HISTORY OF THE
The Rungus are a people of Sabah, Malaysia. It is useful to divide
Rungus history into three periods: the pre-British period; the period
of British colonialism; and the period of post-colonialism. The
pre-British period lasted up until the end of the 19th century.
In the second period there were two phases of British colonialism.
In the first phase the British North Borneo Company governed the
area, and this lasted up until World War II. Following the occupation
of the Japanese during the war, North Borneo was again governed
by the British, but this time as a colony under the jurisdiction
of the colonial office. This lasted up until the formation of Malaysia
in 1963, when the Colony of North Borneo was incorporated into Malaysia
as the State of Sabah, and the post-colonial period began.
Accounts we collected of the pre-British period indicate that among
the Rungus there was considerable fear of attack and looting of
villages by other ethnic groups.1 Each Rungus village had a champion,
who fought attackers and in turn went to villages of distant ethnic
groups to kill their champions. Headhunting was based on obtaining
the head of the opposing champion and was not a prominent feature
of Rungus society or its religion. This type of warfare appears
to have ceased by the time of the British arrival. However, the
sacrifice of human captives purchased from coastal Muslim groups
for the purpose of obtaining village fertility was still practiced
up until World War I or shortly afterwards. Also during the Pre-British
period the accounts we have collected indicate that there was always
the fear that the customary law would be upset by aggressive, powerful
men who would take the law into their own hands.
Our first period of research among the Rungus in 1959-60 and 1961-63
took place during the second phase of British colonialism. At that
time the Rungus modal personality can be characterized as being
intropunitive, which is frequently found with peoples under colonial
rule where the fear of the strong external sanctions of the colonial
power inhibits the expression of aggressive acts.
We were not permitted by the Sabah government to continue our research
until the summer of 1986, which was well into the post-colonial
period. Then in 1987 we worked with two informants brought to the
United States. In the summer of 1990 we again returned to the field.
By the time we were able to continue our research in 1986 the
internal controls of Rungus culture had broken down. Most of the
Rungus had become Christian by then, and their fear of supernatural
sanctions from localized spirits, wandering spirits, and other deities
no longer existed. As L. W. R. Appell in this volume has pointed
out, the fear of illicit sexual behavior was originally founded
on a variety of religious sanctions. However, during the period
of post-colonialism these religious sanctions were generally superseded
by Christian beliefs. Christianity, it is believed, protects the
individual from malevolent or angered spirits and deities. Also
during the British colonial period there were supernatural sanctions
against aggressive behavior within the village. Again these have
been eroded by Christianity.
It is important to note that some of our data on sexual behavior
and aggression come from this period of post-colonialism where both
the drives of sex and aggression are under less traditional control
than previously. Thus, during our original field work in the British
colonial period it was exceedingly difficult to get data on sexual
behavior because of religious sanctions and what was considered
to be proper behavior. Rungus at that time were very reserved about
talking about sexual matters (see L. R. W. Appell in this volume).
And it wasn't until our field work in the post-colonial period that
we began to get data in depth. While the Rungus still are reserved
about discussing sexual matters, with the erosion of traditional
sanctions the etiquette of talking about such matters has also loosened.
Consequently, in the analysis of our data we have had to be constantly
alert to the possibility that some of our data reflect assessments
colored by social change.
However, by the end of 1987, after almost four years of working
with a variety of Rungus informants, we were certain enough of our
data to conclude in an earlier version of this manuscript that the
Rungus both conceptually and behaviorally did not have forced intercourse
and that sex and aggression were highly individuated in Rungus society.
In 1987 we elicited a story that indicated some sexual violence,
but we thought it was a myth or legend. Nevertheless, this sowed
a seed of doubt so that when we returned to the field in 1990 we
interviewed explicitly on the theme of sex and aggression, and as
a result I have had to radically revise the preliminary manuscript.
The Rungus do have the concept of forced intercourse, although we
were unable to collect any clear-cut jural case material of this.
And women deny that it ever could happen, as they always maintain
the right to refuse any attempts at intercourse.
I include this cautionary tale to illustrate that ethnography is
a difficult profession, full of many pitfalls, but most importantly,
significant and reliable conclusions on many topics cannot be reached
on the basis of a year or two in the field.