Malay Women in Colonial Texts
Author: Lajiman Janoory
Malay Women in Colonial Texts explore and analyze representations of Malay women in selected texts written during the period of British colonization of Malaya between 1874 and 1957. The objective is to show that representations of Malay women as savage, cruel, sexually immoral, and degenerative are produced and signified within the Eurocentric grand narrative of the female Other as savage, exotic, and erotic. The author has selected a range of colonialist writings from various genres travel narratives, novels, and short stories by writers as prolific as Joseph Conrad, Isabella Bird, and Somerset Maugham and relative unknowns such as Frank Swettenham, John Thomson, and Emily Innes.
What unifies their writings is the thematization of the debased nature of Malay women either directly or indirectly shared. Malay women are not only represented as typical Oriental exotics and sexually promiscuous but they are also viewed, particularly in texts by Conrad and Maugham, as being the cause of the moral degeneration of any European man who dares love them. This book also reveals the power of Eurocentric discourse in shaping images of the Malay female Other which are then articulated and presented as reality.
In this book, the author analyzes colonial discourses of the Other by transposing the temporality of history to a specific spatiality: British colonial intrusion into the Malay World and the perpetuation of the grand narrative of imperialism that followed political and physical, and to a greater extent, cultural domination of it. The author explores linguistic and ideological formations and the ways in which power is inscribed in discourse in a one-sided narrative about the subjected indigenes. The author focuses especially on colonialists’ discursive positions in relation to textual images of Malay women during the era of British Imperial rule over the Malay world from 1874 to 1957. This analysis is undertaken with the view that the colonialist narrative was generally written by European authors for European readers.
A discerning reader might question the author’s selection of travel narratives and fiction, especially the exclusion of writers as prolific as Hugh Clifford or Anthony Burgess.
Admittedly, Hugh Clifford’s travel narratives and Anthony Burgess’ fictions are in the author’s reading list and she had initially intended their representations of the Malay female Other to be part of the general critical analysis of colonial ideology but like a weaver who needs enough threads to weave his clothes, a critic requires considerable subject matter to make a decent analysis. Upon further reading of their narratives, the author found that they did not cast enough of a glance at Malay women to justify a deep and substantial analysis of them.
Eventually, the author intends Malay Women in Colonial Texts as a model of reading practice. While the subjects of the author’s analysis are Malay women in colonial Malaya, this book is not merely an exercise in interpretation of colonial texts with postcolonial strands. This book strives more to offer contestatory voices of the marginal over the more dominant and normative discourse in the broader dialectical struggle over interpretation and subjectivity. This book offers a model of discursive resistance to significations of otherness conceptualized within any discursively totalizing and alienating regime. It celebrates a multiplicity of voices over a singularly authoritative and hegemonic discourse.