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The Strengths of the Past: Foundation for Development, Springboard to the Future

Reprinted from Rural Development and Social Science Research: Case Studies From Borneo Including Selected Papers from the Fourth Biennial Conference of The Borneo Research Council, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, June 10B15, 1996, Victor T. King, editor. Borneo Research Council Proceedings No. 6. Phillips, ME: Borneo Research Council, Inc. Pp. 337-59, 1999.

G. N. Appell
Brandeis University


You must listen to the music of the past
so that you can sing in the present
and dance in the future.



I believe development is an extremely important process, particularly integrated development. Integrated development builds on the strengths of the past, minimizes environmental degradation, and meets the rising expectations of those involved, providing a better life for all.

I believe in a just society. In a just society the social costs of development are minimized and equally shared; and societal goals are reached without depriving any sector of economic and social opportunity. Planning based on social justice and integrated development, which builds on the strengths of the past, is not disruptive of the fabric of society. It fosters organic growth and promotes political stability.

Around the world you find many social problems created by superficial development plans and rapid social change. Social justice and integrated development will alleviate these, minimizing alienation and the growth of antisocial behaviors. By antisocial behaviors I include an increase in broken families, drunkenness, senseless violence against property, fighting and brawling, drug addiction, stealing, wife abuse, promiscuity, suicide, and homicide. Social justice and integrated development also minimize the flood of unemployed and homeless to the cities; and they minimize the physiological, psychological, and behavioral health impairments associated with development and rapid social change (Appell 1985a, 1986).

Let us now look at some strengths of the past among the Rungus and other peoples of Sabah as a foundation for an integrated development coupled with social justice.


There are three pillars to integrated development. The first is land.

Landlessness has been the cause of political instability around the world. The problem facing most developing nations is how to plan development without producing a landless peasantry that creates political instability exacerbates the problems of urbanization. Thomas Jefferson, the architect of American independence, argued that a nation would be politically more stable if it had a strong sector of independent landowners working their own lands (see Appell ed. 1985).

The second pillar of integrated development is a strong functioning village community. Closely tied to the issue of loss of land in modernization is the erosion of the integrity of the village community. The disorganization of the village community has produced major social costs around the world. These costs appear in various forms including the rise of antisocial behaviors and the increase in physical and psychological illness (see Appell 1986). This social disorganization of the village community also results in an increased dependency by individuals on the state welfare, which is inadvertently encouraged by development officers and those seeking office.

If individuals have secure title to land, coupled with a strong, integrated village community, the social costs that arise in development are reduced.

The third pillar to integrated development is family stability. We all know what happens with the breakdown of the family. The strength of the family rests on an economic base of land, a stable village organization, and support of its values by outside institutions. All too frequently in development these values are unnecessarily attacked. Instead the basic indigenous family values must be recognized and encouraged rather than destroyed, as sometimes happens in schooling, development themes, and exposure to mass media, such as radio and television (see Appell 1993). It is critical for those undergoing change, as I will explain, to feel proud of their past rather than viewing their past as something of little worth to be ridiculed and discarded. For this is in essence a devaluation and an attack on one's parents and grandparents.


To see what has happened to the Rungus it will be necessary to look at their traditional system of land tenure. My research starting in 1959 found that Rungus land tenure was based on their concept of a corporate village. This corporate village held residual rights over land, and only resident villagers could cultivate their farms within the domains of the village territory without obtaining prior permission from the headman and the moot of village elders (Appell 1971a, 1971b, 1985b).

My subsequent research among the Bulusu' in Kalimantan Timor and my review of the ethnographic literature enabled me to conclude that throughout Borneo the basic feature of land tenure among those groups cultivating dry rice was the control of a territory by the village as a corporate jural entity (Appell 1990, 1992, 1993, n.d.). Therefore, I believe my research conclusions will also apply not only to the Rungus but to most if not all of the indigenous peoples of Sabah who practiced dry rice cultivation.
Please note two things. First, no research has been done on the traditional system of land tenure among wet rice cultivators in any section of Borneo. This is a huge gap in our knowledge.

