Sarawakians urged to rethink identity

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KUCHING: Sarawakians are urged to rethink a Sarawak identity, emphasising on how common objects and practices connect them.

“Looking at the way we portray our food, dances, clothes, and so on, it is a plethora of things, but we need to look and think through these objects and practices.

“How do they connect us and what are the values we can embrace and inculcate?” said the Head of Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Assoc Prof Dr Poline Bala.

She said this in her lecture on ‘Rethinking a Sarawak Identity’ held via Zoom last Saturday, as part of a series of lectures on ‘Sarawak Identity’ organised by The Sarawak Initiatives.

Sharing an example from when she was conducting her fieldwork in Bario, where she is also from, she said her group had started the Bario Food and Cultural Festival.

“It is to celebrate connections and what we have. However, perhaps many people would come to the festival and think that it is just about coming to eat and drink, without thinking of the ideas that shape the place,” she commented.

Poline, who is also chairperson of the Institute of Borneo Studies at Unimas, said the idea behind the festival is to celebrate the environment and the local’s food heritage.

“Through this celebration, the young people are educated about Kelabit food — food that is available in the forest — and therefore how we need to protect the forest, the river system and the living landscape.”

She said it is important to hold on to values gained through objects and practices.

“These values can manifest in different cultural practices or forms, depending on the space or time,” she added.

She said today, with digital technologies available and with Sarawak’s digital economy agenda, people should consider how connections could be preserved and how these connections could be promoted through these new technologies.

During her session, Poline also explained that in order to understand Sarawak, people needed to have a bigger perspective and wider context as to why Sarawak came into existence as well as the historical factors or events that led to the formation of Sarawak.

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