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Researchers from Eight Countries Gather at College

June 10, 2014
An artifact from the Orang Asli collection
An artifact from the Orang Asli collection

Keene State College Preserves Documentary Materials of Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia in Archive that is Unique in the World

Researchers from Across the US and Seven Countries Traveled to Keene State for a Discussion about Orang Asli

This Wednesday, Keene State College kicked off a three-day gathering of researchers from eight countries, including the US, who came to Keene to discuss the Orang Asli, the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. The symposium is attracting an international group of scholars of all ages and diverse research specializations, ranging from genetics to religious studies, to share their ideas and research. Dr. Rosemary Gianno, sociology and anthropology professor at Keene State, has been studying the Orang Asli for more than 30 years and in the process started an archive of Orang Asli documentary materials in the College’s Mason Library to preserve historical details of these threatened peoples. The archive is the only one of its kind in the world outside of Malaysia. It holds materials gathered by scholars, researchers, and advocates of the Orang Asli from Asia, Europe, and North America.

“It’s important to understand why we are who we are and where we came from – I focus my study on the Orang Asli peoples. While under immense threat from deforestation and rapid changes in Malaysia, it's a struggle to capture and preserve the history and culture of the Orang Asli. There are undoubtedly valuable lessons we may take from what we learn about the Orang Asli,” said Dr. Gianno. “I am thrilled to welcome researchers from around the world to Keene State who bring immense knowledge and enthusiasm in this area of study. Keene State is dedicated to promoting research and documentation of Orang Asli peoples, which includes collaboration with other experts in the field across the country and the world, in order to learn as much as possible. The symposium is a means to share research and network, as well as an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the existence of the Orang Asli Archive.”

The Orang Asli Archive began at Keene State in 2000 with a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. The conference is being held at Mason Library, where the archive is housed. In addition to Dr. Gianno, speakers presenting their research will be from Dartmouth College, University of Toronto, University of Helsinki, University of Malaya, as well as graduate students and faculty from France, Greece, The Netherlands and Japan.

“Keene State College has done an outstanding job of building up the Orang Asli Archive. Orang Asli studies are very important in advancing anthropological understanding of the biological and cultural evolution of the peoples of Southeast Asia, as well as addressing general questions such as the conditions under which nonviolence and gender equality can exist,” said Dr. Kirk Endicott, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Dartmouth College, and symposium attendee.

More details about the Orang Asli Archive can be found here. A closer look at the Orang Asli conference is available here.