Second, the so-called customary tenure laws of the British North Borneo Chartered Company (The Laws of North Borneo. 1953. Chapter 68, Part IV Native Lands) are a creation of a company that was concerned with commercializing Sabah. And the intent of these laws and ordinances was carried on by the British colonial government after World War II. But the Company and its successors had no knowledge of apparent interest in what were and are the actual customary land tenure practices of the natives. The terms that are used in the various laws and ordinances are "native tenure," and "native title." These refer to preferential treatment of natives in applying for land up to 15 acres per person. Thus, it is not "native" in any sense of the concept. It is strange that often I come across people who believe that the British land laws reflect traditional native tenure. Unfortunately, this is far from actual reality. These laws are a pure fabrication of the British North Borneo Company and its successors.

Let us now look at this traditional system of land tenure and the changes introduced to see the impact that these introductions have had.

Traditionally the village as a corporate jural unit had a well developed jural personality. That is, it held certain rights and duties which enabled the village to operate and maintain relative harmony among its members. The village headman in conjunction with the assembly of elders, which I term the village moot, met to consider cases of infractions against the village rules.

With economic development the jural personality of the village has been eroded. Its most important function, in addition to maintaining harmony among its members, was the protection of its village lands, its major asset.

The first step in this erosion of the integrity of the village community was the introduction of ownership of land by individuals. Previously, individual families practicing shifting cultivation of hill rice had only use rights to cultivate anywhere within their village community. They could not create permanent rights over a farmed area, as happens among the Iban, Kayan, and Kenyah.

Certainly creating individual ownership was a necessary step to promote the production of cash crops. But in instigating this, the government without thinking removed many of the powers of the village corporation. And this eroded its capacities to maintain social order. But this erosion of the village's jural personality was not necessary for this stage of development. Instead, the government ignored what steps it could have taken to protect the integrity of the village. It refused to integrate the findings of social scientists into its planning.

Let us look at the consequences of this. With the introduction of individually owned land came the possibility of selling it, selling it to anyone irrespective of his residence or his ethnic group. This introduced outsiders into the homogeneous village community. And these outsiders were beyond the normal social controls of the village moot and the exchange system within the village. The intrusion of outsiders also resulted in the introduction of discordant cultural ideas. Dissolution of the village integrity was thus begun.

The British could have supported the village jural personality by maintaining that land could be sold only to individuals residing within the village or to those village members temporarily working in the towns and cities. This would have supported the social order of the village and delayed disorganization. Let me emphasize here that it is still not too late to institute such a rule. If this rule were instituted for a generation or two it would slow down the social disintegration of the village communities.

During the introduction of individually owned land the headman of each village had to sign off on such alienation and subsequent sales. However, corrupt headmen, those who took bribes, could agree to the sale of land to individuals from the cities and other nonresidents, even against the desires of the whole village. Again, this could have been prevented by requiring that the village moot agree to the sale of land to outsiders.

It is important to realize that in the early stages of development, as well as the later ones, those living in urban centers generate surplus cash that they need to invest. Those with surplus cash find one way to invest this is in land where they have access to a pool of laborers. Individual farmers, on the other hand, are always short of cash, so that for many without thought of the future, the sale of their land is attractive (Appell 1985a; Appell, ed. 1985).

Again, it has been a world-wide phenomenon that predatory entrepreneurs want to destroy the jural personality of rural villages in order to gain control of land. The first step in this process is the instituting of laws that permit the full ownership of land by individuals. Speculators want private, individual ownership as they know they can buy up land cheaply from these rural landholders who are susceptible to the opportunity to get their hands on cash. This was the experience of the American Indians in the early part of this century. There was a movement to break up tribal control of lands in order to get lands into the hands of individuals. Then these individual title to lands were bought up by predatory Europeans. And this eventually led to the impoverishment of the Indians.

