Akiya, a postcolonial indigenous storyteller on Orang Asli enslavement

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This discussion explores a postcolonial indigenous storyteller from the historic margins of the Malaysian nation-state, Akiya.

Akiya (Mahat Anak China), the author of two novels on Orang Asli historical moments of confronting slavery in the Malay world, Perang Sangkil (The Slave-raiders’ War) and Hamba (Slave), comes from a younger and educated generation of Orang Asli.

The analysis presented here suggests that through their creative works, performances and discursive practice, Akiya and other postcolonial indigenous storytellers are subverting from the nation-state margins, what Norbert Elias calls “the civilising process”.

In both the anthropological literature and the practices of indigenous governance of the British colonial state and the postcolonial nation-state, “civilising the margins” has generally been identified with policies that assumed the state’s role as bearers of progress (read: ‘civilisation’, ‘development’) towards the allegedly ‘backward’ (‘primitive’) indigenous communities.

In the evolving state-Orang Asli relations in the nation’s history, these two variants of the ‘civilising process’ have marginalised the Orang Asli and ruptured their sense of identity, dignity and social worth.

The critical subtexts of Akiya’s storytelling interventions is that they represent indigenous people’s assertion of agency, empowering a sense of identity and ontology, which embody their rights to humanity and self-esteem, their desire for participatory development and, most of all, their historical pursuit of peace and love.

In the context of an evolving Malaysian nation-state, its grand narratives and dominant discourse have constantly denied the Orang Asli these rights. This paper argues that the narratives and discursive content of storytelling as articulated by Akiya constitute a remaking of an indigenous postcolonial discourse directed to ‘civilising the centre’.

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Speaker: Prof Wan Zawawi Ibrahim served as professor of anthropology at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam from 2011-2020. He is currently an adjunct professor at Taylor’s University, Malaysia.

Commentator: Mahat a/l China @ Akiya

Mahat, who also goes by his pen name Akiya, is a Semai writer, poet, photographer and novelist. Formerly, Mahat used to ply his trade with Jabatan Penyiaran Malaysia (Malaysian Broadcasting Agency) as a radio deejay, radio producer, scriptwriter and news presenter.

Moderator: Adriana Nordin Manan is a writer, playwright, translator and researcher. Born, raised, and based in Kuala Lumpur, she is fascinated by the expanse of stories as mirrors to society and monuments to the human condition.

Organised by: Pusat Sejarah Rakyat

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