Of Negotiable Boundaries and Fixed Lines in Borneo: Practices and Views of the Border in the Apo Kayan Region of East Kalimantan

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The paper focuses on borders and boundaries as practiced, perceived, changed, and enforced by different actors in the Apo Kayan region, an isolated plateau in the interior of Indonesian Borneo at the border between Sarawak (Malaysia) and Indonesia. The paper proposes a longitudinal and multi-faceted description of “border” that takes into account the complexity of its historical, political, economic, and cognitive connotations in the context of practices and interactions across the border. The combined ethnohistorical and cognitive approach of this study makes it possible to unravel the contradictions that are inherent in the concept of “border.”

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... Dayaks more commonly determine territory by referring to natural boundaries such as rivers and mountains, rather than nation-state spaces and boundaries. For example, people in East Kalimantan's Apo Kayan region, close to the border with Sarawak, talk of going to, say, the Baluy or Baram River, rather than using the term 'Sarawak' (Eghenter 2007). ...
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In this paper, we explore certain aspects of boundaries and ‘transnational’ circulations, which we think policymakers should pay attention to. Firstly, we emphasise that borders should not be taken for granted. Moreover, taken outside a state-centric perspective, ‘crossborder’ phenomena should not be assumed as new or objectively ‘problematic’. To do this, we discuss how young, often illusory, and arbitrary the current Southeast Asian state borders are when compared to ancient and on-going human relations, mobilities and circulations. Secondly, we discuss why it makes sense to think of any state border as a process of ‘becoming’. Indeed, borders are historical and on-going social constructions, which give birth to and shape a great variety of wider ‘cross-border’ dynamics between people, livelihoods, economies, identities, ecologies, and more. To show this, we introduce four quite different Southeast Asian case studies, in which our research group is engaging, and try viewing them in some connection. The case studies largely focus on political-economic processes and the dynamics created by cross-border economic disparities. We conclude by calling into question current claims about governments ‘opening up borders’ as well as with four key points for policymakers. In her response paper, an experienced Malaysian human rights activist and researcher urges policymakers to rethink state securitarian concerns and to envision a people-centred Southeast Asian immigration policy. This would mean more focus on human rights, need and dignity. The first step in the Malaysian situation, which the author critically delves into, is decriminalizing undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and trafficked persons.
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It is argued in this article that anthropology has relied upon a psychologically misleading and overly linguistic model of culture. Psychological studies show that concepts are principally formed independently of language. Moreover, studies of expertise show that in order to become an expert at a familiar task or a set of tasks a person needs to organise his or her knowledge in a way which is not language-like. The article draws on the theory of connectionism to suggest that most cultural knowledge cannot therefore be organised in the sentential logical form characteristic of language. It is suggested that the traditional anthropological method of participant observation enables the cognitive scientist to understand cultural knowledge without the dangerous intermediary of language.
Until 1900 Dutch rule in eastern Kalimantan was little more than nominal. In January of that year, as if to indicate the rapid changes which the new century would bring to this as to other areas of the Outer Islands till then ignored, the Dutch Cabinet gave approval for the Netherlands East Indies government to intervene decisively in the affairs of the states constituting the region. During the year new contracts were signed with the rulers of these states which transferred to Dutch control the external trade upon which the states depended for much of their income. Henceforth Dutch officials would supervise the harbours and levy customs and excise; control of the salt and opium monopolies also passed to the Dutch, and, in some cases, of pawnbroking and gambling. Annual pensions were arranged for the former holders of these rights.