Accepted paper:

Boarding school and the appropriation of childhood? Longhouse children in Sarawak, East Malaysia


Jennifer Alexander (Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the 'expert' appropriation of childhood in the context of postcolonial State Boarding schools in Sarawak, East Malaysia. Boarding school, an inevitable precursor to acquiring an education, is assessed from the point of view of the indigenous populations and the anthropologist.

Paper long abstract:

Under the Bakun Resettlement Scheme in Sarawak East Malaysia, timber, land and water have undoubtedly been appropriated. In this paper I explore the issue of whether childhood also has been and continues to be appropriated. I focus on the implications of the boarding school experience for longhouse children, their parents and the fieldworker. The State and its representatives in the education system have encouraged children at primary, junior and senior high schools to live in boarding school quarters while attending school. In the past this made sense as schools, particularly the junior and senior high schools, were located at some distance from the children's longhouse homes. But in the recent past (1980s) and again in the present (2000s) parents have been persuaded to allow their children to become live-in students during the week on the grounds that in the longhouse conditions are inappropriate for learinng to cope with life in the modern world. In some respects both the State and longhouse parents are in unison in regards to the conflicts between work and formal education. Despite the presence of alternative caretakers, the swidden cultivators of the past and market gardeners of the present have acquiesced in the State's proposal to incorporate upriver peoples into mainstream Malaysian society and provide them with the education to move beyond the longhouse setting. I conclude with a section on the civilizing project of the State and the expert 'appropriation' of childhood from the point of view of both the fieldworker and the education system.

panel P05
Appropriating childhood: the current state of play