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2020-2021 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to present

Tourism and the 'Indigeneity’ Debate in Taman Negara, Malaysia

K.H. Frankie Fan, PhD
Geography and Resource Management, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Friday, March 5, 4PM-6PM PST
Hosted on Zoom [click here]

In a multi-ethnic country, 'indigeneity' can be controversial. For tourism in protected areas, the 'indigenous' status may legitimize certain ethnic group(s) their rights to land and natural resources, as well as cultural justification for indigenous/ethnic tourism. The 'indigeneity' debate is particularly acute in Malaysia, a country overshadowed by inter-ethnic conflicts and segregations since colonialization. Apart from the well-analyzed Malay-Chinese conflicts, the Orang Asli groups in the jungle interiors have not drawn much international attention. The arrival of the Orang Asli's ancestors in the Malay Peninsular are said to have pre-dated the Malays by a few thousand years, and hence, for most anthropologists and NGOs, only the Orang Asli are the truly 'authentic' indigenous people of Malaysia. The Malays and Malay-led government, however, perceive the Malays to be the 'indigenous' and carry special 'indigenous' rights over other ethnic groups (using the bumiputera policy etc.). Most Malaysian Chinese/Indians simply see the use of 'indigeneity' as a government's discriminative tool. Hence, 'indigeneity' is highly subjective and controversial in Malaysia depending on who perceives it.

In my presentation, I will first explain how ethnic segregation and the bumiputera policy have influenced tourism development in Taman Negara, a popular rainforest destination in Peninsular Malaysia. I will then discuss how the Malays, Orang Asli Batek and Malaysian Chinese participants negotiate indigeneity (as well as ethnic boundaries), power and resources in everyday tourism operations. The discussions focus on how the negotiations of indigeneity shine a light on two classical debates/dilemmas in tourism involving indigenous people. Firstly, I argue that indigeneity is the root cause of the unsolved conflicts between conservation/eco-tourism and 'indigenous' livelihoods (i.e. involve hunting and trading of forest products) in Taman Negara. Secondly, I look into how indigeneity is being re-negotiated in the cultural tourism space as the Orang Asli Batek became a tourist attraction in Taman Negara, and their dilemma of being indigenous or modern Malaysians. My findings reiterate that we should not perceive indigeneity as fixed or taken for granted, but fluid, situational and problematic.

Speaker Bio
Frankie Fan recently received his Ph.D. from the Department of Geography and Resource Management, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. His current research focuses on inter-ethnic conflicts and collaboration in tourism development and spent a large amount of time doing fieldwork in Malaysia, where he calls his 'second home'. One of his works with the Orang Asli Batek tribe in Taman Negara was published in Annals of Tourism Research (July 2020). His other research interests include community-based tourism, indigenous studies, rainforest conservation and multi-culturalism etc. He obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Oxford and a second master's degree from Tsinghua University and was a visiting scholar at the National University of Singapore in 2018 working under Prof. T.C. Chang.

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