Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Notes from the Editor

Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Notes from the Editor

Article excerpt

In This Issue

We begin this issue of the Bulletin, as in most previous years, with a series of memorials. Two of those memorialized this year were personal friends of your Editor, and here I would like to say something briefly about each of them.

Dr. Rick Fidler was a friend for over thirty years. For your Editor, he was also a valued editorial assistant, whose help I repeatedly acknowledged with gratitude in the pages of these Notes during the first years of my editorship. As Professor Sutlive remarks in his memorial, Rick was a devoted friend of the BRC who could always be counted on whenever help was needed. He was also a first-rate copy editor. He always found time to read and review essays and seemed to relish the time-consuming, and sometime tedious, but, nonetheless, essential task of checking facts and of following up reference citations. Rick was a stickler for accuracy. He also preferred prose that was clear and to the point. Although his academic training was as an anthropologist, Rick had a wide-ranging interest in virtually everything pertaining to Borneo, including, as I recall from past papers he presented at BRC meetings, postage stamps, state holidays, and, above all--lest the rest of us forget--the significant role of Chinese communities in the social and economic life of Borneo. He rarely, if ever, missed a BRC meeting, from the early 1970s, through the most recent Ninth Biennial BRC Conference held in Kota Kinabalu in 2008. Rick had, in particular, a deep and enduring affection for Malaysia, especially for Sabah and Sarawak. Characteristically, he dated the "Preface" to his Ph.D. dissertation--"Hari Kebangsa'an--National Day, August 31, 1972."

Rick first went to Malaysian Borneo--to Sabah in his case--as a Peace Corps volunteer. Later, he returned, this time to Sarawak, as a graduate student for 15 months of fieldwork (from March 1970 through June 1971). He based his work in the small market town of Kanowit. Here he studied the general features of the Kanowit Chinese community, including religion, commercial relations, education, and associational life. The town itself he described, appropriately, as "Kanowit Bazaar." The resulting dissertation, "Kanowit: An Overseas Chinese Community in Borneo" (1973), is a work that still merits close reading. One of its major, and still relevant, themes is that of multiculturalism and the question of how different cultural groups have managed, through modifications in the behavior and attitudes of their members, to live together, if not in perfect harmony, in a state, at least, of mutual tolerance and respect. Kanowit, as he described it in the early 1970s,

   is a bazaar, a market, and the Rejang River is the highway that
   connects it with its suppliers and ultimate customers in the
   interior, and with its markets and source of manufactured goods in
   the city of Sibu and the ports of the world. Kanowit Bazaar lives
   on its middleman trade. The necessities of this trade for the
   survival of the community have led to the development of business
   practices, specifically the towkay-Iban symbiosis, that have, in
   turn, led to new forms of behavior and attitudes of racial
   tolerance needed to sustain [this] economic system.

This tolerance arose, he argued, not so much from a feeling of "love" for the other, or from ideals of social justice, as from a quest, as he saw it, for survival and success. However, as Rick observed, already by the early 1970s, the former prosperity of small riparian bazaars like Kanowit, once a ubiquitous feature of Sarawak's social landscape, was rapidly declining, and that this decline threatened the very social and economic fabric that had once bound different groups together in mutual relations of inter-cultural tolerance. As the young moved to cities, it was far from clear whether these kinds of relations could be successfully reconstituted. Indeed, as Malaysia--now a full generation later--enters what appears to be a new era of rising religious and inter-ethnic tensions, the historical experience of communities like Kanowit becomes an increasingly important object lesson. …

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