Land and Longhouse: Agrarian Transformation in the Uplands of Sarawak examines the process of agrarian transformation in the uplands of Southeast Asia through a study of the Saribas Iban of Sarawak. Combining in-depth village studies with historical and comparative analysis, the book demonstrates that the Iban have been active agents in their own transformation, engaging with both market and state while retaining community values and governance.
This book examines the role of community, market and state in the historic transformation of upland livelihoods in Southeast Asia. Focusing on the Saribas Iban of Sarawak, the book combines in-depth, generation-long village case studies with an account of changes in land use and tenure at the regional level spanning a century and a half. This analysis demonstrates that, far from being passive victims of globalization, the Iban have been active agents in their own transformation, engaging with both market and state while retaining community values and governance.
The uplands of Southeast Asia have long been an important site for the development of academic theory on the nature of agrarian society. A disproportionate number of the classic studies of swidden agriculture come from this region, as have also some of the most notable analyses of the articulation of upland societies to the lowlands and the wider world. Focusing on Borneo in particular, Tsing, among others, has examined the implications of upland societies of this island for our understanding of centre and periphery. The Iban of Borneo, beginning in the colonial era and thinking especially of the work of Freeman, have attracted considerable attention from scholars.
A longstanding weakness of academic analyses of uplands like those in Southeast Asia has been their synchronic approach, their ignoring of his. tory or change. A notable strength of Cramb’s study is his presentation of 150 years of data on Iban land-use and land tenure. He is able to make inferences about the prior 150-250 years as well, which thus gives us a picture of the Iban over a span of three to four centuries. Cramb argues that the Iban land-use system has been sustainable for this entire span of time. This conclusion makes a mockery of the perennial predictions — some made a century and more ago — of the collapse of their system of swidden agriculture. It similarly challenges facile predictions by development experts in the mid-twentieth century of the demise of the Asian peasantry.