Borneo again : media, social life and the making of a national subculture among the Iban of Malaysian Borneo
This study examines the social and political significance of media among the Iban of Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo. It is intended to contribute both to the ethnographic literature on the lban and to a neglected field of inquiry of key theoretical and practical importance: the anthropological study of media. The thesis is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter introduces the problem by critically reviewing the relevant literature from social anthropology and media studies. The second chapter deals with the production side of modern media from an historical perspective. The production of a modern lban identity through radio and print media in the 1 960s was superseded in the 1970s by a more vigorous rival project supported through television and textbooks: the creation of a Malaysian national culture. The third chapter explores the 'social life and afterlife' of television sets in the Saribas region as they enter into the gift and exchange systems that bind the living and the dead, including burial rites at which television sets are destroyed. This approach reveals growing wealth disparities in rural Sarawak as well as culture-specific ways in which media artefacts are appropriated and disposed of. Chapter Four analyses the critical role of radio, television, public-address systems and other media in the organisation of social time and space in Saribas longhouse communities. I argue that these media help local people to routinely naturalize clock and calendar time both in their daily and festive lives. Chapter Five focuses on the relationship between media practices and the local Saribas ideology, or 'ideolect'. A close examination of school essays, public-address speeches and television commentary reveals a consistent set of developmentalist ideas cutting across these diverse practices. Chapter Six compares and contrasts the findings from the Saribas area (chapters 3-5) with those from a more remote region, the Skrang. I stress the importance of indigenised Christian prayer books in providing recent converts with tools with which to make sense of troubling reports from television and radio, notably news of war, famine and the spread of infectious diseases. Chapter Seven is a summary and conclusion.