The next stage in this process of the breakdown of village control over land and the slow disintegration of village communities has been the institution of plantations. The government took up major parcels of land within the village boundaries for various forms of plantations, such as coconut palms, oil palms, rubber, fast growing tree species, and so on. The response of Rungus villagers has been varied. Those who want to throw away cash on the newly available commodities rather than saving it, as was the practice in the past, welcomed some of these plantations. More people looked upon them as an intrusion. Some development plantations have not worked out because the promise made to those working to develop them, that they would receive parcels of lands for their own, never came about. I have heard a number of Rungus individuals saying that the government plan for plantations is to create coolies of them. As early as 1961 I heard statements to the effect that selling land to outsiders "desecrates the bodies of your ancestors".

Consequently, I perceive the next stage in development should not be a focus on rapid economic development, but rather should be on reestablishing the solidarity of the village and family. Economic development will then flow more harmoniously from a base of traditional values.


During the thirty-five years of studying Rungus culture my wife and I have seen a major rise in divorce, wife abuse, drunkenness, fighting and brawling, suicide C especially of young people, homicide, illegitimacy, promiscuity, and now even prostitution. There has also been an increase in psychological illness of various types, which are related to these behaviors. Of particular interest is the incredible increase in death and disabilities from accidents of all types. These are usually a symptom of a population under considerable stress. We find that the rise in incidence of these physical, physiological, and behavioral impairments has been associated with an attack on traditional family values by schools, missionaries, and development officers.

Let me be concrete. Previously, parents were respected and honored. Now, many of the old people refuse to talk about their traditional life, the period of their youth, because they are ridiculed by their children and grandchildren.

When Rungus children started schooling in the 1960s their traditional dress and their baskets were ridiculed by the teachers. In 1990 we attended a closing ceremony for an extension course run by the agricultural department for young married women. The women were taught how to make pillows decorated with crude cross-stitching and how to tease some cheap nylon yarn of various colors into a very tacky looking, fluffy dog. There was no emphasis on traditional crafts in the course. These could have included the intricately fine and exquisitely beautiful embroidery that is worn on traditional sarongs or the complex weaving of traditional clothing which demands prices of RM750 to RM1000. But no, the young Rungus were being taught just plain tacky crafts, cheap crafts. Development of the cottage weaving industry, on the other hand, would have brought considerable economic benefit to the rural villages.

At the closing ceremonies, the head of the course was a man we had known as a seven-year- old child in 1959. He spoke with great enthusiasm at what the course had taught the women. They have learned how to make pillows, rather than sleeping on logs as they used to. This was absolute kerabau excrement. In 1959 we were living without pillows, and the old Rungus women taught us how to make pillows from the kapok that they were growing.

But please note that all too frequently it seems necessary to debase the past to justify development. Which also is a means to justify the jobs held in the development sectors. And not only is it not necessary, but it is also counterproductive as it hinders the processes of social change (see Appell 1993)!

I know of places where traditional peoples are being taught to read and write, taught modern ways, but at the same time there are courses in the traditional ways in the school, run by some of the honored elders. I know of places where the traditional languages are being taught in schools to prevent the loss of them. Few Rungus in the new generation really control the Rungus language; it is dying.

I know of places where the traditional medicines are being taught to the next generation on the encouragement of the government because they know that they have some value. I will never forget that a man cut his leg badly with a parang in 1962 he put a quid of chewed tobacco on it. We were surprised and wondered. Several years later in reading the Science Section of the New York Times I found an article saying that scientists had just discovered the blood-clotting capacities of tobacco when put on a wound!

I know of governments that make an effort to incorporate traditional curing into the modern delivery system because it means better health. Many governments encourage the shaman, the bobolizan, to continue practicing and pay them to teach the next generations. For they know that modern medicine cannot cure all ills, particularly those of the psyche.

