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Colonial Literature: Fact or Fiction

The violence of the colonial legacy is particularly evident in colonial perceptions of women and the ‘reality’ of women in English literature. This dichotomy was apparent when I interviewed Ramy, a lecturer in law, and wife and mother of four children.6 Ramy was born in Kallibit country situated in the mountains between Sarawak and Brunei. During our interview Ramy pointed out the orientalist nature of colonial representations of the Kallibits in Charles Hose’s text. According to Charles Hose, writing in the 1920s:

the Kallibits are a branch of people of the Marut tribe, and very probably come to Borneo from the Philippines or from Annam. They are by no means a beautiful set of people, the women in particular being of a degraded, sensual and even brutal type. Whether for this reason or not, they have a peculiar custom, in that it is the women who propose marriage to men. Perhaps if the women were more attractive, the need would not arise. The Kallibits apart from anything else are good cultivators.7

6 Personal Communication with Ramy Bulin, 1999.

7 Charles Hose was an official under Charles Brooke (the second) and according to the Oxford University Press editor’s biographical note, during his twenty-three years in service: ‘he established for himself a reputation not only as an able and humane administrator, but also as a naturalist and ethnologist of international standing’. Charles Hose, The Field-Book of a Jungle-Wallah: Shore, River and Forest Life in Sarawak (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1985), 189. Hose’s book was first published by Witherby in London in 1929 and was republished by the Oxford University Press in 1985.

Hose had never been to the place he describes nor did he speak the language.8 Hose’s text, however, is considered part of the English canon and can be found at any leading bookseller under the English Literature section. This is an obvious example of licence being taken with fact. It is clear from this instance that the colonial officers constructed anthropology about peoples such as Ramy’s grandparents that was often based on their imagination rather than reality. Less clear is the extent of fact and fiction contained in government reports and commentaries written by Residents and officials.

The literature (stories) examined here includes Frank Swettenham’s (1850-1946) and Hugh Clifford’s (1866-1941) short stories and historical accounts.9 Swettenham and Clifford insisted the fictional stories they presented were true, even though these ‘true’

stories related the most bizarre situations of fantasy and superstition.10 Both writers maintained the stories were based on situations they found in Malaya at the commencement of British intervention. In the autobiographical preface in the 1927 revised edition to In Court And Kampong, Clifford stresses that:

8 After describing the Kallibits, Hose admits: ‘I never had the opportunity of making an expedition to these people’. Ibid., 190-91.

9 Frank Swettenham, On the Native Races of the Straits Settlements and Malay States (London: Harrison and Sons, [reprinted from the Journal of the Anthropological Institute], 1886); Frank Swettenham, British Malaya (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head [revised editions published by Allen & Unwin in 1929 and 1948], 1906); Sir Frank Swettenham, Footprints in Malaya (London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1942).

Clifford was a prolific writer and his stories are included in collections such as Hugh Clifford, Since the Beginning: A Tale of An Eastern Land (London: Grant Richards, 1898); Hugh Clifford, Malayan Monochromes (New York: E P Dutton and Company, 1913); Hugh Clifford, The Further Side of Silence (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company [1st edition published 1916], 1927); Hugh Clifford, In Court and Kampong: Being Tales and Sketches of Native Life in the Malay Peninsular (London: The Richards Press [1st edition published 1897], 1927); Hugh Clifford, Studies in Brown Humanity (London: Richards [1st edition published 1898], 1927); Hugh Clifford, Bush Wacking and Other Asiatic Tales and Memories (London: William Heinemann [1st edition Piloting Princes published 1902], 1929); Hugh Clifford, Stories by Hugh Clifford: Selected and Introduced by William Roff, Oxford in Asia Historical Reprints (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1966); Hugh Clifford, An Expedition to Trengganu & Kelantan 1895 (Kuala Lumpur: MBRAS, 1992); Hugh Clifford, "East Coast Etchings,"

Straits Times Press 1896. For further references to Clifford’s stories and collections see Holden, Modern Subjects/Colonial Texts, Hugh Clifford and the Discipline of English Literature in the Straits Settlements and Malaysia 1895-1907, 174-5.

10 Tan Renee Hui Ling has argued that colonial ideology and myth overshadowed the ‘truth’ aspect of the stories, so their works are little more than mythical constructs of the Malay population. Renee Hui Ling Tan, "Reading Clifford and Swettenham" (Masters thesis, University of Singapore, 1990), 61.

there are to be found among the pages of my books a singularly faithful picture of life among the Malays and the hill-tribesmen of the States on the east coast of the Peninsula as it was forty years ago and as, God be thanked, it can never be again.

