The Crisis of British Imperialism in Southeast Asia: The (Mis)Representation of the Indigenous in Clifford and Conrad
- Author: Kil Hye Ryoung
- Publish: The Journal of English Language and Literature Volume 58, Issue6, p1041~1061, Dec 2012
In the late nineteenth century, British colonial activities became aggressive and annexationist in the tropics, including the Southeast Asian Archipelago, which reflected the historical circumstances of both increasing resistance from the indigenous and severe competition among European powers. Interestingly, the change in English colonial policy toward an annexationist or imperialist vision adopted the motto of a civilizing mission, which was founded on the anthropological assumption that the white English were civilized, while the non-white indigenous were savage. The assumption developed into colonial discourse through systematic gathering of anthropological knowledge about the peripheries of the Empire. The knowledge system was flawed, which stressed the differences of the peripheral populations from the English and served as an inverted discourse on the Imperial Self rather than the description of the Other. Furthermore, the natives were heterogeneous, which rendered indistinct the racial and cultural differences between the English and the natives. Still, the aboriginals called Malays, who were comprised of many ethnic subgroups, needed to be deemed savage or inferior by the English in order to justify the English civilizing work or imperial ambition. Put differently, the representation of the English as civilized necessitated the (mis)representation of the natives as savage. In this context, lifford’s works contribute to systematic misrepresentation of the Malays, on which colonial discourse is founded, though not without self-contradiction. On the other hand, Conrad’s novels that are set in the Malay Archipelago resort to a strategic misrepresentation that reveals the relativity of the discourse. Exploring the dilemma of denationalization to various degrees, Conrad’s Malay texts problematize the (mis)representation of the indigenous as inferior, which is the basis of English claim to superiority.
anthropology , British Malaya , colonial discourse , cultural contact , denationalization , Hugh Clifford , imperialism , Joseph Conrad , misrepresentation
By the late nineteenth century, British colonial expansion had entered a new phase—that of “imperialism.” Prior to this period, especially between the 1830s and 1880s, British overseas activities were marked by “nonannexationist global expansion,” which denoted Britain’s “confidence” about her position as the first-industrialized nation in the world (Bridges 54). Although the development of the ideology of the British Empire can be detected in the narratives of mid-Victorian adventure fiction, travel writing and histories, the word “imperialism” itself was not associated— at least not in the way that terms like British “colonies” and “colonial interests” were — with British expansion until the late Victorian era (Brantlinger 21). It is paradoxical, then, that the emergence of British “imperialism” signified “declining faith in Britain’s future” in colonial affairs due to international rivalry — notorious in the “Scramble for Africa” at the Berlin Conference of 1885—and native resistance in the last quarter of the century (228). Competition among European powers became severe in the East as well, particularly in Southeast Asia, which was traditionally known for the spice trade and served as the main trade route to China. The English colonists, who arrived relatively late on the stage of the Southeast Asian archipelago, confronted the dominance of the Dutch who had defeated the Portuguese monopoly of the region by the early eighteenth century. At the same time, colonial resistance to the British intervention was even more serious around the world. The Mutiny of 1857, which ended the colonial authority of the British East India Company, brought on a direct rule by the Crown in India and served as a turning-point in British colonial policy. The Indian revolt, however, was only the beginning and was followed by the Jamaican Rebellion in 1865, the Malay Disturbances in 1875, and the disastrous South African wars with the Zulus in 1879 and with the Boers in 1899, just to name a few.
