Monash University
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Tápun and tourism: a case study from the Dusun Sungai community

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posted on 2017-03-03, 00:40 authored by Peters, Robert Francis
The Dusun Sungai is among the poorest indigenous groups in Malaysia. These people, who live in the Lower Kinabatangan Wetlands, have lost some of their traditional lands through forestry and agriculture, and this has affected the people’s livelihood. In response, the Malaysian Government encouraged tourism development in the region to broaden the base of the economy and to provide indigenous people with a source of livelihood. Indigenous peoples’ involvement in tourism is challenging. There tends to be an uneven distribution of benefits. This thesis was inspired by a vision that indigenous knowledge may contribute to tourism and at the same time to the sustainability of the environment. However, indigenous knowledge tends to be lost in tourism contexts, either because it is overlooked, or because it is misrepresented in the process of commodification. I sought to explore what occurred to Dusun Sungai knowledge in a tourism environment. I undertook a field survey in the Lower Kinabatangan Wetlands over a six-week period during September and October 2012. During this period I stayed in variety of accommodation services including hostels, homestays, bed and breakfast establishments, and lodges. I also undertook several tourism activities, including river cruises, jungle trekking, and attended performances. Thirty-four people were interviewed, including service providers, and tourists. Overall, this thesis uses participant observation, interviews, archival and historical records to explore this issue. The Dusun Sungai people of the Lower Kinabatangan Wetlands have been involved in tourism for a very long time. I argue that the Dusun Sungai people were rendered invisible when tourism was developed in this region. Tourism in the Lower Kinabatangan Wetlands has generally emphasized the natural attractions of the region, while the products emphasizing cultural attractions have been based on a different ethnic group. The emphasis on nature-based tourism and culture-based tourism do not enable the Dusun Sungai people to express their knowledge, as they must rely on Western taxonomies and categorizations to communicate in a sight-seeing context. However, I found some interesting yet ordinary spaces in which tourists and indigenous people engage with each other, and in these ordinary spaces of engagement, indigenous knowledge may be exchanged, enriching the perspective of both tourist and host through a fusion of horizons. The contextual ground for this exchange is an indigenous concept of hospitality known as tápun. For the Dusun Sungai people, this approach to hospitality has been the bedrock of their relationship with foreigners over hundreds of years, and provides the basis for an ethical relationship that enables indigenous knowledge to be communicated.


Principal supervisor

Elizabeth Coleman

Additional supervisor 1

Gil-Soo Han

Additional supervisor 2

Andrew Johnson

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Media, Film and Journalism

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Faculty of Arts

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