Thomas Gibson and Kenneth Sillander (eds), Anarchic Solidarity: Autonomy, Equality and Fellowship in Southeast Asia
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, 310pp; ISBN-13: 978-0-938692-94-2.
The evolutionary anthropologist Chris Knight has long been insisting that anarchism is not some utopian dream, but that anarchy or 'primitive communism' was the characteristic form of social organisation among early humans. This revolution saw the development of language, the arts and symbolic forms of social life based on mutual aid and cooperation. It was a 'creative explosion', as John Pfeiffer put it long ago. Human social life is therefore possible without institutional forms of hierarchy, economic classes or coercive states or structures of domination. Industrial capitalism, in terms of human history, is a comparatively recent phenomenon.
The present book is not about early human society: it is on the patterns of social life among contemporary tribal societies who live in the forested regions of Southeast Asia. Most of these societies are hunter-gatherers, swidden cultivators or collectors of forest products for trade. Unlike James Scott's seminal The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, this is not a historical work, but consists of a collection of sensitive ethnographic portraits of such people as the Batek, Semai and Chewong of the Malay peninsula; the Bentian, Punan and Sama Dilaut of Borneo; and the Palawan, Cuyonon and Buid of the Philippines. Many of the contributors are well-known anthropologists, scholars such as Signe Howell, Kirk Endicott, Robert Dentan and Charles MacDonald having spent several decades undertaking ethnographic researches in the region.
The book is specifically on the social life of these swidden cultivators/hunter- gatherers. There is therefore little about their history, economic life, religious cosmologies (apart from Howell's essay on the Chewong) or their relationship with the wider society--specifically the capitalist market economy and the various East Asian states. Even so, the encapsulation of the Punan into the wider Borneo society is cogently explored by Lars Kaskija. Accepting this focus on 'sociality' (otherwise known as social relations), all the essays are excellent--readable and free from academic jargon; informative, engaging, often illuminating, and based on detailed ethnographic research.
What these essays indicate is that the tribal peoples of Southeast Asia share...