This study attempts to relate questions of rural leadership to the constantly changing social and economic environment of a rural district in Malaysia during the twentieth century. The study itself began as an effort to analyze a single instance of structural change in Malay village leadership which occurred while the author worked in Sik District as a Peace Corps Volunteer (1968–1971). A research proposal was developed positing a traditional pattern of behavior which could be identified as traditional leadership, the better to contrast this with the bureaucratic style of the district’s new penghulus (headmen of a mukim, or subdistrict).
As research progressed, it became obvious that there was in fact no single traditional leadership pattern to be discovered, but rather that over time adaptations were regularly made whenever a significant change in Sik’s social and economic environment occurred. Although the study has retained rural leadership as a primary concern, it has been found necessary to relate it to Sik’s social and economic history.