In the Southeast Asian archipelago, which served as the setting for many of the former-sailor author Joseph Conrad’s novels and for the colonial administrator and author Hugh Clifford’s work, the English colonial intervention began in the late eighteenth century. The archipelago was comprised of the southern part of the Malay Peninsula (Malaya) and numerous small and large islands, including Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Celebes (now Sulawesi). The Dutch colonial territories—the Dutch East Indies transferred to the Dutch Republic from the Dutch East India Company after its dissolution in 1800—which was centered around Java, with the capital established in Batavia (now Jakarta), covered most of modern Indonesia, which left only northern areas of the archipelago, specifically Malaya and North Borneo, independent. Thus, the English managed to obtain Penang in Malaya in the 1780s and used it as a free port to compete with Dutch trading posts nearby. It was only in 1867, however, that Penang and two other British Straits Settlements — Singapore and Malacca— that were acquired in the 1820s were established as a Crown colony under direct British rule. The establishment of the Straits Settlements as a Crown colony was a consequence of the Indian Mutiny and the subsequent termination of the Company rule, which transferred the Settlements to the Government of British India and now to the Crown. Yet the creation of the Crown colony of Malaya also reflected the results of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, which recognized the north of the Strait of Malacca (Malaya) as the English sphere of influence, while confirming the south of the Strait (Sumatra) as the Dutch territory. With the Treaty, the new capital of the Settlements Singapore grew rapidly as a free port to become the foundation of British commercial expansion or “free trade imperialism” and also to become the base of the Crown colony of Malaya (Brantlinger x).
The English influence, thenceforth, increasingly expanded in the name of free trade in the archipelago, competing against the Dutch monopoly of the region. The native resistance, like the Indian Mutiny that resulted in the Malay Disturbances or Perak War of 1875, also played a role in further solidifying the English colonial authority in Malaya. The Perak War was prompted by the murder of the first English “Resident,” an advisor to the Sultan, who represented a colonial system of indirect rule introduced in 1874 to Perak, the second largest state in Malaya (Hampson,
Cultural14). The war, having removed nearly all Malay high-ranking officials, effectively curtailed the power of the Sultans, leaving them with authority only on matters related to customs and religion (Zain 7). As detailed in Clifford’s novel Saleh,set in Perak, the Sultans and chiefs, with the collection of revenue taken out of their hands, were given allowances as compensation. In this way, British Malaya and North Borneo were formally established under British rule between 1874 and 1896, when Pahang, the largest state in Malaya—having accepted the “Resident” in 1887—finally joined Perak and two others to become part of the Federated Malay States, a federation of protected states (GoGwilt 67).
During this period from 1883 to 1896, Clifford served as a colonial official in Perak; from 1896 to 1903, while working as the Resident of Pahang— including a brief governorship of North Borneo — he wrote novels and collections of tales about the Malay region, such as
In Court and Kampong(1897), ‘ Since the Beginning’ (1898), and Studies in Brown Humanity(1898); after he returned to England, he wrote Salley(1904) and its sequel Saleh(1908). Also during this time of British expansion in the archipelago, Conrad as a sailor visited the northeast of Borneo in 1887, which was still relatively independent though nominally under Dutch control. Conrad’s Malay or Bornean novels, such as Almayer’s Folly(1895), An Outcast of the Islands(1896), Lord Jim(1900), and The Rescue(1920), were set between the 1860s and 1880s, with some episodes modeled on historical events of the 1840s when the English colonies Sarawak and Labuan were founded on and off, respectively, the northwest coast of Borneo. The works of Clifford and Conrad, then, which were commonly set in the late-nineteenth-century Southeast Asian archipelago where the English were establishing or struggling to establish colonial authority, can be a good source of information about the way the English represented themselves not only to the natives but to themselves. Furthermore, their works, particularly Conrad’s, are pregnant with contradictions, personified by the cultural half-breed or denationalized, between the representation or self-imagination of the English white men and the Malay natives’ perception of the English. From this perspective, this essay will examine the dilemma of representation of the English in the Southeast Asian archipelago, which sheds light on the nature of the crisis the British Empire faced at the turn of and in the early twentieth century.
