Dapat? : incorporatie en schaarste in Gayang

J.R. Lette

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    This study examines the recent socio-economic history of a Bajau fishing village on the northwest coast of Sabah, a state in the federation of Malaysia. The character of maritime anthro pology and anthropology of fishing was discussed as well. The question is raised whether maritime anthropology and anthropology of fishing are meaningful specializations. This question was answered positively.

    The social analysis of Gayang was based on three theories of development i.e. of Mygdal, Pearse and Galjart. The socio-economic development in Gayang was seen in the light of these theories. The material on Gayang shows that these theories are only valid under particular conditions.

    The major concepts used in the analysis of Gayang were incorpo ration and scarcity. Incorporation was defined as an increase of the number of relations between the inhabitants of a local community and the wider society, as an intensification or an an institutionalization of these relations. Scarcity is usually defined as the relationship between supply and demand expressed in money. Because so much of the economic life of peasants has a value that cannot be expressed in money, labour has been used instead, despite its shortcommings.

    In order to understand the economic behaviour of small-scale fishermen some of the insights gained from peasant studies have proved useful. in this study Scott's "safety first" principle and "subsistence ethic" are used in conjunction with Moerman's in sight as to the expectation of entrepreneurial behaviour of peasants.

    The research problem has been defined as follows:
    1. Can a process of incorporation of Gayang into the wider society be identified? If yes, what is its character, what are the different processes involved and what are the causes?
    2. Did any change occur in the relative scarcity of resources and means of production? If yes, to what extend are they related to a process of incorporation, or should they be explained in a different way?
    3. What is the effect of incorporation and the change in the relative scarcity on the social organization of production and distribution?

    In the second chapter the history of Sabah, which has affected the developments of Gayang, is discussed. Before the history of Sabah is given, a brief history of the harbour principalities of Brunei and Sulu is presented, since Sabah fell under their jurisdiction prior to the colonial period. The nature of these harbour principalities, which form a special type, is examined and is used to explain the historical development of this region. The precolonial history is seen as the history of the perifery of these harbour principalities.

    Colonial rule in Sabah was introduced by the Chartered Company, a commercial firm. This changed the nature and increased the integration of Sabah in the world economy. After the Japanese occupation during the second world war, which in Sabah was particularly harsh, Sabah became a British Crown Colony, which after independence became a state in the federation of Malaysia. Sabah experienced rapid development in this period as indicated by the growth of the G.N.P. and improved its infra-structure, health service, education etc.

    The literature about the Bajau is reviewed in chapter three. Generally the Bajau seem to have been low status sea-nomads, owing alligiance to the different noblemen in the archipelago, especially in Sulu. On the northwest coast of Sabah they appear to have settled and to have been followers of islam for over two hundred years.

    Chapter four describes and analyses life in Gayang, especially focussing on the recent socio-economic history. The description starts with the significant features of the surroundings i.e. the river, the sea, the beach, mangrove swamps, land and communications. Household composition, leadership, the economic position of those households which fall into the lowest category with regard to the ownership of means of production, the role of the government, individualism and economic activities are treated. Nearly sixty percent of all households consist of parents and children only and if one includes households consisting of single individuals, households of couples without children and one parent families, this would amount to seventy nine percent. Households which consist of more than three generations form nine percent of all households.

    Leadership in Gayang is not linked to inherited titles and is not associated with status or any special lifestile. Leadership in Gayang is most clearly to be seen in fishing and is linked to ownership. The owner takes all the decisions and initiative. However it is not uncommon to find the leader of a fishing trip in the morning acting as a common crew member in an other fishing trip on the same day and vice versa.

    The economic position of those households which fall into the lowest category with regard to the ownership of means of production, is reviewed in some detail. Of these seventeen households, three are dependent on support from relatives in order to fulfil their daily needs. Two households can make ends meet but cannot save, and the rest like all other households save and invest.

    It seems that life in Gayang is characterised by individualistic behaviour. When parents and children live in the same house they may or may not form a single household. In the latter case, business transactions between the two households are normal. Parents do not expect to be supported by their children or other relatives unless they have no income and are unable to work.

    Most households are engaged in agriculture and fishing but crafts, gathering, trading, wage labour and migrant labour also play a - minor - role in economic life.

    Rice is primarily a subsistence crop, providing the staple food. Fishing provides most of the cash but home consumption takes precedence over the sale of fish.

    Striking features of the fishing industry in Gayang are the absence of middlemen, credit and indebtness, the short duration and standardization of the contracts between owner and crew and labour shortage. Fish is sold on the market by the fishermen's wives directly to the consumer. This income allows the fishermen to pay for their consumer good and to accumulate capital, which is used to buy their fishing gear. This fishing gear is paid for in cash.

    The number of men available in Gayang is only half of that needed to operate all nets simultaneously and as a consequence a con siderable part of the capital invested in nets cannot be made fully productive. It was concluded that the increasing incorporation of Gayang had resulted in a situation in which no longer the availability of the means of production limits the size of production but the availability of labour. The result has been a smaller scale of the production units because of an increased emphasis on the gill net which needs only two men to operate and the introduction of shared ownership of the more labour-intensive beach seines in order to develop more durable relations with the crew. Looking at the processes outlined in the theory of Mygdal, Pearse and Galjart we see some differences with the development processes in Gayang: marginalisation of a large portion of the population does not occur; it is unlikely that the control of resources is transferred to groups or individuals outside the village, there is no withdrawal into a subsistence economy and there is no emigration. It is hypothesized that the nature of the available technology in combination with some environmental fea tures are responsable for the increased demand for labour which cannot be supplied and therefore forms a complex of factors that must be conditional for the validity of the theories of Mygdal, Pearse and Galjart.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • van Lier, R.A.J., Promotor, External person
    Award date11 Sept 1985
    Place of PublicationWageningen
    Publication statusPublished - 1985


    • anthropology
    • ethnography
    • fisheries
    • fishing
    • malaysia
    • social anthropology
    • folk culture
    • customs
    • ethnology

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