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The mediated production of ethnicity and nationalism among the Iban of Sarawak (II), 1977-1997.

In the first installment of this two-part research note (Postill 2001), I retraced the early history of modern Iban media production in Sarawak from 1954 to 1976. I stressed the centrality of the Iban language to Radio Sarawak broadcasters and Borneo Literature Bureau (BLB) authors in their struggle to preserve and modernize the Iban heritage. This ethnonationalist project was to be crippled in 1977 when the Malaysian government closed down the BLB and brought in Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, a federal agency in charge of promoting the national language. In what follows I cover a second phase of Iban media production, from 1977 to 1997--the year of a region-wide financial crisis whose consequences for Sarawak media are still to be evaluated. This second phase would witness a growing Malaysianization of the media in Sarawak, with television replacing radio as the staple of evening entertainment in both urban and rural areas. At the same time, the town of Sibu replaced the Saribas basin as the twin heartland, with Kuching, of an expanding Iban culture industry. I discuss the consequences of this shift below (see also Postill 2002b). Meanwhile, Kuching remained the capitol of official, elite-driven Iban culture.


With the demise of the BLB and the rapid spread of Malay-language rural schools and television, the Iban Section of Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) was the sole Iban-language medium of any import remaining in the 1980s. In 1980, after the communist threat had been finally quelled, the Psychological Warfare Unit at RTM was dissolved. The main focus at the Iban Section was then the phasing out of slash-and-burn hill rice farming to give way to "modern" agricultural practices. Interviews with successful cash crop farmers were a preferred method of persuasion. Other important areas were health, education, poverty and job vacancies. The purported aim was to change the rural population's conservative "mind-set." Meanwhile, the Iban component of school broadcasting was undergoing fundamental changes. In the place of Michael Buma's spelling, dictation and traditional tales (ensera), more elaborate grammar-based Iban language lessons were now being broadcast to primary and lower secondary pupils. (1) This improvement must be set, however, against a far more transcendent 1980s shift: the establishment of Malay as the sole medium of instruction across the state school system in the place of English. Both these changes were the consequence of the extension of the Education Act of 1976 to Sarawak, which required the creation of new school syllabi set according to Ministry of Education guidelines. A further expansion in airtime at RTM occurred in the early 1980s with the launching of Sunday programs in Iban and two more hours in the evening from Monday to Saturday. The next increase was to arrive a decade later, with two more hours in the morning. Henceforth the total airtime would be set at 66 hours a week, with 9 hours a day from Monday to Saturday and 12 hours on Sundays. In 1993 new studios were built and modern equipment acquired. Two years later, some important changes in programming took place. First, the soap operas (cherita kelulu) were discontinued. According to the producer Laja Sanggin, this was due both to the low quality of the scripts submitted and to the Iban Section's lack of manpower. At least some Iban writers disagree, saying it was due to the frequent transfer of producers and other staff, so that they ceased to call for scripts. Second, "loose slots" were introduced from 6 to 8:30 pm whose aim was to both inform and entertain the audience with varied capsules lasting 2 to 3 minutes instead of the accustomed 15 to 30 minutes. Some of these capsules were aimed at a young audience. Messages on the evils of truancy, loafing, drugs, etc., were "injected" (see below) to this group in between the pop songs. Another novelty was to open the lines to telephone callers with messages for their migrant kin on grave matters such as illness, death or financial hardship (jaku pesan berat). Callers could now also take part in a new program called Nama Runding? ('What do you think?') in which they could express their views on a given topical issue within the strict limits imposed by the Malaysian state, that is, avoiding any direct reference to ethnic inequalities, land issues, or Islam. These programming changes were both a response to perceived changes in the wider society (especially a stiffer competition from television and private radio stations, the rural-urban drift, a rise in educational standards, etc.) and a consequence of a lack of financial and human resources to produce new programs. As a result, the more "traditional" programs such as Main Asal ('Traditional Music') were relegated to what in rural Sarawak is considered to be a very late slot: from 10:15 pm to 11 pm. (2)

In 1997 Sarawak's first privately-owned commercial radio station, CATS (3) Radio, was launched. Its mission was to capture a wide audience across the state through "light entertainment," especially music. It had an Iban Section run by an RTM veteran and former intelligence officer, Roland Duncan Klabu, transmitting two hours a day: from 1 to 2 pm Monday to Friday, from 3 to 4 on Sunday and from midnight to 1 am seven days a week. To maximize his one-hour afternoon slot, Klabu opted for the "hot-clock system," consisting of a five-minute news bulletin and a motley of capsules, Iban pop songs, local reports, farming tips and suchlike. He made no bones about the true purpose of these broadcasts. The program, he explained, was "literally bought by a number of record companies seeking to promote Iban pop songs throughout Sarawak" (Klabu 1998:2). The most prominent figure to emerge was undoubtedly Peter John anak Apai, (4) an Iban DJ who became hugely popular overnight with his personal brand of daft humor and ability to communicate on air with callers from all walks of life. Peter John was an inveterate connector of two disparate yet overlapping worlds: rural and urban Iban life. CATS offered an amusing, hybrid alternative to a more sober RTM Iban service. Also, its crystal clear FM sound made listening a more pleasurable experience than RTM's crackling short wave transmission.

Peter John notwithstanding, Iban-language broadcasting was caught up in a wider social and political malaise. Educated Iban felt that the crisis of the Iban Section reflected both the erosion and eventual demise of the Iban language and culture. With this bleak prognosis in mind and a sense of urgency, in April 1998 the Council for Customary Law (Majlis Adat Istiadat) in Kuching ran a one-day workshop on the current situation and future prospects of Iban-language broadcasting. The workshop, which I was fortunate to co-organize, was held almost entirely in the Iban language, a rare event in Kuching (5). The morning session was led by Empeni Lang, Chief Registrar of the Native Court. It was devoted to identifying the key problems besetting Iban-language broadcasting. Perhaps inevitably, most of the subsequent discussions centered on the Iban Section at RTM to the detriment of CATS and BTP (School Broadcasting). The following 15 key RTM problems were identified and summarized by the workshop facilitator:

1. No clear aims or objectives. (6)

2. Insufficient audience research. (7)

3. Not enough manpower. (8)

4. Not enough money. (9)

5. No code of ethics. (10)

6. Poor infrastructure and facilities. (11)

7. No supporting prim media. (12)

8. No full-time women employees. (13)

9. Poor quality of transmission. (14)

10. Low command of Iban among broadcasters. (15)

11. Unpleasant voices. (16)

12. Programs not properly edited.

13. Less traditional programs than before.

14. Low levels of professionalism.

15. Flawed recruitment process. (17)

In addition, the following concerns about the Iban Section were voiced during the workshop or in private conversations elsewhere:

1. External interferences, both from Iban and Peninsular political quarters. (18)

2. Poor leadership within the Iban Section.

3. Too many phone-in programs replacing the forums, dramas, magazines and features of previous decades.

4. Growing competition from CATS, other commercial radio stations from West Malaysia, television, etc.

5. Some programs broadcast too late for rural audiences.

6. No programs for women (cf. no. 8 above).

7. No programs for children and teenagers.

8. As a result of all the above: a highly demoralized staff.

Although pushed to the margins of the workshop discussions, we should also mention the other two branches of Iban-language broadcasting: School Broadcasting and CATS Radio. School Broadcasting (renamed Bahagian Teknologi Pendidikan [BTP]) is also facing an uphill struggle. The excitement of the early years surrounding the educational possibilities of radio has turned into bitter disappointment. For one thing, few schools in the urban areas teach Iban. In Kuching there is but one school, St. Mary's Secondary School, still teaching this language. Elsewhere, out of the 600 to 650 primary schools in Sarawak with over 50% Iban pupils, only 40% currently listen to the Iban programs. (19) A BTP survey listed the following factors to account for this low figure:

1. Programs hard to fit into the exam-oriented, textbook-based school syllabus.

2. Poor reception in many "shadow areas."

3. No Iban language teacher in the school.

4. Radio set out of order (Untie 1998: 4).

Finally, CATS has also come under attack since its launching for some of its presenters' low level of competence in the Iban language. One rumor had it that one of them, who had never experienced longhouse life, (20) was relieved from her newsreading duties following complaints from listeners. To compound matters, this station's Iban programs were often seen as a mere channel for the Chinese-dominated Iban music industry of Sibu, as Klabu himself recognized.

In the afternoon, the workshop participants sought practical solutions to the problems identified. In the end, they adopted 12 resolutions that generally followed from the enunciation of the problems, e.g. the need for clear objectives, a more balanced programming, better training, etc. One interesting suggestion that went beyond the purview of the workshop was the need to create an official body to strengthen the Iban language through standardization, research and other means.

The history of Iban-language broadcasting is therefore long and eventful. For decades it has not only served the government of the day with unflagging loyalty but has also contributed, in some measure, to the standardization and preservation of the Iban language and culture across Sarawak. The Iban Section of Radio Sarawak (now RTM) has served the state well: it fought Indonesia in the 1960s, the communists in the 1970s and what the state defined as the (backward) "rural mind-set" from the 1980s onwards. At present, however, the state has other priorities. Among the most pressing of these is to build a strong, unified national culture based on the Malay language and traditions. The host of problems affecting all three Iban-language radio organizations (RTM, CATS and BTP) can all be linked to a chronic weakness: the lack of adequate political representation of the Iban and other non-Muslim indigenous groups (Jawan 1994:226-235).

There is, however, a more elusive problem facing producers: how to step out of their ideological certainties and recultivate the field of Iban media production. Melanesia provides us with a useful comparative vantage point. On the basis of her work in Papua New Guinea, Sullivan (1993: 551) has argued that the ideas and practices of media professionalism spread in parallel to the transfer of technology from the West to other regions. Quoting Keesing (1989:23), she adds that, across the Pacific islands, the ideologues who idealize the past are usually "hell-bent on technology, progress, materialism and 'development.'" This observation applies equally well to Sarawak. The producers' faith in the potential of radio to transform their audiences given the right political, financial and professional resources has remained undiminished despite years of institutional stagnation. A case in point is the aforesaid belief that positive messages can be directly "injected" into young listeners--what media scholars call the "hypodermic needle model of communication" (see Morley 1992: 45, Watson and Hill 1993: 87). This confidence can be explained by the fact that most of them were trained in the 1960s and 1970s--a period of rapid economic growth, multi-ethnic nationalism, anti-communism and deep faith in the infinite possibilities of modern technology. Their urban careers developed amidst the growing disparities in wealth and status between urban educated Iban and their rural illiterate brethren. Yet this chasm was blamed on the latter's traditional "mind-set." Unlike indigenous media producers in Australia (see Ginsburg 1993), Iban producers are too embedded in the state's material and ideological apparatus to provide alternative visions. As trained government servants, they reproduce the views of what Debray (1996:176) calls the "mediocracy," i.e. the "elite holding the means of production of mass opinion." In territories with tight media control and top-down communication, Appadurai's (1990) wishful notion of "multidirectional flows" of cultural influences holds little analytical promise. While it may apply to Chicago's intellectual diaspora, in the case of Iban radio the flow is unidirectional, from one or two urban corridors of media power to countless longhouse galleries and rooms.

Print media

Since the closure of the Borneo Literature Bureau a number of Iban books have been printed, most of them by a Kuching publisher named Klasik Publishing House, including two traditional ensera (Donald 1989, Tawai 1989) and five cherita kelulu or morality novellas (Jantan 1987, Ensiring 1991, Ensiring 1992, Garai 1993, Bangit 1995). We met Janang Ensiring (1968) in the previous research note (Postill 2001) as a 19-year old poet infatuated with Malaysia. His 1992 novella Dr Ida deserves our attention for its innovative use of urban settings and problems--a clean departure from the BLB's bucolic preferences.

The second non-governmental print outlet for the Iban language today is provided by the first institutions ever to create texts in Borneo vernaculars: the Christian churches. The most successful religious texts appear to be those which have adopted a manner of "BLB strategy," that is, prayer books that seek to adapt the best of the Iban adat (in this case religious adat) to the essentially developmentalist Christian project. This dual strategy echoes those adopted in other Asia-Pacific societies. In Papua New Guinea, a European lay missionary in 1990 directed a television drama to teach villagers in a remote area new farming techniques. To Sullivan (1993: 537), this was part of a long missionary tradition of "co-opting indigenous values (of community, mutual obligation, kinship and sharing) as the teachings of Christ and in so doing distinguishing church from private interests while easing a transition from barbarism to a market economy." In Sarawak, as in other territories, the Catholic Church is ahead of rival denominations in its nativist-cure-modernist print media but has yet to use audiovisual media extensively, for reasons considered below. As Giddens (1984) has reminded us, social actions often have unintended effects. With the demise of the BLB, the Iban-language Christian texts have acquired greater significance as cultural repositories among the more literate Iban. This was surely not the intention of the authorities who are said to have ordered the destruction of the indigenous print media.