The period between the 1870s and 1890s, which witnessed the consolidation of British imperial power in Southeast Asia, marked the transition from colonial or non-annexationist commercial expansion to an imperial one in British overseas activities. The beginning of British imperialism, following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869—which further stimulated colonial activities in the East, particularly the Indian subcontinent and the Southeast Asian archipelago—may be indicated by John Ruskin’s patriotic message delivered in 1870:
Ruskin’s England, as the “mistress of half the earth” to “guide” “distant nations,” forecasted the “true conception” of British Empire that Joseph Chamberlain elaborated in 1897 during the peak of imperialism. The “true conception” or the “third stage” of the Empire, as Chamberlain noted, seemed to begin with the foundation of the Royal Colonial Institute in 1868:
The Royal Colonial Institute was founded in opposition to the separatism of “the little Englanders” from her colonies, which represented the “second chapter” that had begun with the Declaration of Independence by the American colonies in 1776; the separatist views were reinforced by the Declaration of Independence in Canada in 1838. The “third stage” and the “true conception” of British Empire, roughly beginning in the 1870s, was distinct from previous phenomena of overseas expansion:
While the status of “self-governing colonies”—dominated by European settlements—was transformed from dependencies to “kinship,” the colonies in the tropics, including Southeast Asia, were reorganized or annexed to the Empire, becoming subject to its direct rule, as exemplified by the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1877. The efforts to establish direct rule and enforce “
Pax Britannica” in the colonies inhabited by the indigenous population were designated as the “work of civilization,” to which the English claimed to have the “sense of obligation.”
Significantly and ironically, however, the civilizing work, in order to bring peace and prosperity to the indigenous under British rule, needed to be done through violence. Chamberlain affirms, “No doubt . . . you cannot destroy the practices of barbarism, of slavery, of superstition . . . without the use of force”; “In the wide dominions of the Queen the doors of the temple of Janus are never closed” (214). Thus, the Empire was always at war against the native practices in the colonies—as evidenced by the outbreak of colonial revolts, a few of which were mentioned earlier —which in fact paved the way to the colonial administration rather than delivering the colonized from evil. In other words, British rule, in a way, necessitated that the native practices be labeled as evil and something to fight against, while creating the English customs or “civilization” as not what the indigenous tradition represented—not something that was designated as “barbarism,” “slavery,” and “superstition.” For example, the Malay tradition of debt-bondage, which was common in the late-nineteenth- century Southeast Asia, was abolished as “slavery” in British Malaya despite the treaty that left the issues of custom under the Malay ruler’s jurisdiction. In fact, debt-bondsmen, though (mis)represented as slaves—like the girls in Clifford’s “Two Little Slave Girls” and most probably, the Siamese slave girl Taminah in Conrad’s
Almayer’s Folly— were clearly distinguished from slaves in that the former comprised the owner’s household. Furthermore, while the British system of slavery—practiced well into the nineteenth century —solidified the division of social classes, the abolition of the Malayan tradition of debt-bondage, by making the debtor’s “land” instead of his “person” pledged for a loan, rather “increased the stratification of society” (Holden 23). In short, the English way was not necessarily the way of or to civilization, and likewise, the native customs were not necessarily savage ones.
Nevertheless, or rather all the more so, as the indigenous practices could not be deemed savage—nor could they be perceived as civilized or equal to English customs — they needed to be assumed as savage and inferior so they could be ruled by English civilization. Another problem, however, was that the aboriginal traditions by the colonies were all different. As the British colonies, constituted by various peoples, languages and customs, were heterogeneous, so were the native ways of life, which were to be manifested as uniformly inferior. As Nicholas Thomas argues in Colonialism’s Culture, colonialism was “not a unitary project but a fractured one, riddled with contradictions” (51). The native customs differed in the colonies, as evidenced by the different forms of British colonial governments, from direct to indirect rule, according to the degree of intervention in the native administration. In the Southeast Asian or Malay archipelago alone, the indigenous, though all called Malays by the English, were distinct from one another in languages and customs, depending on which corner of the archipelago they inhabited—roughly, along the coast or in the interior of the islands. By necessity, the English colonists’ attitudes and relationship varied according to each native population. While the interior people of Malaya— called the Sakai—were “supposed to be the first family” of human race settled on the peninsula, and living the primitive way of life “by hunting” and with “no permanent dwellings,” the coastal people were viewed as “superior” to the interior people, as exhibited in many of Clifford’s tales (
Court78). The “superior” Malays were even regarded as endowed with “one of the most characteristic qualities of the English gentleman”—that is, as “intensely selfrespecting” as the English colonist ( Studies122).
