|Agricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)|
|9. Are Malaysian land settlers (new) peasants? Antropological observation of a nascent Community|
If one closely observes everyday life on a FELDA scheme, there are signs that point to the emergence of other forms of integration and dynamism. One pertains to the economic sphere, more precisely, to the extra sources of income. Both FELDA cadres and settlers admit that plantation work is not a full-time activity, even though they may disagree with regard to the average work-load required.24 While the purpose of the organizing agency was to generate an above-poverty-line income for settlers-and this has been achieved-most of the settlers (at least in the scheme where I am conducting field-work) look for additional sources. They work either within the scheme as shopkeepers or as labourers on other people's lots, or outside. In the latter case, they can hire themselves out on a daily basis on neighbouring schemes that are being developed or they can work in town, in factories, on building sites, or with other private employers, for whom they are lorry- or bus-drivers or security guards. They can also find employment with the nearby Urban Council. A large majority of the settlers thus raise their standard of living, on a temporary or permanent basis, with a part- or full-time job that, in most cases, leaves them free to continue working on their lots.
Such a diversification of sources of revenue has obvious effects: It strengthens the commitment of settlers, who are less liable to think of leaving the scheme as it gives them one more reason to stay. It also acts as a "buffer" in case the price of the main crop falls on the world market. Further, the rise in living standard often results in the enlargement and improvement of the settler's house, and settlers may think twice before moving out of a house into which they have invested and for which they can expect no refund.25 Another consequence of side jobs is the return of socio-economic diversification, putting an end to the artificial equality introduced at the beginning and to the immobility that might have resulted from it. Undertaking extra activities is a conduit not only for extra assets, it also encourages settlers' initiative and energy and, at the same time, implies that the scheme no longer runs the risk of being a ghetto in the area where it is implemented.
The occupational flexibility permitted the settlers thus leads to the beginning of an economic integration within the area where the scheme is located. The extra income generated further enables the settlers to indulge in expenditures that not have been possible if they depended only on their regular income. This, in turn, means taking part in the consumption process, which stimulates the regional and national economies.
All this points to the fact that FELDA land schemes have an economic stability and dynamism of their own. Even though such dynamism cannot be attributed directly and solely to plantation work, it is indirectly related to it in the sense that it is rendered possible by the involvement of the settlers in the scheme.
There is yet another sphere of ethnographic observation that seems to point towards stabilization. While carrying out fieldwork, in order to estimate individual settlers' economic achievements as compared to that of their close kin, I collected occupational data on their parents, siblings, and married children. The survey revealed that 75% of the settlers have close kin involved in FELDA land schemes; 45% have one or more siblings on FELDA schemes; 20% have either parents or married children deriving their income as FELDA settlers, and 35% have both siblings and parents or married children thus engaged. Such figures have their limitations inherent in the fact that they were collected within one scheme only. Still, they show that the commitment to FELDA is not just a temporary phenomenon; it is spread widely not only within one generation but is observable within two, sometimes even three, generations, which implies that the decision to enter a scheme is based on personal experience. The process already has some measure of historical depth. This shows a deliberate wish to reproduce not only a means of livelihood but also an original life-style that is distinct from both the urban and the traditional (rural) ways of life.
We have also begun to gather data concerning the settlers' children's affinal ties; the sample here is not broad enough to provide percentages, but it shows that quite a number of the settlers' children do intermarry. The settlers' community thus provides a pool of possible marriage partners, more so within one particular scheme but involving different schemes too. If one accepts the fact that marriage ties are grounded in trust which in turn derives largely from shared experiences and values, this growing trend would point to the emergence of a sense of belonging. The latter combined with the tendency to follow one's kin's commitment to FELDA point with some certainty to a developing sense of identity.