Two state-sponsored outlets for Iban authorship survived into the 1990s. One was Berita Rayat (21), a monthly magazine founded in 1974 by the Rajang Security Command (RASCOM) in Sibu. This magazine was part of the government's efforts to defeat the Chinese-led communist insurgency in Sarawak's Third Division through military action and propaganda. The cover showed an Iban warrior in full ceremonial dress performing a sword dance (ajat). The contents were in the dual modernity-cum-tradition Nendak mould (Postill 2001), but with an added emphasis on "security." Like in Nendak, a wide spectrum of Iban genres was represented. There were morality tales (cherita kelulu), sagas (ensera), riddles (entelah), ethnohistorical accounts (jerita tuai), hagiographies of Iban leaders and even a cartoon strip featuring Roky, a young law-enforcing hero. Unfortunately for Roky's author, the negotiated end of the armed struggle would also mean the eventual phasing-out of Berita Rayat. Production ceased in the early 1990s.

The one extant Iban print medium in 1997 was Pembrita, a state government mouthpiece published monthly by the Information Department. (22) Pembrita is yet another Iban medium with an original Paku-Saribas connection, for it was the result of the pioneering Adult Literacy Scheme launched in 1950 in that river area (Jawan 1994: 183). Aimed at rural Iban, it is a profusely illustrated newsletter containing two kinds of items: good developmental news (on exemplary longhouses, lucrative cash crops, animal husbandry, etc.) and exhortations to the rural populace to modernize their ways, with a typical headline reading (in Iban): "FARMERS MUST CHANGE THEIR WORK HABITS." (23) Unlike Nendak and Berita Rayat, however, Pembrita contains no traditional genres, despite repeated appeals to the readers for such materials, in an apparent attempt to broaden the readership base of what the editors call "our Iban newspaper" (Surat Kabar kitai Iban). (24)

There is no such thing, however, as an Iban newspaper in the strict sense of the term. In 1996, eleven newspapers in other languages were published in Sarawak: seven in Chinese, three in English and one in Malay (see Table 2.6). A key constraint affecting all papers in Malaysia, and even more so in thinly populated states such as Sarawak, is the high cost of paper. In 1993 a ton of imported paper cost US $1,000 in Malaysia but only US $780 in the United States. A further problem for Malay-language papers both in East and West Malaysia is that advertisers tend to regard Malay readers as belonging to the low-income group, so advertising revenue is much lower than that for the English and Chinese dailies (Amir and Awang Jaya 1996: 13). Any fledgling Iban newspaper would have to overcome even more imposing barriers. One viable solution suggested to me by an urban Iban might be for one of the state's newspapers to carry a weekly Iban supplement, a practice already well-established in Sabah with the Kadazan language.

The state government controls virtually all papers in Sarawak. With the exception of one or two Chinese papers, writing favorably about any aspect of the much-diminished opposition is unheard of. On one noted occasion, a Sarawak Tribune editor was allegedly dismissed for publishing "the wrong picture" of a powerful politician. According to press insiders, it is always safe to write pro-development articles. Another safe area is "culture," that is, the colorful side of Dayak cultures: music, dance, garments, etc. The Sarawak daily press represents Dayaks in two radically different ways: (a) as camera-friendly "ethnics" with picturesque cultures in need of protection (and more tourism) or (b) as ignorant, backward peasants in need of enlightenment (and more development). (25) In both portrayals, which never appear together, scant allowance is made for the various ways in which actual Dayak agents may be making and remaking their social worlds.

The key to development, as seen by the mediocracy, is to get the rural Dayaks to change their collective "mind-set" (a favorite term) so that development can proceed swiftly. There are similarities here with the ideology of Andria Ejau and other Iban media producers from the earlier period (Postill 2001). The key difference is that Ejau's generation drew largely from first-hand experience in upriver areas and an intimate knowledge of the Iban language and culture. Today's journalists, by contrast, write from urban areas for an urban readership. Whilst Ejau and his contemporaries sought to blend culture and development in their texts (in pursuit of what today is known as "sustainable development"), journalists constantly drive a harsh wedge between the two domains. A recent example of the powerful interests behind this discursive wedge arose in 1987-1991, when a total of 30 Penan and other Dayak communities, including Iban longhouses, carried out anti-logging blockades in the Baram and Limbang districts. They were protesting against the destruction of the environment upon which their livelihood depended. The following extract sums up the role of the Sarawak press:
 The stories by the Borneo Post were orchestrated based on government
 press releases ...; self-censorship by reporters was exercised to
 adjust to the media's organizational and official requirements. The
 only on-the-scene report the Borneo Post filed was on 21 July 1987,
 when the media escorted the State Minister for Tourism and
 Environment (who owns one of the largest timber concessions in
 Sarawak) to one of his timber camps in Limbang (Ngidang 1993:94).

In its 11 July 1987 editorial, the Borneo Post lamented the fact that development had been hindered "by two groups of people, namely the Penans and their allies and those who instigate people in rural areas to reject government efforts" (Ngidang 1993: 94). Sarawak newspapers are, in sum, at the service of the state government and their wealthy allies. Their modus operandi reveals the extent to which Sarawak is a rich "resource frontier" (King 1988) in the hands of a small elite rather than a democracy. The chances of an Iban newspaper ever being produced, therefore, are severely limited by both the economies of scale required for it to be profitable, and by the same political imperatives that have led to the mass logging of Dayak forests and to the burning of Dayak books.

Popular music

Sibu is the third largest town in Sarawak, but the second most important in terms of commerce, after Kuching. From 1974 on, the timber industry grew rapidly in the state, with Sibu as its hub (Leigh 1983: 164). This attracted large numbers of Iban to an urban setting where they were already well represented. (26) Many of the poorly educated Iban entered into patron-client relations with Chinese merchants (towkay) (Sutlive 1972:119). The same pattern was to prevail in the budding music industry of the late 1970s.

