Identity is largely intangible, and multifaceted. In illuminating aspects of affiliation, people may be clustered into discrete units that lack complexity inherent in diverse sets of networks that individuals occupy. Barth’s (1969) notion of ‘boundaries’ as a way of distinguishing ethnic groups no longer holds and can be reconsidered, incorporating more fluidity than the monolithic view implied by Barth’s notion of ‘boundaries’. ‘Ethnic groups rarely exist as structurally distinct isomorphs. Instead, there tend to be overlapping sets, groupings that encompass other groupings’ (Williams cited in Banks 1996: 45), comprising multiple ‘I’s’, together making up an individual. Many Eastern Penan in Northeast Borneo have transitioned from nomadism to a sedentary existence, yet still identify with and illustrate traits that typically invoke nomadism, at both individual and community level. Based on primary data, this paper proposes that many Eastern Penan project (multifaceted) identities that span the divide between nomadism and settlement, exemplified through social organisation, language use and lifestyle, among others. The presentation will illustrate how Eastern Penan occupy unusual social positions (vis-à-vis long-term settled Dayaks) as a result of the sociocultural and geographical environment(s) they inhabit, and ways in which they demonstrate Penan-ness as well as a pan-Central Bornean identity.

356. Punan Basap of the upper Birang River area: the last rain forest hunter gatherer of East Kalimantan

Karina Arifin, Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities Universitas Indonesia, Indonesia. karina_arifin[a]

Short abstract: Punan Basap of the upper Birang River, East Kalimantan, live as hunter-gatherer. Their activities may help archaeologist to make a better understanding and interpretation of the archaeological remains left by prehistoric hunter-gatherers in the area.

Long abstract: The upper Birang River area in the east of Kalimantan has revealed a number of archaeological sites that goes back to the end of the Pleistocene. The archaeological remains indicate that the occupants of the sites were hunter-gatherers who exploited various niches of the forest. Their carbohydrate sources are mainly tuber plants. It is only in the upper layers of the sites that contain remains of potsherds and indicate that within 2000 years ago these hunter-gatherers have contact with farming communities. The area today is still occupied by the Punan Basap people who lived in rock shelters or simple huts. They occasionally tend gardens and stayed for several months in the area to attend the garden. However, they basically live as hunter-gatherer. This paper tries to describe how the Punan Basap lived and survived in the forest where logging activities started to threaten their environment. Many Punan Basap activities as well as the material culture they produced may help archaeologist to make a better understanding and interpretation of the archaeological remains left by prehistoric hunter-gatherers in the area. 

116. Becoming like us –from nomads to settled Christian padi-farmers at Long Beruang, Sarawak, East Malaysia

Valerie Mashman, Sarawak Museum Campus, Malaysia. mashmanval[a]

Short abstract: I am an anthropologist based at the Sarawak Museum campus s working on oral history and material culture in Sarawak, Borneo.

Long abstract: This paper presents a case study from Sarawak, East Malaysia. It describes, through Kelabit narratives, the relationship between settled Christian Kelabit padi-farmers of Long Peluan and a group of nomadic Penan. Kelabit people remember the earlier times when the Penan were reluctant to meet the Kelabit as they considered the latter as outsiders (va’e) and Kelabit children were scared at the sight of nomadic Penan as they looked so different and they were thought to have powerful magic. Gradually the Kelabit Christian farmers encouraged the Penan “to become like us,” to settle as their neighbours at Long Beruang and become Christians. The paper focuses on conversion to Christianity and emulation of the Kelabit as factors that encouraged the Penan to settle. At the same time the Penan gain new identities as Christians and make new expressions of Penan-ness through alternative narratives.


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