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Tracing the Continuities

Cultural theorists have offered one way to move beyond the archive by looking at literature as an important part of the construction of the colonised, the working-classes, and women.

Hendrik Maier, in his book In The Center of Authority, used Foucault’s concept of genealogy in an intertextual reading of a Malay text and the subsequent colonial readings of the same text. By doing so, he demonstrated how colonial officials James Low and Richard Winstedt de-valued the text as insignificant as both text and history, even though it had the same value as other Malay texts examined by colonial officers.73 Like Maier, Anthony Milner argued the colonial representations of Malays and Malay literature by the British are subject to question.74 Milner traced the rise of Malay nationalism in Malay literature published during the colonial period.75 These works included both ‘formal’ literature produced by the English-educated Malays and the novels authored by Malays educated in the vernacular. Virginia Hooker has also interpreted Malay literature written during and after the colonial period.76 Her work has demonstrated that Malays were not just passive

72 However, Root only examines the way women’s bodies have become embedded as the high-risk category because of the threat that modernity poses to the Malay culture, and does not use Foucauldian methods. Ibid.

73 Hendrick Maier, In the Center of Authority: The Malay Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asian Program, 1988).

74 Anthony Milner, The Invention of Politics in Colonial Malaya (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

75 Ibid. For further references on Malay nationalism see Clive Kessler, Islam and Politics in a Malay State Kelantan 1838-1969 (London: Cornell University Press, 1978); A H Johns, "The Turning Image: Myth and Reality in Malay Perceptions of the Past," in Perceptions of the Past in Southeast Asia, ed. Anthony Reid and David Marr (Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd, 1979); M B Matheson, ed., Islam in Southeast Asia (Leiden: E J Brill, 1988); William Roff, ed., Islam and the Political Economy of Meaning Comparative Studies of Muslim Discourse (London: Croom Helm, 1987).

76 Virginia Matheson Hooker, Writing a New Society (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000), 1-9.

recipients of colonial rule; rather, they were thinking about colonial governance, social and political organisations and the changes that colonial modernity brought about that affected the Malay population. While the novels Hooker analysed made specific reference to women’s role in society, they contained very little about women’s own identity. As male authors wrote most of these novels, this is not surprising, as texts were written about women and not by them.77 Women did not begin writing until the 1960s, because of their lack of access to education and the lack of power in the literary world.78 When women did start writing novels and editing magazines, their work was not taken seriously. According to male critics, their novels were merely ‘women’s chatter’.79 Campbell’s work ‘Women’s Lives Through Women’s Eyes’ examines women’s literature and concludes that women have a different story to tell which is at variance with the way men see women.80 Women’s stories are different and they have not been included in the official archive.

It should be noted here that, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has argued, it is impossible to try to find the essential woman or to write the history of women in developing countries such as Malaysia, as our interpretations would be coloured by our own discourses about women.81 Spivak argued that ‘the search for the muted subject of the subaltern woman cannot be solved by an essentialist search for lost origins’, meaning that historians who valorise women from the past in order to avoid orientalism are as much at risk of constructing the ‘other’ woman as scholars who rely on feminist theories of ‘passive victims’.82 Zawiah Yahya follows Spivak’s instruction to move away from the writing of counter-histories of the colonial period in order to counter continuing colonisation by

77 There were a few women-centred books such as a cookbook which highlighted modern forms of cooking preparation and hygiene Milner, The Invention of Politics in Colonial Malaya.

78 Yahaya Ismail in Ungku Maimunah Mohd Tahir, "Women Fiction Writers and Images of Women in Modern Malay Literature," Sojourn 1, no. 2 (1986): 160.

79 Christine Campbell, "Women's Lives Through Women's Eyes: Representations of Women at Work in the Malay Novel," RIMA 31, no. 2 (1997): 101-20.

80 Ibid.: 101.

81 Gayatri Chakravority Spivak, In Other Worlds:Essays in Cultural Politics (London: Routledge, 1988).

82 Gayatri Chakravority Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak," in Colonial Discourse and Post Colonial Theory, ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 91.

Western education. She does so by shifting to a radical questioning of the very system in which scholars conduct their scholarly activities. Yahya’s work is important for this thesis because she has pointed out how colonial writers, including colonial officials, represented Malay women in colonial fiction in ‘orientalist’ ways.83 An examination of official colonial literature is important in highlighting the ways women were represented in the colonial period. Likewise, it is important to examine official post-colonial literature such as Mahathir’s texts. The incorporation of both colonial and post-colonial archives permits a questioning of the ways women and work are represented over a long historical period.

In third world literature, a subaltern history of the subcontinent was constructed by re-reading the archives in a way that rejected colonial documentation of South Asian history under the leadership of Ranajit Guha.84 These studies concentrated on an analysis which allowed the colonised to speak rather than be spoken for. In the Malaysian context, the case for challenging colonial history was first made by Syed Hussein Alatas in The Myth of the Lazy Native. Alatas’s study demonstrates how colonial ideology concerning lazy natives was part of a racist discourse that justified labour exploitation in Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines. The genres he examined included English literature, political treatises, media reports and Southeast Asian historical and anthropological accounts. Alatas’s study is one which examines the ways the working-classes are represented within a discursive field in Malaysia.85 Alatas claimed that notions that Malays were lazy and poor business people in the post-Independence period were derived from the colonial period, when the discourse of lazy natives to justify the colonisation of Malaya was widespread.86 Ong also argued that the extent to which this myth became embedded in the nationalist discourse is apparent in Mahathir’s book the Malay Dilemma, where he used it to motivate the Malays into

83 She reads the texts from the position of the colonised woman and refers to colonial violence enacted over the bodies of Malay women. Zawiah Yahaya, Resisting Colonial Discourse (Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1994).

84 Ranijit Guha, ed., Subaltern Studies 1 Writings on South Asian History and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982; reprint, Second Impression 1996).

85 Hussein Alatas, The Myth of the Lazy Native (London: Frank Cass, 1977).

86 Ibid., 17.

becoming modern.87 While Alatas’s work is a study of official discourses, he did not examine discourses of women and work, nor has he employed a Foucauldian perspective. It is only by moving to this type of research that it will be possible to see how the official structure of women and work is supported across various disciplines.88