This volume focuses on a distinct historical singularity – the Malay World – even though much of the material presented may seem familiar to researchers who have worked on other parts of the world. It should not come as a surprise to find, for instance, that certain peculiarities in the Malay World correspond to generalities uncovered by analyses of situations elsewhere. Such being the case, the aim of this volume is to offer theoretical, descriptive, and practical perspectives that will be relevant to researchers working on both the Malay World and beyond.
The scope of the volume is sufficiently narrow for historical, ecological, and cultural factors to be held relatively constant – notwithstanding the variations that do occur in the region – but it is also sufficiently wide for each of us to learn from the findings of the others. The collation of materials on Peninsular Malaysia with work from South Thailand, Indonesian Sumatra, Sarawak in eastern Malaysia, and from Singapore, has been a valuable exercise. This is especially so, as the contributions cover contemporary ethnography, sociology and political science on the one hand, and historical issues on the other.
The tribal and recently-tribal people of the Malay World cover a broad spectrum. They include, as this volume shows, nomadic foragers (inland, coastal, and maritime), swidden farmers, traders in forest and marine products, petty commodity producers, emergent and established peasantries, proletarians, and professionals, among others.
Many broad themes can be found in this volume, some of which we highlight here. However, the issues discussed in all the contributions overlap in numerous ways. Therefore, rather than organizing the chapters according to the usual thematic groupings, which would direct the reader's attention unnecessarily to one or another frame of reference, we have instead arranged them along a north–south axis, commencing in South Thailand, moving southwards through Malaysia and Singapore, and finally reaching Indonesia. In so doing, we believe that the reader will gain a panoramic view of all the themes and issues that interlock in each of these areas