Wednesday, 21 December 2011

“The book that killed colonialism.”

I remember one particular observation made by an alim from India about colonialism. He said this back in the 1930s or so, in a book that I found in my friend's dorm room many years ago, and it sounds something as follows.

The British who came to India, look at how they live their life over there. They wore the same clothes, ate the same food as they did in England. They would never touch local food, let alone learn to like it. When they went home they are practically same person culturally. Compare them to the Indians who went to England. Within a short period of time they would to dress like the Englishmen, talk like them, and love their food, their way of life.

This was certainly no coincidence. The colonial officers went to great lengths to ensure that they wouldn't assimilate with the culture of the locals in any aspect. Their attitudes were shaped by colonial policies, some of which were documented in some books that my undergraduate lecturer, Dr. Fathi, mentioned in his class but I never got them because back then I was a big idiot who couldn't be bothered with anything about history.

But among them there were a handful who defied this way thinking and decided to look around to explore this new surrounding and mingle with the local folk. Malaysia once inspired Anthony Burgess to write The Malayan Trilogy, which painted an unflattering (and somewhat comical) picture of the Malayan colonial society.

Source: Cinta Buku

And in Indonesia there was Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company. Published in 1860, it sparked a worldwide debate on colonial policies and their exploitative ventures in foreign lands. Pramoedya Ananta Toer boldly claimed this book as, “The book that killed colonialism.”

The author of Max Havelaar, Multatuli (real name Eduard Douwes Dekker) penned the book after a series of disagreement with how the colonial administration of Dutch West Indies were subjugating the locals by instigating ethnic feuds, use of torture, and economic oppression. Dekker objected to  these policies and tactics through his writings, which led him to be transferred several times across Indonesia. He retired from his post as a colonial officer at 29 and moved to Belgium, where the book was first published.

I first came across Max Havelaar while reading my first Pramoedya book, House of Glass. I thought it was something fictional, a book that was made up for the story. It turns out that the book do exist and a trip to Kinokuniya confirms it. The book in printed form is priced rather heftily but a gratis digital counterpart is available through Google Books.

[ The Book that Killed Colonism ]


Afida Anuar said...

Forgive me for my ignorance in history, i was a big idiot also rol... History for me, was a boring subject, hu hu.

The beginning of the entry reminds me to one of my teammate from India. He does not eat any other local food but Indian food, only India..PS: sama macam colonial officer jugak ni;)

r.o.l. said...


Nothing like getting old to get us being interested in history.

Now I see that if history was taught in a different approach back when we were in school, maybe with more story telling for example, then they would be less big idiots like us. :-)

Just kidding. You're not an idiot, because you can do programming. :-D

Anonymous said...

I'm glad u have the opportunity to learn abt malaya in other ppl's perspective. Burgess is one of them..pramoedya is one of highly regarded in malay literature in english eventhough he's indonesian.

nahmy said...

socialism-oriented books? these are one heavy stuff for me but still I certainly like to give it a 'try'.

r.o.l. said...

Anonymous, have you read books by Burgess and Pak Pram? What's your opinion of them? Are they your favourite authors?

nahmy, I'm giving them a try too.

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