Museum, Community and Object: An ethnography of Sarawak native blades in a temporal and spatial milieu

By Tracy Peter-samat | 15 October 2019

This research aims to document technological aspects of Bidayuh, Iban and Penan native blades and, changes occurring with them. A detailed inventory of blades, covering their form (size, motifs and shapes), materials from which made and their use, will be supported with video recordings of blades’ images, historical accounts, and their production. The digital record will go on the website of the British Museum, which is funding this research through the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP). At present, the Sarawak Museum in Kuching has in its collection around 100 various native blades. The ethnographic accounts on these is, however, inadequate. In particular, native voices on the history of blades and their socio-cultural value are insufficiently heard and the production process is unrecorded. Consequently, the museum curators are responsible for the documentation and interpretation of the collections.

Iban blade (Photo: the Sarawak Museum collection)

This project seeks to incorporate native views through collaborative research between the Museum and native groups. The methods employed will feature a collection-based approach, including in-depth interviews, participant observation, photography and video recording, and focus group discussions. The research participants are the blacksmiths, the owner-heirs of blades, the kampong biro (community representatives), the Museum’s Curator and staff. The ethnographic fieldwork takes place in Bidayuh villages in the Padawan sub-district (Kiding, Semban, Sadir, Stiing, Taba Saiit, and Ayun); Iban longhouses in the Sibu Division (Banyan and Kilometre 26); and the Penan longhouse in the Belaga district (Long Wat). The data from the project, including text, audio and audio-visual recordings and photographs will be deposited in the EMKP repository.

Tracy Peter-samat, University of Durham

Location of Research:
Sarawak, Malaysia

Host Institution:
Department of Anthropology, Durham University