Beyond the Green Myth: Borneo's Hunter-gatherers in the 21st Century

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edited by Peter G. Sercombe and Bernard Sellato

Borneo, with its tales of White Rajahs and tribes of headhunters, has long excited the Western imagination. Today, however, there is another, 'green', imagination at work. Mention of the island is more likely to evoke images of tropical deforestation and concern about the cruel dispossession and displacement of indigenous peoples who once lived in relative harmony with their environment. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that most books dealing with the nomadic hunter-gatherers of Borneo have principally been pictorial studies. There is indeed a dearth of scholarship regarding these peoples, a situation that this first ever, comprehensive review of nomadic groups in the Borneo rain forest aims to rectify. Presenting a wealth of new research contributed by an inter-national team of scholars, the volume covers all those parts of Borneo where nomads (called Penan, Punan or by various other names) are or were known to exist, and provides a comparative historical-ecological study of these groups.

The study is primarily concerned with issues of modernization (including the monetary economy, formalised institutions, centralized power structures, contractual relationships and extraction activities) and development policies. The impact of these policies is analysed with special regard to the natural environment inhabited by these small-scale societies, as well as the use of its resources. The book has no stiff theoretical orientation but informs ongoing debates about changing forms of ethnicity, relations between minorities and the state, minorities' rights and survival, native discourse, the sustainability of tropical forest use, and the neo-romantic environmentalist myth of so-called wise traditional peoples.

"This authoritative text solely concerned with the hunter-gatherers of Borneo provedes a highly diverse and thought-provoking selection of papers. All are well worth reading and accessible to both general and specialist audiences. The volume is an invaluable resource for all Borneo scholars on the one hand, and all scholars interested in nomadic hunter-gatherers on the other." - Jennifer Alexander, Oceania 79 (3)

Peter Sercombe comes from an academic background in Applied Linguistics and Language Education. He has had numerous positions working internationally including Brunei, Malaysia, Turkey, Borneo and the United Kingdom. Sercombe has an interest in sociolinguistics and Austronesian languages, in particular Iban and Penan.

Bernard Sellato has been involved with Borneo since 1973, first as a geologist and later as an anthropologist. A former director of the Institute for Research on Southeast Asia (CNRS and Université de Provence) in Marseilles, France, he is the author of numerous books and articles on the island (including Beyond the Green Myth, published by NIAS Press in 2007, and Plaited Art from the Borneo Rainforest in 2011). Until recently, he was editor of the journal Moussons: Social Science Research on Southeast Asia.

Publication year: 2008
398 pp / 229mm x 152mm
14 maps, 8 tables, 1 figure
ISBN: 978-87-7694-018-8, Paperback
ISBN: 978-87-91114-84-7, Hardback

NIAS Press