The Coastal Malay Communities of South-Western Sarawak

This is an ethnographic research on the nautical communities of Sarawak. It seeks to explain their lives in the context of the wider national politics, social, and economic systems. In particular, it seeks to unravel the influences of two motive forces of social change, in Malaysia, the state and the market forces.

The Coastal Malay Communities of South-Western Sarawak

Researchers: Abdul Halim Ali, Abdul Rashid Abdullah, Awang Mashabi Awang Mohamad, Mohd Faisal Syam Abdol Hazis, Mohd Nizar Yaakub, Mohd Suhaidi Salleh dan Zamri Haji Hassan

This research is an ethnographic research led by the Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS), UNIMAS, on the nautical communities of Sarawak. It seeks to explain the coastal dwellers' lives in the context of the wider national politics, social, and economic systems; and to understand selected facets of their lives at the local level. In particular, it endeavours to explain the influences of two motive forces of social change in Malaysia, the state and the market forces, upon their lives.

For the past 40 years, the state and economic power has been the motive force for social transformation in Sarawak; just as it is with the whole country, in general. Putting their focus on the coastal communities of Sarawak, the study seek to understand the effect on the various institutions and social processes within the community. The bulk of the research is based on a survey of 800 selected study group from a population of 14, 864 that settles in 14 villages, about 150 km from Tanjung Datu to Tanjung Po.

At the end of the 20th century, Sarawak has felt a relatively radical transition, especially in the beginning of the 1980s which shows segmented modernisation capabilities toward a new social life. And what's obvious in the 21st century is a reduction in the nautical activity compared to half a century ago; at the end of the 19560s, the coastal community, who were mostly confined to self-employed community, began entering the labour market as paid labour.

The observations made in the study, however, conclude that market expansion occurs slowly around the coastal community. Therefore, market role as a motive force to induce social changes and to contribute to the general development is not as significant as state's institution, at least for now. Only in land regulation does the market forces dominate compared to state role, and this is felt because of Sarawak' specific history under Brooke rule.

From an economic perspective, it is obvious that the coastal communities had not entered the market driven modernisation. Labour-market segmentation has thrown many coastal communities to the secondary sector, a sector defined by low skill level, undefine work status, and exposed to economic tide; a level where the skills are regarded as of little value and are easily replaceable.

Socially, they seems to be a safety mechanism enforced by the state's institutions to counteract market attack on the social solidarity of the coastal communities; and this is the maintenance of the community self-help practice. But as the global economy continues its expansion, one cannot deny the looming dominancy of market relationship. And when it does, what will be left of this community self-help practice is just an echo of bygone days.

While state influence seems to dominate the tourism industry in the isolated rural area; that's probably because of the low role played by market forces there. Only in the political arena does the state's institution still play a direct role in the coastal community political culture. Could it be that localisation and the spirit of statemanship are the true representation of the ideology of Malaysia's government institution at the state level? Can the development of civil community increase the political culture of the costal residence to a modern level?

Even then, the days are numbered for the state's to continue to play its current role. The New Rightism ideology that accompanies globalisation market will eventually reached the coast of Sarawak; and when the time comes, it would be harder for government institution to play its role of developing the costal residence without resistance from market power.