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"A Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures. Contributions to a National ethnography of Brunei by UBD Sociology-Anthropology students", South East Asia.

Walker, Anthony R., "A Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures. Contributions to a National ethnography of Brunei by UBD Sociology-Anthropology students", South East Asia. A Multi-disciplinary Journal 10 (2010): 11-38.

Universiti Brunei Darussalam was approaching its thirtieth anniversary during 2017 as this review was written. The review comprises, in fact, a revisiting and elaboration of some notes written for the Editor of BRB in 2011 as an opinion on a submission. To my chagrin, 1 came to understand that my detailed dissection of Anthony Walker's synopsis of one of his ten selected student contributions--one which has unusual interest for me, being relevant both to official promotion of Islam and the concomitant demotion of separate ethnicities--was read as a rejection. To my relief, the piece has found a place in in a UBD journal.

While I would stand by my queries about Lizawati bte Suhaili's contribution, (1) especially on the subject of Dusun religion, which she is said to classify under the problematic twin terms of "animo-theistic," it is imperative to remember that the synopses presented to us are the end-product of a several-layered process of filtering, subject to some possible pitfalls: (1) Anthony Walker with enormous dedication read and classified a total of 76 student research exercises before he could (2) select a sample of the best for publication, having no doubt had, in some cases, (3) to grasp and present a usable meaning amidst a thicket of obscure English, despite (4) often being unable to draw on a personal fund of knowledge about the subject of an exercise, yet having (5) to keep his synopsis of it at a modest length. This was below 2 pages for a xviii+74 page contribution in the case of Lizawati--the text of which, like the others, is not accessible to readers for their own perusal and assessment. In these highly demanding circumstances it is hardly reprehensible if Walker stands by his wholesome response to Lizawati's unamended text for South East Asia. Certainly the study bears worthy marks of its origin as a fourth-year research exercise and may deserve the editor's very light critical touch in comparison with his discussion of several other contributions. Any anxiety that he may lack a sufficient understanding of Dusun culture in Ukong (not least the role of priestesses and their interaction with their spirit familiars, the derato), must be balanced by highest praise for this enterprise as a whole, which not only aimed to promote (by showcasing) ethnographic research on Brunei in the mould of a more British-associated type of "social anthropology," but may serve in retrospect as a memorial to a single phase in UBD's development. This phase was already showing signs of being overshadowed by the more Borneo-focused and conceptual approach of the new Institute of Asian Studies as Sociology/Anthropology began to lose its founding heavy-weights: Allen Maxwell, Frank Fanselow and Anthony Walker himself. (2)

At this point I will list the remaining four of Walker's batch of 4th year research exercises: 1. Traditional medical practices (and their association with spirit beliefs) in Brunei Malay society. (Illustrated.) 2. A Kedayan village study (Kampong Madang). (Illustrated.) 3. A village-based Kedayan community study (Kampong Bukit Panggal) with special reference to kinship and residence rules. 4. "From musical instrument to raucous party. The gambus in Brunei." (Illustrated.)

Meanwhile, the five selected Third Year projects comprise: (1) Transvestites in Bandar Seri Begawan. (3) (2) Growing up in Kedayan society. (Illustrated.) (3). A Chinese temple in Muara (with reference to its ritual and the organizing committee). (Illustrated.) (4) A village of Hakka vegetable growers. (5) Youth dress culture in modern Brunei. (Illustrated.)

I do not imagine that Walker originally had any expectation or aspiration in the direction of stimulating cultural change in Brunei, but at the point of realizing that little more than ten exercises could be introduced without embarrassment to a public beyond UBD and even beyond Brunei, and that it was difficult to get round many students' conception that what was required of them was equivalent to a course assignment--while there was a tangible reluctance to interview their grandmothers except in air-conditioned rooms!--he must have perceived that veritably, Brunei is not Singapore. For most of his students there was something alien about what Walker was trying to introduce. Did he himself even experience a degree of culture shock? The asides in his summing up, indicating that he does not expect some of the students' work to be well-received in orthodox Islamic quarters, could be diagnostic. In such a light, believers in the virtues of anthropology can only greet Walker's fortitude in face of daunting tasks, and salute the Vice Chancellor for delivering vital support to a tacit agenda for change under this conservative but also opulent "Malay Muslim Monarchy."

(1) Lizawati bte Suhaili, "Kg Ukong and Kg Bebuloh, Similarities and differences in two indigenous Bruneian communities". In Walker's original listing of all work produced, this xviii + 74 page study is said to be illustrated, so while the inclusion of illustrations for several studies in the version published by UBD is greatly enhancing, Lizawati's own illustrations are unfortunately not among them.

(2) The most salient case of would-be "overshadowing" is arguably the xxviii/606 page production, Victor T. King, Zawawi Ibrahim, Noor Hasharina Hassan (eds.), Borneo Studies in History, Society and Culture. UBD Institute of Asian Studies, Brunei and Springer Science+Business Media, Singapore, 2017. Another possible turning-point, not lacking a connection to the volume just cited, was the Eleventh Biennial BRC Conference, held at UBD in June 2012, at which the Borneo Studies Network was launched: cf. sundry reporting in BRB 44 (2013). 1 have tried in my own "March of hegemonism? Probing political function in the Higher Education of Brunei Darussalam", Borneo Research Bulletin 44 (2013): 269-294, to detect evidence of change in the making. An intriguing question is whether the most fertile period for student research may have been in the earliest years of the organization of Sociology/Anthropology in a "Unit", not yet "Department" (as it became in 2006). However, in terms of quantity, at least, among the 76 listed student exercises from several degree paths and spanning between 2000-2009 1 find no bias towards the first few years.

(3) This, perhaps the boldest subject choice in the whole collection, comes from a Singaporean Malay, not a Bruneian.

(Roger Kershaw, Lochinver, Scotland)
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Author:Kershaw, Roger
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Article Type:Periodical review
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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