My Personal Journey in Observing the Dynamic Iskandar Malaysia and It's Forgotten Sea Gypsiesal Journey / Jamilah Ariffin
Publisher: Kuala Lumpur: iResolve Foundation, 2014

This interesting book compares the contrasting situation between a place and a tribe in modern day Malaysia. Specifically, it looks at Iskandar Malaysia, a rapidly booming, bustling economic development zone in south Johor (now reputed as the fastest growing state in Malaysia) with its definitive icons of "first world" theme parks (like Legoland) and first world shopping paradise (like the Johor Premium Outlet) and other "First world" housing projects. Iskandar Malaysia, as all businessmen (worthy of their enterprising zeal) are aware, has the fastest rate of escalating land prices and truly the new "jewel in the (Johor) crown". What is hardly known or realized, however, is the existence of small groups of Orang Asli living in very primitive enclaves within Iskandar Malaysia.

It is this juxtaposition between "first world" oriented Iskandar Malaysia versus the primitive world system of the Orang Asli tribe called the Orang Selatar (who were once sea-gypsies plying the Singapore-Johor Straits) which have attracted the attention of the wife of the then Chief Minister of Johor, Professor Jamilah Ariffin, a trained sociologist as well as social-welfare oriented activist. She decided to carry out a 13-year research programme (2000-2013), which observes the establishment of Iskandar Malaysia right from its inception and concurrently studies in great detail, the Orang Selatar in terms of their life-style and attitudes, hopes, dreams and aspirations for survival. Professor Jamilah Ariffin is guided by this leading question: "What would be the fate of these poor Orang Asli community, handicapped by lack of education, modern skills and knowledge who are trapped in the iron grip of Iskandar Malaysia's rapid move towards "top-world class" progress a vision which must be accomplished by 2025?"

Using a life-cycle approach, which studies the culture and traditions of the Orang Selatar from birth until death, interspersed by events pertaining to puberty, courtship and marriage and economic livelihood production systems, Professor Jamilah, writes with wit, and compassion, in describing the detailed research findings based on, narrations told by those interviewed who are representing three generations of Orang Selatar men and women, namely, the youth, the middle-aged and the old from three different villages.

This is a very valuable book not only for students of Development Economics and other branches of Social Sciences, but it also provides interesting reading for the general public since as a coffee-table book it is filled with beautiful illustrative photographs. The author has deliberately written what is essentially dry, sterile, academic data into a rich, yet simple, easy-to-read prose while managing to retain its central messages of intent: i.e. to raise the consciousness of the public on the fragile and vulnerable position of the poor Orang Selatar in their quest for survival within the context of a fast-moving, economically-galloping commercial world.

Book can be purchased from I-RESOLVE FOUNDATION (iresolvefoundation@gmail.com)

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    Posted on: Thu, 24 July 2014

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