Nation and Identity in a South East Asian Borderland
NUS Press 2010
Borneo is an island where three very different nation-states meet: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. The Indonesian province of Kalimantan occupies most of the island; of the rest, all except one percent is taken up by the Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak. The tiny but wealthy Sultanate of Brunei occupies that one percent. So, people living in the northern parts of the island have lots of borders to cross. It’s almost like having your own mini-continent; and one that the outside world doesn’t really think of in terms of barbed wire and immigration check points- such imagery being reserved for the more famous borders of India and Pakistan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, or even Thailand and Cambodia. Borneo to most of us out here is all about orangutans, long houses, and tropical rainforest.
But Noboru Ishikawa‘s magnificent, trail-blazing book, Between Frontiers: Nation and Identity in a South East Asian Borderland (NUS Press, 2010) is all about the borders and frontiers that slice up Borneo, the people who have to live around them, and the daily negotiations that take place on them. Noboru conducted extensive fieldwork in the villages on the border demarcating Malaysian Sarawak and Indonesian Kalimantan to see how the people lived the experience of being on a borderland- for the Malaysian village of Telok Melano, for instance, it was 3 kilometres to Indonesia, and an 8 hour walk (tide permitting) to Sematan in Malaysia when the sea was too rough for boats to traverse. The result of his work is a marvelous fusion of historiography and anthropology.