A Brief History of the Borneo Research Council

by George N. Appell, Ph.D, President, Borneo Research Council. Presidential Address, August 4, 1990, to the First Extraordinary Session of the Borneo Research Council held in Kuching, Sarawak.


As I mentioned this morning, it is very appropriate that the First Extraordinary Session of the Borneo Research Council in Borneo convenes here in Kuching. For many of the original founders were themselves either from Sarawak or had resided for a long period of time in Sarawak.

In 1968 several of us in the United States who had either resided in or had done research in Borneo began discussing what we could do to help forward Bornean research and also be of service to the government departments in the various regions that had an interest in the resultant scientific knowledge.

There were a number of individuals visiting America at that time who had been involved in research in Borneo. So we met in September, 1968, to form an organization that eventually became the Borneo Research Council. That meeting was held in the vacation house of Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Hudson in New Hampshire. At that meeting were: Benedict Sandin, Tom Harrisson, Stephen Morris, Clifford Sather, Herbert and Patricia Whittier. Alfred and Judith Hudson, Stanley S. Bedlington (originally Divisional Commander of Police in Tawau), and George N. Appell.

At the end of that weekend Dr. Hudson had volunteered to edit a newsletter for what we then called the Borneo Research Committee, and this eventually became Volume 1, No. 1, of the Borneo Research Bulletin.

The Hudsons then left for linguistic field work in Sarawak and other parts of Borneo, and I took over at that point the editorship of the Borneo Research Bulletin.

The Second Meeting of the Borneo Research Committee

A number of issues still had to be decided on the organization of the Borneo Research Committee and so a second organizational meeting was held in July, 1969, at our home along the Maine coast. At this time we still were only a loosely organized committee. And we needed to get together to define more specifically what our goals would be. At this second working session of Borneo scholars many of the same original participants were there: Tom Harrisson, Clifford Sather, Herbert and Patricia Whittier, Stanley S. Bedlington. and George N. Appell. We were also joined at this meeting by Donald E. Brown who was preparing for field work in Brunei.

At this meeting we agreed on a general statement of aims and goals:

1. To promote scientific research in the social, biological, and medical sciences in Borneo;

2. To permit the research community, interested government departments, and others to keep abreast of ongoing research and its results;

3. To serve as a vehicle for drawing attention to urgent research problems;

4. To coordinate the flow of information of Borneo research arising from many diverse sources;

5. To disseminate rapidly the initial results of research activity;

6. To facilitate research by reporting on current conditions.
The functions of the Committee also were to include providing counsel and assistance to research endeavors, conservation activities, and the practical application of research results.

One of our major concerns was the speed of social change in Borneo and the lack of research interest and funding to record both the cultural and natural features of Borneo for future generations. So our hope was also to stimulate interest in this in order to increase the level of funding.

It was also the explicit aim that this Committee would be international in scope and to include not only all scholars interested in research in Borneo but also all individuals, whatever their background or occupation, who are interested in forwarding research, contributing to this, or simply interested in the results of research.

It was decided that one of the most important functions the Council could provide at that point was to serve as a communication link between the various people and institutions interested in research in Borneo and its results. It was believed that this could provide the most stimulus to research. And so our initial efforts were focused on developing the Borneo Research Bulletin.

Thus, the Bulletin was designed to appeal to several different audiences: (1) the research community; (2) government communities in the various parts of Borneo; (3) the community of interested laymen and amateurs who also make substantial contributions to knowledge and whom we wish to encourage to become even more involved; and (4) the commercial community who might find some of the research results of interest.

The policy has been that the Bulletin should not compete with already existing journals on Borneo. Instead the goal of the Bulletin was to both complement existing journals and aid in their growth. In other words, the Bulletin was designed to fill the unoccupied niche of integrating research results both from various regions of Borneo and also from research originating in a variety of countries around the world. This included the presentation of the preliminary results of research quickly so that they could be incorporated into on-going research and influence the direction of new research; keeping the readership up to date on the news of people involved in Borneo research; helping scholars keep in touch with their colleagues by serving as a medium of exchange of questions, information, and news; and also providing interested organizations with information on the development of research in Borneo and its possible application.

We would be interested in hearing from anyone on how the Borneo Research Bulletin could be improved to fulfill their specific needs for information.

Following this organizational meeting I immediately wrote to a number of government departments in Sarawak, Brunei, Sabah, and Kalimantan to ask if they would be interested in receiving the Bulletin.

At that time because of the problem of currency exchange and the general economic climate in the various sections of Borneo, the decision was made not to charge a fixed subscription fee for receiving the Bulletin.

However, funding of the Borneo Research Council activities was and has always been a major problem of the Council. In the early days of the Borneo Research Bulletin I attempted to raise funds from various foundations to cover the cost of publishing it. We did receive a small grant from the Evans Fund. But this just covered the cost of one issue.

However, from its very inception, the committee began to receive both small and substantial donations from interested individuals to help fund the cost of the Bulletin.

In the hopes of raising additional funds we redefined the Committee in 1971 into the Borneo Research Council, which is governed by a Board of Directors, and composed of Fellows professionally engaged in research in Borneo and members who share an interest in forwarding knowledge in the biological, social, and medical sciences of Borneo. We also instituted Fellowship and membership fees, and a subscription fee for the Bulletin. These fees were kept as low as possible to ensure wide distribution of the Bulletin and the dissemination of knowledge on Borneo research to those who are interested. But it was hoped that these would help carry the cost of publishing it.