Accordingly, the English colonists used the strategy of indirect rule, such as the advisor or resident system, to control or civilize the superior Malays, while directly approaching the savage Malays in the interior, as suggested by Captain Lingard’s behavior in Conrad. The indigenous traders on the east coast of Borneo blame the English trader Lingard who—called the “Rajah Laut [King of the Sea]—acted as an unofficial advisor to the sultan for trading with “the Dyaks of the forest, who are no better than monkeys,” leaving the coastal traders “starv[ing]”: “That white man . . . is not content to hold us all in his hand with a cruel grasp. He seeks to cause our very death” (
Outcast90). In Clifford’s tale, the interior-living Sakai, “the beasts of the forest,” “never willingly” quit their area; “the trade has to be carried on by visitors who penetrate into the Sakai country” to “barter” with them, the Sakai, who understand only “three numerals,” “almost by force” ( Court45, 47). Then, the English trader Lingard, while indirectly governing the sultanate, simultaneously deals in person with the forest tribe with whom the sultanate has traded. Moreover, Lingard, “in his quality of white man,” has “better relations” with the jungle-dwellers, while the coast population are “eternally quarreling” with them ( Almayer’s27). Lingard’s act, which informally represents the English Advisor’s, makes the sultanate destitute and dependent on him. In other words, the English colonists did not have a fixed approach to controlling the Malays, who were divided into various ethnic subgroups, including Arabs, Bugis, Chinese, Dyaks and Sulus—all separately named in Conrad, unlike in Clifford — and struggling with one another as well as with the white colonists. Intervening in various ways in the native affairs, the English took advantage of the internal conflicts in order to rule them.
From this perspective, the colonies or the peripheries of the Empire were not the space in which the English took complete control of the natives. Instead, the colonial peripheries were “contact zones,” as Mary L. Pratt terms, “the space of imperial encounters” in which “peoples geographically and historically separated c[a]me into contact with each other and establish[ed] ongoing relations”; although the relations involved “conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict,” the “monopoly” of the English on the knowledge and interpretation of the indigenous and their customs “did not exist” in the colonial space (7-8). Inevitably, “colonial representations” were “diverse in their genres, social contexts, and [even] conflicting theoretical positions” (Thomas 50). Here, Conrad’s Malay fiction may be an example of such diversity in colonial representation. Although written by the English author, his short stories and novels set in the archipelago offer a glimpse of the natives’ own view of the white man and his habits, which may contradict the latter’s vision. While Clifford’s books, which claimed to consist of “truth” and “facts,” imply that only the English colonial official can understand and judge the Malays and their culture as inferior, Conrad’s are full of different voices, which is one of the characteristics of his text. The multiplicity of voice in Conrad, including the indigenous, though making it difficult to establish authority in representing both the Malays and the white colonists, fits the depiction of the colonial space as the “contact zone” where different cultures meet.
Furthermore, the multiplicity of representation in Conrad’s text is related to the author’s multicultural biography at the time when he sailed up the Berau river in Northeast Borneo on which most of his Malay novels were set: the British Merchant Navy officer Conrad, who was from Poland under Russian rule and naturalized as a British citizen only a year before, was an officer on board a steamship owned by an Arab and not an English trader (Hampson,
Cultural28). The owner of the steamship was the original of the Arab trader Abdulla, in both Almayer’s Follyand An Outcast of the Islands, as son of “the great Mohammedan trader of the Straits” whose “[family] members and connections were found in every part of [the Archipelago]” ( Outcast85). Put differently, the Arab traders, like the Dutch, were a rival to the English commercial colonist, as Lingard is finally forced through the betrayal of Willems to yield his trade to Abdulla. In this sense, Conrad’s work, based on personal experience and historical facts, hints at the historical truth that the English were the only one and probably the strongest—except for the Dutch—of the traders competing in the archipelago. As Paul Ricoeur asserts that “we ourselves are an ‘other’ among others” (qtd. in Hampson, Cultural128), the English were only an “other” among the peoples settling and trading in the archipelago.
