IAS Working Paper on Anthropological Reflections on a Malay Fishing Village

The Institute of Asian Studies at Universiti Brunei Darussalam (IAS @ UBD) is pleased to announce the publication of IAS Working Paper No. 58: The Anthropology of Remembering and Memory as Ethnography: Reflections on a Fishing Village and Firth’s Malay Fishermen by Zawawi Ibrahim.

Please see below for the abstract of this working paper, a download link, and a link to the other titles in the IAS Working Paper Series.


The Malay peasantry in peninsular Malaysia has been the subject of fieldwork and ethnographic research by both colonial and local anthropologists. Raymond Firth’s Malay fishermen, based on fieldwork in Perupok, a fishing community in Kelantan, stands as an early and now classic example of the genre. I was born some seven years after Firth’s first fieldwork in another east coast Malay fishing village, Kampung Che Wan, Kijal, in Terengganu. This article is about my own process of remembering the ethnographic details of my home village, thinking like an anthropologist over the period of a lifetime. While this is essentially an exercise in comparative ethnography, I suggest that such remembering represents variants of both collective memory and individual memory. The method of recall comprises various snippets of collected memory in the form of a discontinuous flow of selective ethnographic soundscapes and visualscapes, empowered by both a reflexive and critical anthropological gaze. It also entails a constant juxtaposition between the insider – outsider roles: the ‘emic’ and the ‘etic’ positioning on the part of the anthropologist But remembering itself is ultimately part of a historical and political project, an indigenising research project It is not part of a misplaced nostalgia that accommodates an old, worn-out colonial anthropological design aimed at preserving an ‘unchanging society’. Nor should remembering be understood an act ‘to reinforce the system in place, never to transform it’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 21). Rather remembering is considered a form of agency, which empowers local imaginings and is a mediator of social change, transformation and identity.

Keywords: Malaysia, Anthropology, Ethnography, Collective and Collected Memory, Soundscapes, Visualscapes, Indigenising, Identity


Zawawi Ibrahim served as Professor of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam from 2011-2020.  He is currently a Visiting Professor at Taylor’s University, Malaysia. He has researched and published on pluralism; Islam and globalization; identity, ethnicity and multiculturalism in Sarawak; new media and civil society in Malaysia; Malay peasantry and plantation labour; indigenous communities of West and East Malaysia; voices of AIDS; Penan storytelling; Malaysian popular music and new Malaysian cinema. His current research is on contemporary Islamic cinema in Indonesia and Malaysia, and governance of religious diversity in Malaysia.

His book publications include: (1995) Regional Development in Malaysia and the ‘Tribal Question’; (1996) We are not Anti-Development: Discourse of Orang Asli towards vision 2020; (1998) The Malay Labourer: By the Window of Capitalism; (1998) Cultural Contestations: Mediating Identities in a Changing Malaysian Society; (1999) with Marina Mahathir, Hidden Voices: True Malaysian Experiences of AIDS ; (2001) TUNTUT: Collection of Short Stories by Akiya; (2001) Voices from the Crocker Range Indigenous Communities, Sabah; (2008) with Jun-E Tan, Blogging and Democratisation in Malaysia: A New Civil Society in the making ; (2008), Representation, Identity and Multiculturalism in Sarawak ; (2012) Social Science and Knowledgein a Globalising World; (2012) with NoorShah M.S, Penan Society and their Imagined Development: Narratives of Marginalisation and Identity; (2016) (eds.) Paul Carnegie, Victor King & Zawawi Ibrahim) Human Insecurities in Southeast Asia; (2017) (eds.) Victor King, Zawawi Ibrahim & Nur Hasharina, Borneo Studies in History, Culture and Society.

He has also published in leading international journals including: Journal of Contemporary Asia, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (Critical Asian Studies), Modern Asian Studies, Asian Studies Review, Suomen Antropologi, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Sociopedia ISA, Spectator, Asian Journal of Social Science, South East Asian Studies (Tonan Ajia Kenkyu), Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, Senri Ethnological Studies, Journal of Glocal Studies, Situations, American Anthropologist, Positions Journal of Malaysian and Comparative Law, Prisma (Indonesia) JMBRAS, Kajian Malaysia, Akademika, and Sarawak Museum Journal.

Contact: wzi1947@gmail.com

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