Accepted paper:

Stateless communities and globalised conservation policies in maritime Southeast Asia


Gregory Acciaioli (University of Western Australia)
Julian Clifton (University of Western Australia)
Helen Brunt (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

The Malaysian government, allied with transnational environmental NGOs, has worked to subjugate and suppress stateless Bajau Laut in Sabah through marine protected area establishment, emphasising the economic value of resources to the state over their significance to local communities’ livelihoods.

Paper long abstract:

The geographic marginalisation of many stateless communities is often manifested in their location in close proximity to areas of relatively abundant natural resources or sparsely populated environments. This is particularly evident in Southeast Asia, where formerly nomadic maritime communities, such as the Sama Dilaut (or Bajau Laut, as they are known in Sabah), are treated as stateless as a result of Malaysian government policy setting forth criteria for identity cards. The tensions surrounding this situation are being exacerbated as federal and national government seeks to capitalise upon the biodiversity of marine resources through their promotion as tourist destinations or, more recently, assets to utilise in climate change mitigation programmes. Both of these require that stateless communities are subjugated, suppressed, and often moved out through a discourse which emphasises the economic value of resources to the state, for example their value for (dive) tourism revenue, over their significance to local communities' livelihoods. This in turn has been facilitated through powerful alliances between state institutions and transnational environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs), operating through such means as the creation of marine protected areas. This paper will examine how the state has recently sought to exert its power over stateless maritime communities in Sabah, eastern Malaysia. It will examine how communities have adapted and responded to this increased level of control and explore the implications of these policies with respect to the welfare and stability of stateless communities.

panel P087
Situating statelessness: anthropological perspectives (WCAA/Commission on Theretical Anthropology panel)