By far the most successful Sibu record company during the 1977-1997 period was Tiew Brothers Company, better known as TBC. Mathew Tiew Sii Hock, a former salesman, and two of his brothers founded TBC in 1977. Initially they sought to market Malay albums but found the competition from Peninsular record companies to be too stiff, so they chose instead to market Iban pop. Following the initial success of Iban tapes, they began to release songs in Melanau, Kayan, Kenyah, Malay, and recently, Chinese. Iban has nevertheless remained TBC's mainstay. According to company sources, the uniqueness of Iban pop lies in its rojak ('mixed salad') melodies: a melange of Indonesian dangdut, global pop rock, heavy metal, Latin baladas and other styles, all performed to a peculiar Sibu-Chinese beat (27). On another level, however, Iban pop is far from unique. If in the 1950s it followed Indonesian and Indian patterns, and in the 1960s-1970s Western ones, since the 1980s it has increasingly aligned itself with musical trends arriving from West Malaysia and absorbed concepts and words from the national language. Middle-aged Iban critics say today's lyrics lack the subtlety and vigor of both 1960s Iban pop and the best contemporary Malay and Indonesian music. They see the lyrics as often being too "raunchy," and say that several have been banned from the radio. At any rate, these songs are politically safe: unlike some Indonesian popular culture, (28) Iban pop is about entertainment, not social critique. Most songs in my sample (94%) deal with the vagaries of the human heart, as Table 2.7. demonstrates.
William Awing sings: (31)

Sepuloh taun dah lalu It's been ten years

Tua nadai betemu Since we last met

Tekenyit aku nerima surat nuan dara Couldn't believe your letter, girl

Nuan mai aku nampong When you told me that you wanted

Pengerindu tua To start once again

Nama kebuah nuan How can you say

Agi ka beguna aku That you still need me?

Aku tu aku suba I'm still the one I used to be

Ukai orang baru I'm not a new person

Very occasionally singers will follow the lead of their Radio Sarawak forebears and step out of their love grooves to reproduce the views of the Establishment. In the following verse, the immensely popular Andrewson Ngalai praises Sarawak while promoting a commercial alternative to slash-and-bum farming:
Rakyat diau sama senang ati The people all live merrily together

Musuh nadai agi dikenangi Enemies are no longer remembered (32)

Tanah besai alai endur betupi Plenty of land to rear livestock

Lantang senang dudi ari So that one day we'll be happy

On other occasions, while still on the painful subject of love, they touch on current social problems, notably the inequalities wrought by education and migration (bejalai). Johnny Aman sings about the barriers of class and wealth now dividing the once egalitarian Iban society:
Malu amai asai ku dara I feel really ashamed, girl
Kajadi enggau nuan I who wanted to marry you
Enda diterima But was rejected
Laban aku orang merinsa For being poor
Nadai pemandai bekuli ngapa For being an ignorant coolie

And on the temptations of bejalai:
Baka aku ti bejalai I have to go away
Ngiga belanja sulu To look for money, my darling
nuan ti diau rumah panjai you're staying in the longhouse
Bejaga diri selalu So look after yourself

Bakajako orang bukai Don't listen to those
nusi berita enda tentu who tell stories about me
Anang nuan arap ambai Don't listen to them, my love
Nya mina berita pelesu They're just lies
Nadai aku kala asai Not once have I felt
Ngayah ka nuan sulu Like betraying you, my darling

TBC has sponsored numerous song contests and "discovered" rising starlets, many of them young Iban from the Rejang basin. They publish an Iban-language magazine named Merindang ('Entertainment'), purchase ample airtime on CATS Radio and have launched a website to promote both their starlets and established singers. In the late 1990s the company boasted two recording studios--one fitted with analog equipment, the other with more advanced digital technology. (33) Their 1997 production was two albums a month. Besides cassette tapes, they produced karaoke videotapes and compact discs. Karaoke videos were significant as they provided the only regular audiovisual outlet for Iban artistes who seldom, if ever, appeared on television. Patterned on West Malaysian video clips, they were extremely popular at social gatherings in the longhouse and at public functions involving Iban leaders. The cassette and video cover illustrations project a dynamic urban persona devoid of any ethnic markers: the singers wear Western-style clothing and accessories (headband, sunglasses, mobile phone) reminiscent of those worn by Sarawak's visiting Filipino artistes and other Southeast Asian entertainers.

Irama, another Sibu company, often uses exactly the opposite imagery, Irama produces both Iban pop songs (lagu Iban) and folk music (main asal), including taboh (gong and drum ritual music) and ramban (love songs). The performers are clad in traditional Iban costume and surrounded by Iban motifs. Modernity is nowhere to be seen. These tapes appear, however, to be less popular than TBC's. (34) In this connection, some Iban leaders and cultural organizations have decried the loss of the vast Iban musical heritage. (35) Suggestions have been made to introduce Bornean folk music in the Malaysian school curriculum (36) and the Dayak Cultural Foundation has announced the creation of a Dayak classical music orchestra. (37) At the same time, some leaders have called for tighter regulations in the pop music industry in order to protect the Iban singers from exploitation by (ethnic Chinese) middlemen, as well as official support to market their own tapes. (38) The Housing Minister, Datuk Celestine Ujang, believes some Iban artists would be millionaires if they were given a fair share of the industry's profits. (39)

The thriving Sino-Iban music industry in Sibu is the outcome of a number of favorable circumstances: the expansion of the music industry in other parts of the Archipelago, the economic growth and diversification of the Sibu area in particular and Sarawak in general, an urbanizing Iban population with a growing demand for "modern" forms of entertainment that RTM was failing to provide, the old symbiotic relations of patronage/exploitation binding Sibu Chinese and Iban, and the entrepreneurial acumen of one particular Sibu family.


The invention of television (1931) preceded by several decades the invention of Malaysia, a political entity described by Anderson (1998) as a "hasty amalgam of Malaya, Singapore and the Bornean regions of Sarawak and Sabah" arranged by Whitehall. (40) Both Malaysia and Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) were born in 1963. Unlike the BBC, RTM was never intended to be a public service. Rather, it was to be a government service with a crucial mission, as it was regarded as "an important tool for facilitating or encouraging socio-economic development and for fostering national integration amongst the country's multi-ethnic peoples" (Anuar and Kim 1996: 262). Six years later, a second channel was launched. Its directives followed those for the first channel and remained unchanged into the 1990s:

1. to explain in-depth and with the widest possible coverage the policies and programs of the government in order to ensure maximum understanding by the public;

2. to stimulate public interest and opinion in order to achieve changes in line with the requirements of the government;

3. to assist in promoting civic consciousness and fostering the development of Malaysian arts and culture; and

4. to provide suitable elements of popular education, general information and entertainment (Nain 1996: 162).

Over the years, the realities of Malaysia's political life have tarnished these lofty ideals. Khoo (1995) gives three representative examples. In 1983, the populism of Dr. Mahathir, Malaysia's Prime Minister, was at its peak. As leader of the ruling coalition's dominant party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and undisputed national leader, he was able to mobilize the UMNO-owned newspapers, especially the New Straits Times and Berita Harian, to carry "reports, features, analyses and letters [...] slanted against the Malay royalty." In addition, the state-owned TV stations ran a series of Malay films on the rampant tyranny suffered by the people "under the Malay equivalents of the ancien regime" (1995: 206-7). Second, in 1986 RTM screened an edited police videotape to discredit the opposition party, PAS (1995: 228). Finally, in 1988-89 the Lagu Setia (a song of loyalty to king and country, leaders and people, religion and race) was repeatedly broadcast over radio and television and sung at political, government and civic functions (1995: 321).