Today my tales are to be valued, not only as historical, but as archaeological studies.11

Clifford claimed that the tales were fictional accounts of his true experiences either witnessed by him or told to him by ‘a trustworthy person’.12 However, Swettenham maintained that the stories were the ‘real facts’ and that he had the desire to tell truthfully a story never yet told.13 Accordingly, Swettenham brings the romance of Clifford’s literary work into sharper ‘historical’ focus.14

These stories were initially commissioned because there ‘was a general interest in the lands of the frontier’.15 Subsequently newspaper editors of the Straits Settlements invited

‘the men on the spot’, such as Swettenham and Clifford, to write sketches and articles, usually anonymously, for their newspapers. Both were not only prolific writers of fiction, they also kept journals and wrote monthly reports about their long-distance tours and daily activities.16 By the end of the colonial period the Residents’ journals, short stories and novels, as well as other books by authors such as Henry Fauconnier and Somerset Maugham constituted a large proportion of official knowledge about the

11 Clifford, In Court and Kampong: Being Tales and Sketches of Native Life in the Malay Peninsular, 49.

12 Ibid.

13 Swettenham, British Malaya, vi. According to Cowan and Burns, the stories in Malay Sketches and

‘The Real Malay’ are drawn from his journal reports. P L Burns and C D Cowan, eds., The Journals of J W W Birch 1874-1876 (London: Oxford University Press, 1976).

14 Swettenham, unlike Clifford, presented his work in a much more ‘scientific’ framework, especially the History of Malaya. While the stories did not start out as British ‘history’, after the many revisions his work started to resemble Marsden’s History of Sumatra, more than the initial stories he wrote. In later life, he followed more strictly the historian’s mode of writing history. Swettenham, British Malaya.

15 Singapore and Penang were named the British Settlements and Peninsular Malaya (Perak, Pahang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan) was considered the frontier.

16 The journals were examined but only the themes relevant to women are highlighted in this chapter. On the credibility of the journals see John Gullick, "A History of Malayan History (to 1939)," Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society LXXI, no. 2 (1998): 96.

peoples in Malaya. It is from sources such as these that a large part of the history of Malaya has been constructed.

Swettenham was one of the founding members of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society elected in 1878. The Society was originally formed when The Royal Asiatic Society in London granted colonial officers including W Maxwell and W Pickering in Singapore, in 1826, the right to form The Straits Asiatic Society. The Society’s mission was to collect and record scientific information in the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago.

In 1878, the Straits Asiatic Society became the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and in 1923 the name changed again to the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. After Independence, ‘Malayan’ was changed to ‘Malaysia’.17 It is also interesting to note that most of the colonial officers had articles published in the journals which were later republished as books on Malayan history and after Malaya’s Independence, ex-colonial officers published further books and reports based on colonial experiences.18

Swettenham’s and Clifford’s stories started out as contributions to the newspapers19 and were later published by the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (MBRAS).20 The stories were later collated and republished as books. Literature by other writers including Henri Fauconnier, Somerset Maugham and Anthony Burgess followed Swettenham’s and Clifford’s works and were published by Oxford in Asia.

Swettenham’s first collection was republished twice during the colonial period. Since

17 Tan Sri Datuk Mubin Sheppard Hon, ed., A Centenary Volume: 1877-1977 (Singapore: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1977), vii.

18 For examples see Robert Heussler, Yesterday's Rulers: The Making of the British Colonial Service (London: Oxford University Press, 1963); Robert Heussler, British Rule in Malaya: The Malayan Civil Service and Its Predecessors, 1867-1942 (London: Oxford University Press, 1981).

19 Frank Swettenham, About Perak (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 1893); Clifford, "East Coast Etchings." ‘Piloting Princes’ was a contibution to Blackwood’s Magazine in 1902 and was later republished in Clifford, Bush Wacking and Other Asiatic Tales and Memories. As cited in Simon Smith,

"Hugh Clifford and the Malay Rulers," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 11, no. 3 (2001): 363.

20 Clifford, Since the Beginning: A Tale of An Eastern Land; Swettenham, On the Native Races of the Straits Settlements and Malay States.

