chapter  20
11 Pages

The backdoors of resistance

Identities in the Malay Peninsula’s maritime borderlands
WithMaxime Boutry

This chapter aims to show that littorals – and the closely associated action of proceeding to sea – can be seen as increasingly important places of resistance against the States of Southeast Asia (SEA), along with ethnic genesis. The example of Burmese fishermen who came to settle in the Myeik Archipelago in Southern Myanmar, shows that finding a space of cultural expression and socioeconomic reproduction on littorals often entails the re-processing of identity, especially for mainland SEA societies for whom the marine environment represents a cultural border. While borderlands have already been described as places of continuous ethnic genesis, this chapter emphasizes in particular the concept of “positionality” vis-à-vis the state, dominant populations, and the sea as a cultural space, in analyzing the socio-political hierarchy that structures interactions between different populations in the borderlands. I explore this idea through the dynamics of migrant labour management of fisheries in the Southern Myanmar-Thai borderland. Despite the accessibility of littorals, most SEA cultures – and interestingly Western ones as well – conceive the sea as a frontier separating the world of the humans from the non-humans, explaining that “stateless” populations are still found on littorals of the modern era of sovereign nation states. In the contemporary international framework where all land, resources, and population have been integrated into national territories, “statelessness” may seem to describe “resisters” to the state. Looking to the case of the Rohingya people, this chapter argues that, on the contrary, statelessness becomes the trigger for bringing population into the state’s framework. For being true resisters, littorals and the sea have to be an integral part of identity building enabling populations to construct a positionality vis-à-vis the state, otherwise incurring the risk of becoming modern state’s “slaves”.