But unfortunately in development many aspects of the past culture are thrown away unnecessarily. Anthropologists have generally looked at society as a whole. It is an integrated system. And we have been concerned about the social consequences when parts of that system are destroyed. We are concerned when the old is devalued, thrown away, leaving a hole within the system. We are concerned when new values are brought in that conflict with old values. For this conflict sets up interpsychic conflict within the individual. These situations of change also set up conflicts between generations and within the family system, leading to the dysfunction of the family, creating all sorts of social problems.

I would now like to turn to the cutting edge of research on this and discuss how traditional values, knowledge, and ideas have a place in facilitating the modernization process, thereby lessening the social costs.


Development and modernization are forms of social change. And social change has been found to produce a psychological reaction that is similar to the grief experienced over the loss of a significant other (see Fried 1969; Parkes 1971, 1972; Marris 1974). I refer to this psychological reaction to social change as "social bereavement" (Appell 1977, 1986).

In periods of rapid sociocultural change people experience a conflict between old goals and the new ones that require a loss of important attachments. They feel a disorientation with regard to critical purposes as there is loss of rewards for achieving old purposes. These experiences precipitate a sense of psychological loss similar to that experienced in bereavement. If the trauma of these losses is not successfully worked out and healed, as in personal bereavement, reintegration and growth in the population will cease. Under these conditions a people can lose their capacities to cope, becoming apathetic, depressed, or, alternatively, angry.

Marris (1974:151) has argued that the need to sustain familiar attachments and understandings which make life meaningful is as profound as other basic human needs. And he has pointed out (1974:149) that the recovery from the social bereavement associated with social change depends on restoring a sense that the lost attachment can still give meaning to the present, not on finding a substitute.

Thus, in social bereavement as in personal bereavement, normal growth and the completion of the developmental cycle of bereavement require that the past be conceived of as a meaningful and an important experience on which to build the future. If the past is destroyed without proper valuation, the normal development of the social bereavement process is aborted (see Appell 1977). It is critical to link past purposes to future goals. And this means a people must have some form of access to their traditional culture and a positive valuation of their past.

Consequently, I argue that the work of the anthropologist in the recording of the cultural traditions of the population at risk, including the language and oral literature, by developing the social history of the population, and by helping create ethnographic museums is critical for enabling a people to cope with the future. This approach can provide the necessary resources for working through social bereavement and linking up the past with the future. It provides the opportunity whereby the members of the population at risk can evaluate their past positively and link up the past meanings of life, the past goals and purposes, with the evolving new life, with the new purposes and goals. And in this way social change can be accomplished more productively, more creatively, and without the painful dislocations of the social separation syndrome. A people without a tradition is like an amnesia victim who cannot come to terms with the future until he has discovered who he is.

An integral aspect of this is the maintaining and encouraging of the skilled artisans of Sabah, and ensuring that their knowledge and skills are passed on to the next generation. This is an important part of managing the transition from the past without disrupting the social fabric, and it also provides important economic opportunity to the rural communities. The handicrafts and manufactures of the indigenous peoples of Sabah are unique, beautiful, and valuable. They could be of considerable economic importance for the tourist industry. Craft techniques from other countries do not need to be brought in, as this will only debase what is native to Sabah. But to resuscitate these crafts it will be necessary to search for those skilled artisans who still know how to make these handicrafts and manufactures. It may require going to museums to identify the old techniques and styles. And it will require an effort to keep these manufactures and handicrafts from becoming debased if they pander to common tourist tastes. I refer to the corruption of indigenous styles as in beadwork containing phrases such as "Sabah - Land Below the Wind" or as in the rough weaving of belts, cloth decorations, and so on, with the name of Sabah and the date interwoven. Manufactures and handicrafts of Sabah include iron work of various types from indigenous foundries, brass wire decoration, weaving, myriad forms of basketry work, indigenous forms of sun hats, pandanus matting and food coverings, woodwork of various forms from door decorations to pestles and sheaves for knives and parangs, and so on. The list is endless. We ourselves have a magnificent collection of Sabah's handicrafts and manufactures.


