Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Penan Natives' Discourse for and against Development

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Penan Natives' Discourse for and against Development

Article excerpt


Modernization and capitalist penetration in developing countries have impacted rural communities differently. The Penan natives who are settled in the peripheral and isolated areas close to the forest are on the receiving end of development. Often authority-defined development discourse has been dominant but lay-defined discourse provides an alternative understanding and contestation to this discourse. This paper examines the development discourses of the Penan natives who have settled in the Belaga Area of Bintulu, Sarawak. The discourses entail the impact of development, as well as the natives' view for and against development. A total of 25 heads of households from 6 villages were involved in this research that utilized the non-probability sampling technique. Data in this research was collected using the technique of in-depth interview and informal group discussion. The findings revealed that the Penan natives are displaced and excluded from mainstream market development and as such their exposure to the market ideals requires adaptation of skills, information, education and even welfare provision which are still distant to them. Findings also revealed that the Penans are for development that entails sustaining their existing ecological relationship, with adequate provision of amenities and infrastructural development such as long houses, schools, recreational areas, roads, and other utilities. However, they are against development that disrupts their livelihood and habitat, for example those involving activities such as logging, oil palm plantation and major infrastructural projects. Contrasting worldviews held by the Penan natives for a sufficiency and ecological model of development can provide alternative views to mainstream development discourse.

Keywords: development discourse, rural, native, resource, livelihood

1. Introduction

Often development entails a teleological belief in progression towards a goal typical of the economy and society to be found in the 'developed' western countries (Castles, 2000). This is the conventional westernatization thesis that modernization theory premised on the idea of economic growth and social change that has been propagated and has become a received wisdom in most developing economies. However, the critique of dependency theory has exposed the structural and external component of foreign control of peripheral economies of which most developing economies are embedded. Likewise, notions of social transformation has attempted to remedy the idea of development outcome and the conflictual nature of development process by incorporating the idea of integration and social upheavals caused by the globalization process (Castles, 2000). Thus, we can conceptualize development as a social condition within a nation, in which the real needs of its population are satisfied by the rational and sustainable use of natural resources and systems (Reyes, undated). The use of natural resources based on adaptive and local technology respects the cultural features of the local community. Thus, development enables the social group's access to organizations, basic services such as education, housing, health services, and nutrition. Additionally, the community's cultures and traditions are respected within the social framework of local society (Reyes, undated). The concern here is on how natives who are settled in rural and peripheral sites adapt to development discourse.

Natives settled in peripheral and isolated areas all over the world are confronted with issues of survival and sustainability in an increasingly globalizing world. Some have viewed these marginal communities as the hardest hit. In the 'Endangered peoples of the world' series by Greenwood Press published which is a series of successive publications on endangered peoples of Southeast and East Asia (Sponsel, 2000) and of Latin America (Stonich, 2001). Sponsel (2000) in the introductory chapter on Southeast and East Asia's marginal communities that is succinctly titled "Identities, Ecologies, Rights, and Futures: All endangered", went on to conclude that "endangered peoples" struggle with inadequate understanding, protection, and enforcement of human rights by state governments and the international community. …

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