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Working Paper on the Dusun in Brunei

The Institute of Asian Studies at Universiti Brunei Darussalam is pleased to announce the publication of IAS Working Paper No 67: Who are the Dusun in Brunei? Representation and Deconstruction of an Ethnic Identity by Lian Kwen Fee, Yabit Alas, Tong Chee Kiong, and Faizul Ibrahim. Please see below for details.

Abstract: The etymology of the term ‘Dusun’ is disputed. It has been attributed to British colonialists to refer to a place where people practised horticulture and to the Brunei Malays to describe orchard or countryside. Over time, as a consequence of official ascription, it has been accepted by the indigenous community itself, even though the Dusun themselves initially preferred to call themselves Sang Jati (our people).

In this paper we address the question of what is Dusun identity and who are the Dusun by examining the work of local and foreign scholars and the views of informants who have been influential in the community.

Equally important, we also identify critical issues that have dominated the work of these scholars and assess their relevance to current and future research on the Dusun. These issues include ethnic identity and religion, ecology and language, and kinship and leadership. We come to the conclusion that ecological variations matter.

Future research should address how the Dusun are represented and essentialised and recognise the diversity of ‘Dusunness’ today.

Lian Kwen Fee is Professor of Sociology in the Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam. His research interests are in race, ethnicity, migration, multiculturalism, and the nation state. In recent years he has turned his attention to indigenous communities in Brunei and Borneo.

Yabit Alas was the Head of the Malay Language and Linguistics from 2006-2008, Director of the Language Centre from 2009-2010, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in 2012- 2013 and currently the Director of the Language Centre. His area of expertise is Comparative Linguistics specifically on the Austronesian Languages. His research is mostly on the Dusunic Languages spoken in the north Borneo, particularly on their origin, dispersal and classification. He is actively working on Malay languages especially Standard Malay and their relevance to globalisation. He is also involved in the planning and implementation of the Malay language in Brunei as well as in Malaysia and Indonesia under the Language Council of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia (Mabbim). He has published in regional and international journals both in Malay and English.

Tong Chee-Kiong is Special Academic Advisor and Chair Professor at Universiti Brunei Darussalam. Before joining UBD, he held various positions at the National University of Singapore, including Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Director of the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology. He obtained his Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honors) degree from the University of Singapore and Master’s and PhD from Cornell University, USA. His research interest focuses on the Chinese in Southeast Asia. His publications include Chinese Death Rituals (Routledge, 2004), Rationalizing Religion: Religious Conversion, Revivalism, and Competition in Singapore (Brill, 2007), Identity and Ethnic Relations in Southeast Asia (Springer, 2010) and Chinese Business (Springer, 2014). Chee Kiong has also published papers in the British Journal of Sociology, International Migration Review, Asian Ethnicities, Diaspora, Child Abuse and Neglect, International Sociology, and Journal of Asian Business.

Faizul Ibrahim is a research assistant at the Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam. He completed his Masters of Anthropology at Universiti Brunei Darussalam and his dissertation was on Understanding and Framing the Middle Class Bruneians through Food Choices (2020). He also published a paper on Kitchen Anthropology in Brunei (2018) in the IAS Working Paper Series. Faizul is a forthcoming MEXT scholar who is expecting to pursue his PhD in Japan.

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