The late 1980s were marked by the increased authoritarianism of a vulnerable Mahathir. His ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional, used docile media organizations, notably television and the press, owned by politicians and businessmen "to promote and legitimise itself" and to "discredit political opposition and dissent more generally" (Gomez and Jomo 1997:3). Critics say that television's potential role as a tool of "popular education" and national integration has lost out to the dictates of advertisers who favor entertaining foreign productions. In the 1980s, Mahathir's government began issuing licenses for the creation of private TV companies. His intention was to raise funds while retaining control over party political content by selling to carefully chosen bidders. All along, television has remained a key electoral tool for Barisan National, the Malay-controlled ruling coalition (Anuar and Kim 1996).

In 1984, the private channel TV3 was created. The official justification was that private television would foster competition, help reduce the size of the government debt, and counter the VCR threat to national unity after an increasing number of ethnic Indians and Chinese had turned to imported videos in their own tongues, shunning the Malay-language domination of RTM's programming (Hashim 1995). TV3 was a huge commercial success. Despite a strong economic recession, it recorded a pre-tax profit of RM 2.16 million in 1985. Five years later, this figure had multiplied fifteen-fold to reach RM 31.59 million. This led to rapid changes in the shareholding structure. By 1994 the majority shareholder was the group MRCB, controlled by close associates of Anwar Ibrahim (Gomez 1997:91-92). TV3's positive coverage of Anwar is said to have played a key role in his wresting the UMNO deputy presidency from Ghafar Baba as part of his bid to ultimately become Prime Minister (Gomez 1997: 126-127). In 1997, Shamsuddin Abdul Kadir, close to Mahathir, became one of TV3's directors (Gomez 1997: 73).

Some vocal sectors within urban West Malaysian society have expressed dismay at what they see as a constant meddling of politicians in the programming, a widespread lack of professionalism and the unrelenting search for lucrative revenues from transnational advertising agencies. Both RTM and TV3 have been attacked for allowing un-Asian levels of sex and violence into their programming. RTM's hard-earned 1980s ratio of 60 domestic productions to every 40 imported ones had by 1993 been reversed. TV3 was even more westernized: 80% of its programs came from the West, mostly from the USA (Hashim Rahman 1995). These figures, say the critics, indicate that the policies to foster a national culture are under severe threat (Nain 1996). Pressure from non-Malay quarters led to a compromise: RTM would devote its first channel to the promotion of the Malay(sian) language and culture, while TV2 would target the needs of the non-Malay groups by broadcasting in Chinese, Tamil and English (Hashim 1995). Despite this adjustment, a number of pressure groups still feel that their constituents are underrepresented, including women's groups, small ethnic minorities and non-Muslim religious groups (Anuar and Kim 1996).

A persistent bone of contention is religion. Islam is a main ingredient in the synthetic Malaysian culture dreamed up by the UMNO leaders after the serious 1969 racial riots in West Malaysia. It is the only religion with TV coverage, a perennial source of resentment from other religious quarters. So far, moderate Muslim values have dominated local productions. Most RTM dramas revolve around the concerns of the Malay community, notably, how to reconcile the demands of modernization with the Islamic faith. (41) Two Malaysian researchers describe how "Islamic values are injected [in many dramas], partly as an indirect response to the government's desire to instil Islamic values into the administration and wider society" (Anuar and Kim 1996: 270).

In their television history, the Bornean states are again a special case. Transmission commenced in Sabah in 1974, eleven years after it had done so in West Malaysia. From 1975 Sarawak was allowed to use the Sabahan facilities. Various cultural, musical and religious programs were produced and broadcast by the two states over a joint channel known as Channel 3. However, in 1985 Channel 3 was closed down following directives from Kuala Lumpur--predictably, it was seen as a threat to national unity. Programming was taken over by the center, with which airtime was now "shared." Non-Muslim religious programs were never again broadcast. (42) Today, in spite of Sarawak's impressive economic growth of the past two decades, local production is lower than it was in the 1970s. Three kinds of programs are produced in Sarawak:

1. Rampai Kenyalang. (43) The state's oldest program, launched in 1976, this 30-minute newsreel is broadcast every Wednesday from 12:15 to 12:45. It covers political events, sports and cultural celebrations such as Gawai Dayak.

2. Documentaries on development and culture. Irregularly broadcast, on average twice a month.

3. Music, the arts, entertainment. Also irregular broadcasts.

Television in Sarawak is a West Malaysian import that arrived more than a decade later. Together with the Malay-medium school system, television is an integral part of the wide-ranging process of "double westernization" affecting Sarawak and Sabah since the Federation was created in 1963, and accelerated since the mid-1970s. By "double westernization" I mean the two-step flow of ideas, images, and practices from the Western world (especially the USA) selected and recycled in West Malaysia and then re-exported to East Malaysia. Television is also a reliable propaganda tool for the ruling government coalition, and in particular for the country's authoritarian Prime Minister. It is a fundamental conveyor of nation-building and modernity visions, notably Mahathir's Vision 2020--his dream of a developed Malaysia by the year 2020 (Postill 2002a). Finally, it is the site of many a struggle for political and economic clout. Attempts by the Bornean states to develop an autonomous channel in the 1970s were soon thwarted by Kuala Lumpur in the interest of "national unity," the same interest that led to the burning of Iban books. The result is that Iban and other Dayak groups are systematically excluded from television. The sole recurrent Iban contribution is that of a young woman clad in traditional costume who sings the Vision 2020 along with four other attractive peers, each representing a major Malaysian 'race' (bangsa). This is but one example of the nation-state's indefatigable efforts to tame cultural diversity by overcommunicating the aesthetic appeal of the various cultures to a nationwide audience while undercommunicating (Eriksen 1993:84 following Goffman) their chief perceived threat to national unity: their unique languages and cultures. The Dayaks can be seen on television, but they cannot be heard.