Prior to my turning over the editorship to Donald Brown in 1974, we had over 132 Fellows from various disciplines, including agricultural economics, animal ecology, social anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, biology, botany, conservation, ecology, economic development, ethnomusicology, geography, geology, history, history of art, human ecology, linguistics, medicine, medical anthropology, political science, primatology, psychiatry, sociology, and wildlife management.

In the early 1970s we began to hold yearly meetings in conjunction with the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association to share our research results and raise issues concerning research problems to be attacked. We chose to hold our meetings then because this was the one time when the largest number of members of the Council gathered in one place. And overseas members could at times make these meetings.

In 1974 Professor Donald E. Brown became editor of the Borneo Research Bulletin and edited Volume 6 and issue 7.1. The previous art work for the front page of the Bulletin had been done by Georgeann Sather. Donald Brown during his editorship of the Bulletin asked Allen Dougherty, an artist, to draw the shield design which has been used since then as the emblem of the Borneo Research Bulletin. The model for these shields came, according to Donald Brown, from Hose and McDougall.

In 1975, Professor Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr. became the editor of the Bulletin starting with Volume 7, No. 2, and has been editor to the present.

With Vinson Sutlive's energetic management, the Borneo Research Council entered a new era. When he took over we were publishing 69 pages per volume, and now we are publishing 170 pages.

In 1978 Dr. Sutlive established an Endowment Fund and raised considerable money for it to provide a source of income to cover the cost of publishing the Borneo Research Bulletin, as we found Fellowship and membership fees and subscriptions did not cover our costs.

Dr. Sutlive was able to obtain contributions to the Endowment Fund from Brunei Shell Petroleum Ltd., from UNESCO, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Since then with Vinson's active involvement and contributions from private individuals, the Endowment fund has grown to $35,000.

In 1985 Dr. Sutlive took the initiative to incorporate the Borneo Research Council as a tax-exempt educational foundation forwarding the same goals as we had initially defined.

The initial directors were: G. N. Appell, Donald E. Brown, Lucas Chin, Victor T. King, Jeffrey G. Kitingan, Donald G. Lambert, Lim Jock Seng, Clifford Sather, B. J. L. Sellato, and Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr.

In October, 1986, we began to raise money for a monograph series. The first volume of which will appear in 1990 and is entitled Female and Male in Borneo. It contains an important collection of papers that provide a rich ethnographic sample of the variety of social responses to male and female roles in the various societies of Borneo.

In 1988, Peter Kedit came to the Council's meetings in Chicago and suggested that we hold extraordinary sessions periodically in Borneo, and begin with Sarawak. And this led to our presence here today.

In 1989 Datuk Amar Leonard Linggi Tun Jugah, of the Tun Jugah Foundation was invited to join the Board of Directors. The Board now consists of G. N. Appell, Donald E. Brown, Lucas Chin, Victor T. King, Jeffrey G. Kitingan, Lim Jock Seng, Clifford Sather, B. J. L. Sellato, and Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr.

Datuk Amar Leonard Linggi Tun Jugah has been largely responsible for the organization of this meeting, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude and appreciation. We would also like to express our appreciation to the committee on local arrangements who have made our meetings here so pleasant and productive.

Assessment of Our Mission

I would like to briefly assess here the degree to which we have fulfilled our original goals. Certainly, we have become an influential force in the research community, stimulating research, helping young researchers, keeping researchers in contact with each other, stimulating new research, and helping eliminate any potential conflicts over research interests.

I wish we had been able to raise a larger endowment so that we could actually support ongoing research. We have only been able to help in several minor instances of research.

I wish we also had a greater involvement of the biological and medical community. One of the unique aspects of Borneo research is how the various biological, medical, and social sciences are so interdependent on each other. A division of research activities along the usual academic lines just does not produce the payoff in knowledge that an integrated approach does. In fact it often produces only a distorted picture. Social scientists frequently cannot do an adequate job of research without advice and help from their colleagues in the medical and biological sciences. And alternatively, I believe that these sciences could benefit more from the input of the social sciences. This is particularly true with regard to the field of medical anthropology which has to date had only a small impact in Borneo research.

Finally, I personally wish we could have been of better service to the government departments in the various regions of Borneo. We would like to be better able to respond to their needs and interests.

In this regard I should like to point out that the government of Sarawak is rather unique in their interest in scientific knowledge. We in turn are particularly grateful to the many members of government and the local community for their interest and hospitality.

At present the cultural heritage of Borneo is rapidly eroding and is largely unrecorded, and 70-80% of this cultural heritage will be gone within five to ten years. Therefore we are in the process of discussions with several governments on the avenues by which this cultural heritage can be recorded as quickly as possible.

The Future of the Borneo Research Council and Its Publications

The Bulletin currently goes to approximately 40 countries. We have Fellows and Subscribers. I will now leave it to Dr. Vinson Sutlive to discuss the future of the Borneo Research Council and its publications. Let me just say at this moment, we are still concerned with the problem of raising funds so that we will be in a position eventually to provide financial support to those who want to do research in Borneo, particularly those who are actually living and working in Borneo. Our hopes in this regard still remain unfulfilled. But Dr. Sutlive will bring you up to date on the current status of the endowment fund and the monograph publications fund.

Appell, G. N.
1990c A Brief History of the Borneo Research Council. Borneo Research Bulletin 22:184-89.

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