I have just discussed the importance of understanding the past, valuing the past, and providing some sort of access to it through archiving disappearing cultural traditions. I have also pointed out the importance of utilizing those traditions of the past that continue to have value. These approaches serve as the foundation on which to build a strong future.

But there are other reasons as well for being interested in the past. We are all the poorer with the passing of cultural traditions without no record of them. We lose the sense of how a society lived in the past, coped with its environment, and reflected on its lived experience through its unique aesthetics.

Practically, recording and archiving the past has economic uses as well, as in the introduction of new designs based on past aesthetics, providing interest for tourists, and in some very important cases resulting in useful pharmaceuticals, insecticides and herbicides of economic importance, and technological innovations.

One way of archiving the past is collecting the oral traditions. Among the peoples of Sabah there is a highly developed oral literature that is equivalent in beauty to any of the great literatures of the world. A significant portion of this is in poetic form and is chanted. It is an integral part of the religion of each of the ethnic groups and varies with the cultural heritage of these groups. Some of it is similar in construction to the great sagas of other regions of the world, recounting the work of the gods and various culture heroes.

There is also a large treasury of other oral traditions that includes myths, legends, and folktales. These are again highly developed aesthetically. They cast important light on the world view of Sabah's peoples, how they assessed their environment and have related to it, and the nature of their aesthetic perceptions.

Finally, there is an important body of oral history which details the experiences of these peoples, their origins, and their relations to each other during the days of warfare, during the period of migration, and during their colonial experiences.

This oral heritage is rapidly being lost as a result of religious change, schooling, television, and modern entertainments. The next five to ten years are critical in terms of collecting it. Among the Rungus, one of the groups considered most traditional, our informants in their 40's and 50's are now unable to explain much of the old ritual texts, are unable to elaborate on the complex symbolism, and are uncertain of the meaning of much of the old ritual vocabulary. It is of utmost importance to initiate as rapidly as possible a program that involves local personnel to facilitate the collection of this oral heritage and knowledge before the last of the ritual specialists, and those who have seen the religious literature performed and still remember the old oral heritage, die.

Consequently, we established the Sabah Oral Literature Project in 1986 to record, preserve, and translate the oral literature of the twelve or so different ethnolinguistic groups in the Kudat Division. It is hoped that the methods we are devising will provide the most profitable model for collecting the oral heritage of ethnic groups in other areas of Sabah and the rest of Borneo and will encourage others to do so.

An important aspect of this is the development of local field teams who collect this literature and help in its translation. We are constructing a Rungus cultural dictionary to help in the translation of this literature. We now have over 200 hours of tape recordings, and our cultural dictionary has grown to over 1500 pages (see Appell 1996).

I would now like to go on to other aspects of the past that have critical importance for the future.


The Rungus believe, as many peoples in Sabah and the rest of Borneo believe, that there are certain sacred places in their landscape. In fact this idea of sacred groves is a world-wide phenomenon. These sacred places are of several types.

First, there are places where it is believed that evidence exists of the early inhabitants of the country who lived there before the flood. Some of these ancestors have been turned to stone. This evidence is found in unusual rock outcroppings, footsteps found in rocks, or rocks that resemble man or animals. For example, I know of an area among the Rungus that in 1959 contained the rock effigies of a man, with raised spear, chasing a tembadau, along with two dogs. By 1980 this set of rock effigies had been destroyed by bulldozers in extending a road through the area. This site could have been bypassed if the myths and beliefs of the local Rungus had been respected.

Irrespective of the unthinking destruction of a sacred place, these places would have had tremendous tourist value. How often do tourists in America and Europe visit places sacred to previous peoples?

Second, there are sacred groves. These groves are the habitations of spirits called rogon. They were found primarily around wet places, springs, and river banks. It was forbidden to cut these as it was believed that this would anger the rogon, and they would make people sick.