Marrying pop and pomp

With the decline of the great pagan rituals of the past, and with the tedious simplicity of Christian rites and the development of an urban Iban elite in Sarawak, a secular celebration has acquired growing prominence over the past three decades: Gawai Dayak, the 1st of June pan-Dayak Festival launched in 1965 by the Iban Chief Minister of Sarawak, Kalong Ningkan, to match the Malay Hari Raya and Chinese New Year celebrations. Gawai Dayak is a mass event celebrated in towns and longhouses across Sarawak. There are special state television and radio programs to mark it, as well as newspaper features and advertisements, souvenir programs, postcards and other tourist memorabilia, posters and hoardings of brands of international beer and tobacco, photographs by tourists and Dayaks alike, greeting cards, telephone calls, fax and email messages, speeches mediated by public-address systems, Iban karaoke audio- and videotapes, and the Gawai Dayak midnight toast, which is synchronized across the land by means of a mobile medium: the wristwatch. In a word, it is a media-fueled, controlled explosion of ethnic jubilation. By contrast, other kinds of outbursts, as we saw in the case of the anti-logging blockades, are quietly kept away from the mass media limelight.

To illustrate the media production side of Gawai Dayak, I will cast but a glance at the 1994 souvenir program published by the Kuching-based Organising Committee. The cover shows the portrait of the previous year's Kumang Gawai, or Gawai Beauty Queen (Iban Section). Overleaf, the reader is welcomed with the greeting "Happy Gawai 1994" in Malay and eleven Dayak languages. Page 3 contains a list of "Gawai Themes" from the first Festival in 1987 to 1994. They all stress the need for unity, in line with the Chief Minister's oft-repeated slogan "politics of development," i.e. the idea that development should be above ethnic-orientated "politicking." The last three themes focus more specifically on the familiar conundrum of how to reconcile tradition and development:




The next item is a preface written, also in English, by the Iban anthropologist and former Director of the Sarawak Museum, Dr. Peter Kedit. He relates the 1994 theme to the metaphor "confluence of rivers," applicable in his view to Sarawak's cultural and economic history, as well as to Malaysia's national motto "Unity in Diversity."

The Pacific nations provide us again with a useful comparative framework. LiPuma and Meltzoff (1990: 79-90) have analyzed the social construction of a "public culture" in the Solomon Islands during ceremonies of independence. Like Malaysia, this nation-state is a British colonial creation. These ceremonies provide an annual setting for complex struggles over the representation of a national identity amidst great ethnic diversity and growing class differences. Ethnicity is simultaneously exalted and nested within the national identity. As in the Iban ethnohistorical accounts mentioned in the previous research note, headhunting is presented as part of the internal strife that fragmented the Solomon Islands before unification. Similarly, the new media are mobilized by the elites to present the scattered islands as "a new, fledgling nation built on a primordial unity" (1990: 90). Time and space are reconceptualized, and the nation is portrayed and performed as a natural unit antedating its official birth. The leitmotif is to preserve the indigenous traditions "by creating a special time and space (i.e., ritual ceremonies) where they may be displayed" (1990: 90). Across much of the post-colonial world, elites have invented pseudo-rituals and media narratives to symbolically conjoin centralized states with their sub-national ethnic groups (cf. Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Throughout the Pacific, says Sullivan (1993:551), notions of kastom ('custom') have become powerful political tools, "so vague as to be both unifying and dividing, invoking various levels of community." These "ideologies of primordial culture" are pervasive across the vast region's mass media because "like [the] mass media themselves, [they] easily transcend geographic and linguistic barriers." In Island Southeast Asia, from Southern Thailand to West Papua, the term adat ('custom') performs an identical service through a growing number of elite-controlled media, both modern (radio, television, public-address systems, etc.) and pre-modern (dance, music, etc.). Lacking a common language and cultural heritage, the Dayaks (including those who follow rather than set the official agenda) are re-presenting themselves through a small set of vague terms and images.

The next section in the souvenir program is a series of double-page messages from two state and another two Dayak leaders. The Dayaks (the Deputy Chief Minister, Tan Sri Alfred Jabu, and the State Minister for Land Development, Datuk Celestine Ujang) are members of the so-called "big three" Iban millionaire politicians within the Melanau-controlled PBB, the dominant party within the ruling coalition at state level (Jawan 1994: 122). There follows the official prayer, Sampi Gawai Dayak 1994, written by Janang Ensiring, whom we have already encountered twice, first as a young patriotic poet, then as a middle-aged novelist. Among wishes of good health and longevity for all, Ensiring waves a proverbial cockerel (miau manuk) to ask the benevolent spirits "that our adat and our unity will follow firmly and closely the Rukun Negara [Malaysia's national ideology]" (Awak ka adat kitai enggau sempekat kitai tegap nunda sapat Rukun Negara). Then there is a long biau ('blessing') by the Iban politician Jimmy Donald in which he rewards, to quote from the English abstract provided, "the efforts of our wise leaders to perpetuate the noble values and the rich cultural heritage of the Dayak community." This is followed by a long photographic section in which the leaders are seen to partake in the colorful festivities.

Tourism being a growth industry in the state, on page 22 we learn about "Gawai Tourism Nite" which includes a "Traditional Gawai Welcome," dinner, Gawai "rituals," traditional music, a beauty parade and the latest pop hits from Sibu. The next section is made up of background information on some of the Dayak cultures represented in 1994, including materials from a foreign anthropologist (Jensen), an Iban ethno-historian (Sandin), and Dayak staff from the Council for Customary Law (Langub, Belawing). Finally, there is a long list of committee members and a number of mostly tourism-related advertisements.

As this product shows, this remarkably mediated ceremony expresses and reinforces Sarawak's ethnic-weighted imbalance of power. The ceremonial, colorful side of "the Dayaks" has accompanied powerful figures in Sarawak since the Brooke days. Gawai lends legitimacy to the political elite's claim that "the politics of development" is a successful formula of government that reconciles the demands of modernization with the preservation of a rich cultural heritage. In turn, they argue, this rich heritage can generate more revenue for the state and its people in the form of tourism.

The other side of the official festive coin is provided by the Sibu-based popular music industry. Iban cassette tapes and karaoke videos are increasingly popular with longhouse revelers. The complementarity of Sibu and Kuching--of Iban pop and Iban pomp--is never more apparent than during Gawai. This festival is, in sum, a "rite of modernization" (Peacock 1968), a celebration of and through clock and calendar time that provides all Dayaks with an official "slot" in the annual round of national events (Postill 2002a).

