Organized Panel Session
Sabah is a site par excellence for studying inter-Asian interactions in a frontier zone. Located on the periphery of intersecting geographical regions—the southern Philippines, the Malay Archipelago, and southern China—myriad commodities, languages, and people cross paths and coalesce here. In this space, the interaction of these elements forges new identities and strengthens connections to distant lands, oftentimes coming into conflict with state attempts to regulate these flows. These processes and tensions have been at work from at least the nineteenth century to the present day. How have these multiple mobilities and connections shaped and continue to reshape Sabah’s social and political world?
This interdisciplinary panel seeks to examine Sabah as the center of a particular inter-Asian space. Shinobu Majima and Imelda Tambayang explore how mountain trails were maintained as an interface between the ethno-cultural systems of the South China Sea and upriver North Borneo. Michael Yeo investigates how Sandakan facilitated the regional movement of commodities and people from the nineteenth century. Vilashini Somiah examines how irregular migrant youths, born in Sandakan, negotiate their identity and presence in Sabah through the shores of the Sulu Sea. Andrew Carruthers explores the challenges faced by the Malaysian state as it seeks to police “illegal” Indonesian immigrants, who are virtually indistinguishable from local Malays. Oona Paredes, the discussant, will provide a comparative perspective with Mindanao and Southeast Asia more broadly.