In 1966, Thomas M. Fraser, Jr. published Fishermen of South Thailand: The Malay Villagers. The book is a case study of the people of Rusembilan, in which fieldwork was undertaken in 1956, 1960, and 1964. The Rusembilan village is located in South Thailand on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand, just north of the equator. This allows for a seasonal tropical climate, averaging about 80 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Strong winds and monsoons occur for three months out of the year causing some of the Rusembilan residence on the coast to temporarily move to the opposite coast, avoiding over half of the annual rainfall.
The Rusembilan differs from the rest of Thailand by their cultural and religious beliefs. Mostly all of Thailand practices the religion of Buddhist, whereas, the people of Rusembilan, and most of South Thailand, are Muslims. Located in the South Thailand area, Rusembilan people are culturally oriented towards Malaysia, where they speak the Malay language. Since the entire Rusembilan village is Malay Muslim, and little to none of the villagers speak the Thailand national language, there is hardly, if any, contact with the nearby Thais or Chinese.
Fraser conducted his fieldwork in South Thailand over a period of eight years, starting in 1956 and finishing in 1964. Beginning in 1956, Fraser lived in the village of Rusembilan for nine months with his wife. He then came back for a two week visit in 1960, where Fraser spent time in Rusembilan and also in the provincial capital of Pattani. For Fraser’s third and final visit, he returned to Rusembilan in the summer of 1964, where he stayed for two months to finalize his fieldwork. While in Rusembilan and neighboring villages, Fraser used the method of ethnographic fieldwork. He conducted interviews which consisted of both structured and unstructured. A total of two surveys were conducted, one took place in 1956 and the second one in 1964. He also asked open-ended, discussion questions to further his research. Fraser also included participant observation in his fieldwork. He was able to live among the Rusembilan villagers, where he took part in all the village activities, such as feasts and ceremonies. Participating in fishing was difficult for an outsider like Fraser, due to the special skills and technical requirements Fraser was only able to observe from a distance.
Over an eight year period, Fraser spent a total of about a year in Rusembilan where he was able to collect important and useful information on the Malay culture. Fraser was able to witness first-hand how the economic system of Rusembilan worked and what effects are caused due to the changing of seasons. Conducting surveys and observing the Rusembilan people, Fraser was able to collect information on the type of marriage practices, along with the type of family and kinship the villagers practice. Fraser collected data on the importance of religion practices versus the education of children; he also learned the way the Rusembilan and the Malays of South Thailand deal with the supernatural. Information was collected on the way the villagers maintain control in Rusembilan through “big men” or in this culture orang baik, meaning “good men” (Thomas M. Fraser, 1966, p. 40) Lastly, Fraser used information he collected in 1956 and compared it to information he collected in 1964, this allowed for him to identify any cultural change that had occurred within the last eight years, such as technological and economic change.
According to the Rusembilan people, fishing is the most important job for the men of the village. A crew of twelve to fourteen men will sent sail for sea each day to drop nets and catch fish. They will then bring the fish back to shore, were they will be divided into shares for each man. Typically, members of the crew will have their wife collect the fish in a basket, where then the wife will take out a portion to supply the family’s need for the day. The remainder of the fish will be taken...
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