Also traditionally it was believed that if these groves of trees were cut the countryside would dry up. Rungus also planted economically important trees, including fruit trees, around these groves as they were thus protected from being destroyed. With the advent of Christianity it was believed that people were now protected from these rogon, and it was alright to cut these groves down. More importantly, with the development of individual ownership of land, the land department did not recognize these groves as a community resource. And so they were included in parcels of land alienated by individuals. Since the owners had to pay a tax or rent on their land, it was uneconomical to maintain those groves. Consequently, many have been cut.

On our return visits to the Rungus, starting in 1986 to the present, we found that with the disappearance of many of the sacred groves the environment has dried up. The river we used to swim in is now dry much of the time, and trees are growing in the river bed. The Rungus were right in their appraisal of the function of sacred groves in protecting the water table.

One chap told me that when he was young he had to cross a stream from a sacred grove on going to his fields. In the morning there was water flowing from the grove so that he would get his feet wet on crossing the stream, but at night on the way back from his fields there was no water. Interestingly, he had independently discovered a phenomenon that is now called hydraulic lift by a scientist at Cornell University (Dawson 1993; Yoon 1993). Very deep subsurface water is drawn up by trees at night, and this flows out into the top layers of soil.

But these sacred groves not only preserve the water table, they not only increase the flow of water in the environment, they also provide a refuge area for important species of birds, plants, and animals. It would be economically profitable and environmentally sound if the government would institute a program to preserve the sacred groves that still remain in all parts of Sabah and try to reestablish those groves that have been cut down (see Appell n.d.).

I am sure I do not need to add that these groves also provide important tourist attractions. We go to many of these because they are cool and there is fresh, running water, beautiful birds, and interesting trees and lovely flowering plants.


When we returned to visit the Rungus after a long absence of 23 years we were pleasantly surprised at the response of the Rungus to the challenge of modernization. They were not overwhelmed, as has happened with many peoples. They did not fall into apathy or passively resist it. They did not draw back from the challenges that increased in the early 1960s with development and the possibility that they would lose control over their economic futures. Instead, they took realistic action. Rungus families sought out as much education as possible for their children. They perceived they would be able to right the socioeconomic imbalances through education and the job opportunities that would open up. And they wanted to get Rungus into the higher echelons of government service and into good well paying jobs in the private sector.

While land was, and still is of great importance to the Rungus, they realized that power also came from political engagement and access to cash income. Under the old method of subsistence agriculture, cash had been in short supply, and the value of cash, such as that obtained from a job, came to have a higher value than its actual monetary value.

Thus, to achieve the goals of increasing opportunity and protecting their interests, the Rungus family gladly gave up the labor of their children in the fields so that they could attend elementary and secondary school. Furthermore, they searched for the funds to support their children in residential schools in the major towns, even though this cut the family income by over 60 per cent, according to one estimate.

There were also many Rungus entrepreneurs in the new economic sectors. Some had borrowed money to buy lorries or pickups to go into the transportation business either full time or part time. Several individuals in one village had learned how to make gongs out of culvert and water tank metal, and these have become a fast selling item throughout Sabah. Others had gone extensively into part-time trading with other ethnic groups, traveling all over the country to make a profit selling and buying beads, brass rings and bracelets, brassware, gongs, and so on.

Furthermore, the growing economic prosperity of the Rungus and the increase in availability of cash had generally not resulted in improvidence, such as in a splurge of consumer spending and material display. When the Rungus did have extra cash, they were apt to put it in a savings account in the bank. I believe that this is an extension of their traditional economy into the modern one. Traditionally, the Rungus would invest their agricultural surpluses in gongs, jars, brassware, and so on. These then served as the basis for bride-price, or if there was a bad agricultural year, they could be converted back into rice.

