Robert Aiken, born in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, in 1942. Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. Professor of Geography at Concordia University, Montréal.
Fellow (1 September 2003 – 31 January 2004)
ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY OF THE MALAY PENINSULA, 1500-2000
In addition to putting the finishing touches to a chapter in a forthcoming book and completing a long-overdue article, I devoted most of my time at NIAS to research on indigenous land rights issues in Peninsular Malaysia. I am particularly interested in the Orang Asli (the aboriginal inhabitants of the region) and their struggle to maintain control over lands and territories that they view as rightfully belonging to them. Like many other indigenous peoples around the world, Orang Asli communities are mobilizing to protest against integrationist government policies that threaten to erode their distinctive identities. They demand that lands grabbed by outsiders be restored to them and they resist the more rapacious expressions of so-called “development”, which usually come in the form of roads, dams, mines, colonization schemes, logging concessions, and other generally resource-oriented activities that frequently destroy or damage the very basis of their livelihood.
My research focuses mainly on four themes: the conflicting values that the Orang Asli and the Malaysian state attach to land and natural resources; issues concerning customary as opposed to statutory land rights; the various processes that have resulted in the dispossession of aboriginal communities and; the kinds of tactics that indigenous peoples have adopted to resist further loss of their lands and resources.
Following more than three months of intensive reading and thinking about the foregoing themes, I have started to write up the results of my research. I hope to finish the first of two or three planned articles sometime during the next month or two.