Interpersonal media

Gawai Dayak mobilizes two kinds of media: the mass media we have discussed throughout this piece (radio, print media, television, etc) and also what are known as "interpersonal media," that is, technologies that allow two-way communication, including letters, telephone, fax, email, and public-address systems (cf. Thompson 1995). In a nation-state such as Malaysia where the mass media are under strict government control, the interpersonal media have a special significance. Thus, Internet reports of all kinds reach Iban longhouses through indirect (and imperfect) channels. In 1997, a deluge of "flying letters" accusing the Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud, of fleeing Sarawak at the height of the forest fires in neighboring Kalimantan, reached all areas of the state (see Sarawak Tribune, 13 October 1997, for one of many pro-Taib retorts). Rumors that Taib had deposited 8 billion ringgit from his logging ventures in a Swiss bank reached the rural areas and were quietly relayed in coffee shops and longhouse galleries. In this case, a number of interpersonal media (especially email, telephone and letters) and face-to-face exchanges were mobilized to discuss allegations which had been "blacked-out" from the mass media.


In each research note I have discussed one remarkable 20-odd-year period, one generation, of media production tied to profound social and cultural changes within Iban and Sarawak society. The first period (1954-1976) saw the rapid development of language-based Iban media--radio, books and a magazine--driven by a generation of Saribas teachers drawing on oral Iban culture. Their aim was to reconcile economic development and cultural preservation. At the same time they were furthering the state's aim of "saving the Iban from themselves," from their presumed conservatism. The second period (1977-1997) was born with the mass destruction of books in Dayak languages by the new postcolonial, Malay-dominated state, part of the aborted ethnogenesis of a modern Iban culture. This was a period of accelerated Malaysianization and increased circulation of visual media contents. At the subnational level, the Sarawak state and its Dayak allies consolidated a vague, colourful Dayak identity supported by a wealth of visual media displayed most prominently during the Dayak Festival. A parallel discourse in the state government-controlled newspapers flourished and was pressed into intensive service at critical junctures of resistance from the Penan and other indigenous groups: the representation of the Dayaks as a backward people in need of a modern "mind-set." Partly as a reaction to the state's monopoly over legitimate media, this period also witnessed the growth of interpersonal media (telephone, fax, email, etc.) that challenged the ruling elite's accounts of rural development.

Following King (1989), King and Wilder (2003) and other anthropologists, I see the need to understand ethnicity not as an isolated category of analysis but as part of a broader context of social, economic, and political relations--as part of what Comaroff (1996) calls the "politics of difference." Contra Barth (in Hann 1994), I argue that the study of ethnicity in the post-colonial world cannot be detached from the study of culture and nation-building. Indeed, in Borneo as in other Asia-Pacific islands, ethnicity and nationalism are two aspects of common developmentalist projects that seek to spread vague primordial notions (of "custom," "heritage" and the like) through various media. It is precisely those "various media" that I have sought to explore in historical detail, for this is a sorely neglected area in the literature (see also Postill 2003). This approach has uncovered behind-the-scenes struggles not so much over vague symbols, but over the development and consolidation of a modern national language and culture in Malaysia--a question that is far from resolved given the continued strength of English and several Chinese "dialects." The attempts by Saribas Iban media producers to create a literate Iban high culture were thwarted by the new Malaysian state's will to monopolize legitimate language and culture. A literate culture "cannot normally survive without its own political shell, the state" (Gellner 1983: 140). In this regard, Iban radio posed less of a threat to the new Malaysian nation-state than Iban books, so it was allowed to live on.

Under the spell of Appadurai's (1990) "mediascape" trope and the ubiquitous notion of "globalization," Ginsburg (1993), Sullivan (1993) and others working on non-Western media production have highlighted the multidirectional nature of media influences. While agreeing with the need to design models that can capture some of the complexity of contemporary media practices, I have insisted on the unidirectional flow of media innovations and contents from the West, especially the English-speaking world, into East Malaysia via West Malaysia: a massive process of "double westernization" over which end-consumers in rural Sarawak have little control.
Newspaper Circulation

1. Chinese Daily News 5000

2. See Huan Daily News n.a.

3. Sin Hua Evening News and 4 n.a.



1. Sarawak Tribune 30000

2. People's Mirror* 10000

3. The Borneo Post* n.a.


1. Utusan Sarawak 20000

Table 2.6. Circulation of major Sarawak newspapers. Source: Amir and
Awang Jaya (1996: 54). Keys: n.a. = not available; (*) = includes a
Malay-language supplement. The tabloid People's Mirror is now defunct
and has been replaced by The Malaysian Today (personal communication,
Clifford Sather).

40.00% broken heart ambis asa, tusah ati

40.00% longing heart lelengau, sunyi

14.00% happy heart ati senang

2.00% ode to Sarawak Menua Sarawak

2.00% the meaning of life (29) Dunya Sementara

Table 2.7. Subject matter of Iban pop songs produced in the 1990s, in

Sample: 49 songs from 5 well-known cassette tapes. (30)

(1) This innovation was known as Pelajar Jaku Iban ke Sekula Primari & Sekondari (Untie 1998:2) and reflected directives set by the Ministry of Education.

(2) In my Saribas and Skrang experience, most rural viewers retire for the night between 8:30 and 9:30 pm.

(3) CATS is an acronym. It stands for "Communicating Aspiration Throughout Sarawak." It is also a pun, as kuching is the Standard Malay word for 'cat'.

(4) His artistic name is a wordplay on the Iban teknonym 'Father-of' (Apai). It literally translates as 'Peter John Son-of-Father'. I once attended a longhouse sermon in which the priest jokingly told his flock that "We humans are all like Peter John; we're all children of the Father" (Semua kitai mensia baka Peter John meh, semua anak Apai magang). This popular figure has since left CATS Radio and is no longer on the air.

(5) However, some of the participants, all of whom were native Iban speakers, had at times to revert to English. Like many middle-aged, educated Sarawakians of other ethnic groups, they found it difficult to sustain a work-related discussion exclusively in one language, especially in a language different from English. Moreover, most of the terminology associated with broadcasting has no Iban equivalents. Other participants chose to use English to stress particular points, a well-established practice among English-educated Sarawakians.

(6) Or, as the facilitator put it: "Nadai tuju ke terang."

(7) In the original "Ibanglish": "Nadai research digaga pasal proper content." In the 1980s, radio staff would often travel to the rural areas. Their travel reports included views from the listeners. Two preliminary audience research studies were carried out between 1993 and 1994. In addition, some 20 listeners telephoned with their views at the beginning of 1996.

(8) The Iban Section had 15 staff members in the 1980s, but only 6 in 1998. According to their new head, 27 more staff members were needed (Montegrai 1998).

(9) At the time of the workshop, advertisers were said to be "flocking to CATS," the private station, and deserting RTM. Radio commercials are mostly for household goods. The Iban Section budget has shrunk from RM 80,000 in 1994 to RM 60,000 in 1997.

(10) Participants felt that some broadcasters can at times be coarse or rude (kasar) and disrespectful towards the audience.