Thus, the economic pressures and sense of deprivation that the Rungus had experienced, and which had increased as they were brought more into the national and world economic systems, had been relieved first by the opportunity to obtain schooling, which has opened up opportunities in the government and private economic sector; and second, by an expanding economy, as the government develops more and more rural services which have provided jobs to the rural labor market. These factors have been an important relief valve for growing aspirations.

However, by the time of our visits in 1990 and 1992 we found evidence that the stresses of social change were producing maladaptive behavior, as we have previously noted. Alcoholism was a growing problem. Suicide, particularly among young people, had dramatically increased. Deaths from various forms of accidents had risen precipitously. Fighting and brawling and other forms of violence, which were rare in the 1960s, were all too prevalent. There was an increase in family instability. Adultery and divorce were very much on the increase. Illegitimacy was rising, as was promiscuity. There has also been a significant increase in psychological dysfunction and disease with the breakdown of the family and the loss of cultural values. Cultural values provide the support that many individuals need to maintain their psychological health, and once traditional values disappear, if there are few new ones to substitute for them, psychological dysfunction rises.

In addition there has been a flood of Rungus to Kudat and Kota Kinabalu, without opportunity of employment for all. There are growing social problems as a result of this, including begging, homelessness, and so on.

Furthermore, the Rungus fear of land shortage was now becoming a major problem. There were a number of factors contributing to this. First, there has been an increase in Rungus population. Second, there has been a loss of land to investors from outside. In addition, government's schemes for land development moved land out from under Rungus control. Some of these schemes included oil palm plantations in which the Rungus families never got their promised acreage. Coconut planting also was encouraged, which took land out of circulation for the production of food, while at the same time coconuts have produced an unpredictable return due to fluctuations in commodity prices. Other plantation schemes have involved tree crops which are not yet producing a yield. All these factors have contributed to the problem of land scarcity.

The deep-rooted attitude among the Rungus that they must maintain their land base is still as strong as before. The degree of this varies from village to village. But in our research village and the ones surrounding it, the feeling is incredibly strong.

However, growing land shortage, while causing problems, has not yet precipitated social hardship. But, if there is an economic recession, and there are not sufficient funds to continue the education of Rungus children, if opportunities in government service dry up, and if opportunities in the private sector diminish, then the land shortage among the Rungus will become a major focus of social concern.

Finally, the Rungus have lost much of their traditional culture. However, a crisis of ethnic identity has not yet been reached, largely I believe because of the hope for a better future and the opportunity to move out of what was once their devalued economic and psychosocial position. But if this hope fails, if a better future does not become available, the Rungus will have to deal with their cultural loss. And then social problems and health impairments (behavioral, psychological, and physiological) may rise precipitously as a consequence.

At this point, the argument I have made becomes of even greater importance. That is, a positive valuation of the past, preserving the aesthetics of the past, and making the cultural traditions of the past available through archives will enable the Rungus to come to terms with their future and cope more efficiently.


All over the world anthropology has been involved in helping design development. The World Bank has over 50 anthropologists on its staff. But in Sabah anthropology has been almost nonexistent from the beginning. The North Borneo Company, being primarily a commercial company, did not welcome anthropologists or encourage them the way Sarawak did. The subsequent British Colonial government also did not encourage anthropologists. They were perceived as a bother and their recommendations were not solicited.

But anthropological research has many important contributions to make. And these include not only studies to explain why certain development schemes are not working, help in the design of better development plans, or help in the development of interesting materials for the tourist industry. Anthropological studies have a value also in helping people cope with social change. The argument here has been that a sense of loss similar to personal bereavement occurs with rapid social change. And this can be managed the same way personal bereavement is managed. Past goals can be articulated to a new and better future, making the passage to the new future less stressful and causing less health impairments (see Appell 1986). Without this a people can become disoriented, unhappy, and sometimes angry, displacing their anger on others, particularly the development planners. It is my hope that Sabah can take advantage of the opportunity to ease the path to the future by positively valuing the past before it is too late.


Appell, G. N.
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