Independence, the Oxford University Press under the editorship of William Roff has republished the stories.21 Clifford’s expeditions have also been republished as historical books in the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.22 Both men have been the focus of texts such as Pat Barr’s The Men Who Made British Malay, and the subjects of comprehensive studies by Henry Barlow and John Gailey.23 Henry Fauconnier’s novel, The Soul of Malaya, was published in French in 1930; translated into English in 1931; won the Prix Goncourt Award; and was published later by the Oxford University Press. Fauconnier’s English translator, Eric Sutton, asserts that Fauconnier’s years as a planter in Malaya provided him with insights into Malay life that can only be achieved by men who have lived and worked in the country.24 Accordingly, all writers were granted the status of having a specialised knowledge of the peoples of Malaya and form part of the ‘Oxford’ canon of classics.25

Newspaper editors and publishing companies as well as colonial historians considered Swettenham and Clifford to have ample qualifications to represent Malays.26 Both lived in Malaya as young civil servants, and each rose to the position of High Commissioner

21 Clifford, Stories by Hugh Clifford: Selected and Introduced by William Roff; Frank Swettenham, ed., Stories and Sketches by Sir Frank Swettenham (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1967).

22 Clifford, An Expedition to Trengganu & Kelantan 1895.

23 Henry Barlow, Swettenham (Kuala Lumpur: Southdene, 1995); Pat Barr, Taming the Jungle: The Men Who Made British Malaya (London: Secker & Warburg, 1977); H A Gailey, Clifford: Imperial Proconsul (London: Collings, 1982).

24 Henri Fouconnier, The Soul of Malaya, trans. Eric Sutton (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1930), vii.

25 Clifford, Stories by Hugh Clifford: Selected and Introduced by William Roff. Swettenham, ed., Stories and Sketches by Sir Frank Swettenham.

26 Barr, Taming the Jungle: The Men Who Made British Malaya; Clifford, Stories by Hugh Clifford:

Selected and Introduced by William Roff; John Gullick, Malay Society in the Late Nineteenth Century:

The Beginnings of Change (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1987); Henry Barlow, "Swettenham - Schemer and Historian," Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society LXIX, no. 2 (1996); Christine Seok-kee Tan, "Sir Hugh Clifford: An Assessment of his Malayan Short Stories and Sketches" (Unpublished Academic Exercise, University of Singapore, 1973). Gullick, "A History of Malayan History (to 1939)." Smith, "Hugh Clifford and the Malay Rulers."

of the FMS and the Straits Settlements.27 Swettenham succeeded Hugh Low as Resident of Perak and remained there for six years. During this time, he created the idea of the FMS and was promoted from Resident of Selangor to Resident General of the FMS in 1896. He was eventually elected to the position of High Commissioner of the FMS in 1898 and finally retired in 1903.28 Clifford spent most of his early young years in the civil service in Malaya, especially in the state of Pahang, but was then transferred to Nigeria.29 He returned to Singapore and Malaya in 1927 as the High Commissioner of both the Straits Settlements and the FMS and retired in 1929.30 The British government knighted both Swettenham and Clifford their names, in bold letters on the front covers of their books, provided a stamp of officialdom and made the writings seem all the more factual. As Michael Hayes has argued, men in this position are considered by academic institutions to have the experience, language and education to speak for the colonised.31

Swettenham’s and Clifford’s stories are not only regarded as classics but are cited as historical sources. Although fiction is not always considered part of the archive in the same way as archival documents and journals by historians, the stories of Swettenham and Clifford were employed as historical sources by later colonial officers writing the history of Malaya and they continue to be cited as sources for historical works.32

27 Clifford and Swettenham started out as Assistant Residents in Pahang and Selangor respectively and later both became Residents of Pahang and Selangor. For further reference see Barr, Taming the Jungle:

The Men Who Made British Malaya.

28 Ibid., 132.

29 Clifford negotiated the Treaty of Protection with the Pahang Sultans in 1888. Victor Purcell, Malaysia (London: Thames and Hudson, 1965), 213.

30 According to Barr, Clifford retired due to mental health problems. Barr, Taming the Jungle: The Men Who Made British Malaya, 86.

31 Michael Hayes, "The Discursive Production of the Pacific in Australian Colonial Discourse" (PhD thesis, University of Wollongong, 1995), 6.

32 The following histories have cited Clifford’s and Swettenham’s historical accounts and stories of British Malaya Richard (updated and revised by Tham Seong Chee) Winstedt, The Malays: A Cultural History (Singapore: Graham Brash Pty Ltd, [1st edition published in 1947] 1981). Victor Purcell, Malaya Outline of a Colony (London: Thomas Neilson and Sons Ltd, 1946); Victor Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya (London: Oxford University Press, 1948). Lennox Mills, Malaysia (London: Oxford University Press, 1958). Khoo Kay Kim, "The Origin of British Administration in Malaya," Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 39, no. 1 (1966). C D Cowan, Nineteenth-Century Malaya: The Origins of British Political Control (London: Oxford University Press, 1961). John Bastin and R W

