Date: 21st June 2021 (Monday)
Platform: Zoom & FB Live
This discussion explores a postcolonial indigenous storyteller from the historic margins of the Malaysian nation-state- AKIYA. Akiya (Mahat Anak China), the author of two novels on Orang Asli historical moments of confronting slavery in the Malay world, Perang Sangkil (The slave-raiders’ war) and Hamba (Slave), comes from a younger and educated generation of Orang Asli. The analysis presented here suggests that through their creative works, performances and discursive practice, Akiya and other postcolonial indigenous storytellers are subverting from the nation-state margins, what Norbert Elias calls ‘the civilising process’. In both the anthropological literature and the practices of indigenous governance of the British colonial state and the postcolonial nation-state, ‘civilising the margins’ has generally been identified with policies that assumed the state’s role as bearers of progress (read: ‘civilisation’, ‘development’) towards the allegedly ‘backward’ (‘primitive’) indigenous communities. In the evolving State-Orang Asli relations in the nation’s history, these two variants of the ‘civilising process’ have marginalised the Orang Asli and ruptured their sense of identity, dignity and social worth. The critical subtexts of Akiya’s storytelling interventions is that they represent indigenous people’s assertion of agency, empowering a sense of identity and ontology, which embody their rights to humanity and self-esteem, their desire for participatory development and, most of all, their historical pursuit of peace and love. In the context of an evolving Malaysian nation-state, its grand narratives and dominant discourse have constantly denied the Orang Asli these rights. This paper argues that the narratives and discursive content of storytelling as articulated by Akiya constitute a remaking of an indigenous postcolonial discourse directed to ‘civilising the centre’.
Prof. Wan 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 an Adjunct 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.
Mahat a/l China who also goes by his pen name Akiya is a Semai writer, poet, photographer and novelist. Formerly, Mahat used to ply trade with Jabatan Penyiaran Malaysia (Malaysia Broadcasting Agency) as a Radio DJ, radio producer, script writer as well as a news presenter. An accomplished writer, he has published, among others, Short Story of Orang Asli: Tuntut (2011), Perang Sangkil (2007), Hamba (2013), Perjuangan Warisan Orang Asli (2007) and a poem compilation entitled Suara Dari Dalam (2009).
Adriana Nordin Manan is a writer, playwright, translator, and researcher. Born, raised, and based in Kuala Lumpur, she is fascinated by the expanse of stories as mirrors to society and monuments to the human condition. Adriana has a Masters in Politics from New York University and a Bachelors in Globalization and Social Justice from Colby College. She is indebted to the field of anthropology for providing her a lens on observing society in her formative years.