Accepted paper:

The water world of the Orang Suku Laut in Southeast Asia

Authors:

Cynthia Chou (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will explore how the indigenous Malay roving fishing communities known as Orang Suku Laut perceive the water world in Southeast Asia. The challenge is in developing new ways to conceptualise "water spaces" to widen our academic inquiry into the less understood ways of spatial imaginings.

Paper long abstract:

The Riau Archipelago which is now part of modern-day Indonesia, was at one time part of a larger Malay World. It is still home to indigenous roving fishing communities known as "Orang Suku Laut" or literally, "people of the sea." For centuries, the sea and coastal areas have been their life and living spaces. New laws and discourses concerning development are however challenging their territorial rights. Discussion on ownership of territory have long been dominated by state-centered definitions of territorial boundaries in regard to the appropriation, mapping and ownership of space. Likewise, inquiries into territorial ownership are often made from land-based perspectives based upon the understanding of appropriation of space by land-based peoples. Critical to this is that while equivalent behaviour among land-based groups is described in terms of land ownership or land tenure systems, little if no such recognition have been given to sea-based mobile groups. In this paper, I intend to discuss the ethnography of the Orang Suku Laut. Rather than perceiving the sea from a land based perspective, I shall explore the way in which the Orang Suku Laut perceive the water world in Southeast Asia in order to raise questions pertaining to the diverse yet equally compelling ways in which people feel, experience and think about water spaces in Southeast Asia. The challenge is in developing a new way to conceptualise "water spaces" in Southeast Asia to widen our academic inquiry into the less understood ways of spatial imaginings.

panel P31
"Indigenous" space and local politics