(11) For instance, storage facilities at RTM are in sore need of improvements. Unique folk stories, traditional music recordings, etc., are kept on magnetic tapes rather than compact disks (personal communication, Nichol Ragai Lang, March 1997).

(12) This point echoes a recurrent concern throughout the workshop and in conversation with educated urban Iban: the lack of written materials in Iban since the demise of the Borneo Literature Bureau.

(13) "[The Iban Section] must be the only organization in the world with absolutely no women on the staff!" complained one producer.

(14) The only area in Sarawak where RTM Iban can be listened to on FM is Miri. All other areas receive a crackling AM service. The other three major languages (Malay, English and Mandarin) all have FM broadcasts.

(15) This issue excited numerous comments from the participants. Two aspects of the complex problem were most salient. First, the intrusion of Malay terms and pronunciation in the Iban spoken by the younger broadcasters. Unlike their predecessors whose schooling was entirely in English, Iban under the age of 33-35 were educated in Malay. To compound this problem, as broadcasters climb up the organizational ladder at RTM they spend less time "on air" and more on administrative duties. The younger translators were singled out for their tenuous grasp of both Iban and English and their speaking Iban rojak ('mixed Iban'). One senior participant described their Iban as "more irritating than educating." A second aspect noted was the lack of a standard Iban spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary. The result, said a participant, is that one can listen to the Iban word for 'person' being pronounced as orang, urang, ohang and even uhang depending on the broadcaster's river of origin (one could also add to the list the Skrang ureang). What nobody mentioned was the fact that the Iban Section has already played a fundamental role on the long road to standardization by privileging the Saribas dialect. Any future decisions on standardization will have to be made with reference to the RTM-Saribas dialect rather than, say, the Skrang or Baleh dialects.

(16) The early broadcasters, such as Gerunsin Lembat, are said to have had beautiful voices. According to Empeni Lang, the workshop facilitator, the younger broadcasters not only have less pleasant voices, but are also "very subjective."

(17) In other words, it was felt that new staff are often recruited on the basis of their political allegiance rather than ability.

(18) Some Iban politicians are said to treat the Iban Section as if it were "just another government department." Pressures can also come from Malay politicians from Kuala Lumpur and their Sarawak allies. Religion is a particularly thorny issue. RTM Sarawak, unlike its Peninsular counterparts, has regular Christian broadcasts in Iban and other languages. These have been discontinued at least twice during the past few years owing to pressures "from high places."

(19) Kaji Selidik Tahunan Tentang Penggunaan Radio (Bahagian Teknologi Pendidikan 1993).

(20) As a rule of thumb, growing up in a longhouse is a chief criterion for being considered a 'true Iban' (Iban bendar) as opposed to an 'urban Iban' (Iban nengeri).

(21) Literally, 'The People's News'.

(22) Its Malay version is called Pedoman Rakyat.


(24) In my experience, Pembrita is more popular a newspaper in the Skrang than in the Saribas area.

(25) For the second kind of portrayal, see Minos' "Dayak attitude and NCR Land Development," Sarawak Tribune, 19 October 1997. Minos is a Bidayuh Dayak.

(26) In 1947 there were less than 300 Iban in Sibu. In 1972, there were at least ten times this figure (Sutlive 1972: 466).

(27) "Iban music industry fast catching up with the rest of the world" (Sarawak Tribune, 22/3/1998). This catchy headline from Bernama, the Malaysian national news agency, conceals the fact that it is a Chinese family who controls the lion's share of the "Iban music industry."

(28) See, for example, Peacock's (1968) classic study on "proletarian theatre" (ludruk) in the East Javanese town of Surabaya, or Van Groenendael (1985) on the wayang in rural Java as, among other things, powerful sites of social critique.

(29) A most unusual philosophical investigation into life's transience conveyed in a moralistic tone by Andrewson Ngalai and entitled "Dunya Sementara," from his album Ambai Numbur Satu.

(30) The five tapes are: Ambai Numbur Satu and Andrewson Ngalai by Andrewson Ngalai, Taju Remaong by Johnny Aman, Iban Karaoke by several artists (Johnny Aman, Andrewson Ngalai, Josephine Wilson, and William Awing), and Joget Iban by several artists (Andrew Bonny James, Angela L. Jua, Johnny Awie, Jus Allen, Gibson Janggum, Jackson Dana and Alice Awis). Only the latter album is an lrama production; the other four are all TBC.

(31) "Nuan enda ngasoh nganti," In Iban Karaoke Vol. 7 (TBC audiocassette).

(32) Probably a reference to Sibu's recent past. More generally, the notion that there are no longer any 'enemies' (in Iban, munsoh or munsuh, but notice here the Malay spelling musuh) thanks to the pacifying efforts of the government is widespread among the Iban (see next section).

(33) TBC website (

(34) Even though the folklore tapes were considerably cheaper. In 1997 they were selling at RM 7.25 compared to the pop tapes' RM 12.50 to RM 13.50. I do not have at present, however, any sales figures from either company.

(35) A case in point is the Iban politician and former headmaster, Jimmy Donald, who has worked on the musical heritage of the Iban . In a recent paper (Donald 1997), he singles out a number of traditional genres, including didi (lullabies) and other songs for children, ramban (used to correct someone's behavior), pelandai (to entertain and egg on a warrior), dungai (an entertaining form of "conversation"), kana (a sung epic), pengap or timang (invocation of the deities at major festivals), renong (to recall a love story, to heal a shaman's patients, to open apengap), and others.

(36) Sarawak Tribune, 8 April 1997.

(37) Sarawak Tribune, 2 April 1998. The orchestra has now been founded and performed a concert, as reported in the last BRB, during the 2000 BRC conference in Kuching (Brakel 2001).

(38) These views were put forward by an Iban councillor (name not recorded) at a workshop on Iban arts held in Kuching in April 1997.

(39) Sarawak Tribune, 2 April 1998. As it happens, Ujang himself is a millionaire.

(40) But see Jones (2002) for a more complex interpretation.

(41) An interesting parallel with the Radio Sarawak dramas and BLB novellas discussed earlier.

(42) When the Christian Kadazan-dominated Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) swept into power in Sabah in 1990, the rebirth of a state television station was at the top of their electoral manifesto (Jawan 1994: 220-221). The Federal government, however, successfully thwarted such attempts.

(43) Previously known as Majalah Sarawak and Mingguan Sarawak.


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John R. Postill

Research Fellow

Bremen Institut fur Kulturforschung (BIK)

University of Bremen, Germany
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Author:Postill, John R.
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Geographic Code:90SOU
Date:Jan 2, 2002
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