Randau Ruai: Retelling Stories of an Iban Longhouse Community
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CitationKhaira, Damina. 2022. Randau Ruai: Retelling Stories of an Iban Longhouse Community. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThe anthropological framing of indigenous communities in the global South has predominantly depicted indigenous experience in relation to structural forces and entities like colonialism, the nation-state, progress, development and modernization. This approach has constrained anthropological insights on Borneo, where colonial and postcolonial investigations of indigenous Iban experiences have either attended to “forms" of indigenous Iban life (here/there; rural/urban; then/now) or the ceremonial articulations of indigenous history that privilege the voices of young men and “indigenous cultural specialists”. In other instances, the scholarship continues to rely on nineteenth-century sources as it fixates on particular practices that it persistently yokes to “Dayak culture” like that of headhunting and death and mortuary rituals. The result has been an enduring embodiment of the noble savage—the (male) native who teeters between the dichotomies of tradition/modernity, here/there and preserved/lost, and is still, in spite of himself, the Other.
Drawing upon eighteen months of fieldwork in an Iban longhouse community in upriver Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, my dissertation explores the longhouse practice of Randau Ruai (lit. wandering creeper), a traditional form of storytelling. As an everyday practice traditionally set on the longhouse verandah, Randau Ruai refers to acts of “intertwined talk” that presents stories, recountings and reflections on wide-ranging topics that include oral history, current affairs, childhood experiences, food preparation and farming practices. Because of its apparent lack of form and ceremony, Randau Ruai has been largely overlooked by anthropologists and other scholars. This dissertation argues that an appreciation of the “poetics of the phatic”—that of Randau Ruai—provides glimpses into unexpected social worlds of longhouse life and Iban experiences. Ethnographic explorations made in such a spirit can also expand and transform approaches towards the representation of highly typified communities. As a different kind of retelling of stories that holds names and narratives, this dissertation addresses matters of textual representation and voice within ethnographic writing. In so doing, it aims to counter ethnographic tendencies that have long (mis)characterized indigenous Iban experiences.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37372134
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