Historians have also utilised the fictional stories to write the history of Malaya.33 As William Roff (Swettenham’s Oxford University Press biographer) argues, the stories,

‘… form an important and sometimes moving record of the early days of colonial rule, and of one side of that ambiguous phenomenon, the colonial relationship’.34 John Gullick, like Roff, also argues that Swettenham’s and Clifford’s stories provide historians with ‘a collection of short stories and genre pieces mostly based on actual episodes of Malay life which’ Clifford and Swettenham ‘witnessed’ to work with.35 While Gullick views the stories as historical sources he also acknowledges them as

‘literary history’ and refers to the English literary fashions which influenced the officers’

works. Swettenham wrote occasionally for the Yellow Book, which Oscar Wilde was associated with, and Joseph Conrad was a friend and mentor to Clifford. This association influenced Clifford’s work and led to his being accepted in the literary world.36 Gullick

Winks, Malaysia: Selected Historical Readings (London: Oxford University Press, 1966); John Bastin, ed., The British Settlement of Penang (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1972). John Butcher, The British in Malaya 1880-1941 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1979); Heussler, British Rule in Malaya: The Malayan Civil Service and Its Predecessors, 1867-1942; P Loh Fok Seng, Seeds of Separatism: Educational Policy in Malaya (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1975). Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Andaya, A History of Malaysia (London: MacMillan, 1982); William Roff, The Origins of Malay Nationalism (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1994); Peter Rimmer and Lisa Allen, eds., The Underside of Malaysian: History Pullers, Planters and Prostitutes (Singapore:

Singapore University Press, 1990). The colonial Resident’s writings continue to be cited as source material see John Gullick, "The Kuala Langat Piracy Trial," Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society LXIX, no. 2 (1996). Gullick, "A History of Malayan History (to 1939)." Zawawi Ibriham, The Malay Labourer By the Window of Capitalism (Singapore: Institute of Asian Studies, 1998).

33 This is shown in the way Gullick cites Clifford’s story ‘The Two Little Slave Girls’ as a key example of inequality in Malay society (before British intervention). Gullick, Malay Society in the Late Nineteenth Century: The Beginnings of Change. On the other hand, Gullick notes Swettenham’s lies and deceit in the cover up of the execution of innocent Malay ‘pirates’ in his recordings of these events. Gullick, "The Kuala Langat Piracy Trial." Khoo Kay Kim also cites Clifford’s stories although he includes stories (written by Malays) in order to give his historical accounts some sort of balance. See Khoo Kay Kim,

"Malay Society 1874-1920," Part III Journal Southeast Asian Studies 5, no. 3 (1991).

34 Swettenham, ed., Stories and Sketches by Sir Frank Swettenham, viii.

35 Gullick, "A History of Malayan History (to 1939)," 97. John Gullick was a civil servant in the colonial period and retired from the Malayan Civil Service in 1957. He continues to write Malayan history. Frank Swettenham’s journals (1874-5) discovered by P L Burns and published in 1975 have become a major source for Gullick, who started his academic life in social anthropology. John Gullick, Glimpses of Selangor 1860-1898 (Kuala Lumpur: MBRAS, 1993).

36 According to Holden, Clifford admired Joseph Conrad’s writing style and fashioned some of his female characters on the characters in Conrad’s Allayers Folly, An Outcast Of the Islands and The Heart of Darkness; Holden, Modern Subjects/Colonial Texts, Hugh Clifford and the Discipline of English

argues that the Resident’s stories ‘are history as entertainment, a picture tinged with romanticism, and in Swettenham’s case – condensation’. Nevertheless he stresses that those writing the history of Malaya have been able to retain objectivity. Unlike the Residents, historians are not the compilers and/or subjects of the writings and so are able to remain detached.37 Historians who cite Swettenham’s and Clifford’s fictional stories are not detached because they do not question the view of women put forward, the fantasy element in many of the stories, the multiple versions of the same stories, or the class, race and gender theories informing the texts. Nor do they question the imperialist discourses resonating throughout the texts; colonial stories written by the colonial officials were originally constructed as frontier stories published for newspapers to suit the historical mode that justified British colonisation of Malaya. The stories were built around the domination of European power.38 Malay rulers were portrayed as despots with no sense of good governance.39 Many of Clifford’s stories resembled exotic fairy tales where sexy bodies were utilised as metaphors for race degeneration or objects of desire. In this context the Resident’s stories were more like reflections of their own fantasies and desires based on power structures between the colonised and the colonisers as will be highlighted in the following sections.40 Nonetheless, acceptance of the veracity of the Resident’s stories ‘were so frequently expressed that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they were genuine and not merely introduced at a later date in an attempt to justify British intervention’.41