Here, the British national mission of civilizing work, declared as the “true conception” of British Empire, was forced to justify itself. The diversity among the peripheral populations of the Empire, which made the English just an “other” to them, rendered indistinct the differences between the English and the aboriginal populations, not to mention English superiority. Still, the British Empire needed to deem the aboriginal populations savage or inferior in order to carry out the civilizing work—that is, to subjugate them under British rule. In this respect, the civilizing work required “the use of force” instead of civility, which can only be evidence of the lack of justification or at least, confidence. British imperialism, advocating colonial expansion and annexation, was associated with “Britain’s loss of self-confidence” and anxiety about her superiority over not only the peripheral peoples but other Europeans (Kuklick 5). In other words, the English faced the crisis of identity, which led to the emergence of “imperialism” to affirm the ideas about the English and the Empire in the late nineteenth century. It can be said, then, that the discourse on the peripheral populations as the Other of the Empire— commonly delivered in the late Victorian writings, such as Clifford’s and Conrad’s works—was an inverted discourse on the Imperial Self, or an inverse “form of self-inscription,” rather than the description of the Other (Spurr 7). It was difficult, however, as has been discussed, to create “a coherent representation” of the colonized Other since it was plural and heterogeneous (3). More importantly, the “strange” and “incomprehensible” Other renders difficult a consistent representation of the Self.
It is worth noting that the colonial discourse, which, through a systematic representation of the indigenous, differentiated them from the English, was mostly “addressed not at colonized populations, but at public opinion within colonizing nations” (Thomas 57). It may well be then that the differentiation was manipulated, as an organized representation of the diverse indigenous populations was improbable. Here, the natural history of anthropology, developed in the beginning of the nineteenth century, was utilized to create a discourse and to characterize the racial traits of non-white peoples distinct from those of white Europeans. The discourse, in turn, created “an appearance of order,” an aboriginal society or culture as “an objective whole, an object of anthropological knowledge and governmentality” (111). Moreover, anthropological depiction and documentation on the culture of the peripheries of the Empire, such as in Clifford’s works, “did not merely create representations” but “constituted political actualities in themselves” (112). Such cultural texts, however, could not present or represent “actualities,” as they were “systems, or economies, of truth” based on systematic “exclusions”—in addition to the fact that cultures cannot be a scientific “object” to be presented in any form (James Clifford 6-7).
In other words, anthropological knowledge about the peripheral culture was selectively organized into a text, a system of discourse. Exaggerating its differences from the English culture, the discourse often “create[d] differences that [did] not exist,” as Clifford’s depictions of Malays are self-contradictory at times; it “occlude[d] not only the voices of the colonized, but those of many colonizers” who were deemed “disreputable”(Thomas 53, 159). The exclusion of failure of white colonists, particularly the case of the denationalized or “going native”—who were typically represented by Conrad’s characters — makes the discourse, founded on anthropological data, a complete knowledge system about colonial realities. In this respect, the colonial “discourse,” as Foucault notes in
L’Ordre du Discours, was “a violence” that the white men did to colonial realities or “a practice that [they] impose[d] on the [colonial] world” (qtd. in Spurr 62). Inescapably, the colonial discourse was inconsistent or contradictory to colonial realities, especially when the white men— like the denationalized former captain Jorgenson who dwells “in the native quarter, with a native woman, in a native house” in Conrad’s Rescue(90)— were “simply unable to imagine themselves, their situations and their prospects in the enabling, expansionist, supremacist fashion that colonial ideologies projected” (Thomas 167).
In fact, the colonial discourse, based on the anthropological differentiation of the white men from the peripheral populations, was inherently flawed by two contradicting assumptions: one that the characteristics of the race and culture were changing and could be improved and the other that they were essential and not to be changed. The first theory, as the foundation of early anthropologist or “evolutionist” thinking, rationalized the rule of the white men over the indigenous in the peripheries as the guidance or civilization of the inferior by the superior. At the same time, however, the evolutionary argument—which termed anthropology as “the reformer’s science” (Kuklick 7)—by assuming that the peripheral culture could develop to the stage of the white man’s, made the latter’s superiority unessential and its rule only temporarily rational. Then, the second supposition was required to affirm the fundamental superiority of the white colonists and justify their continuous rule of the peripheries in the name of protection. This thought advocated British imperialism and led to the later anthropological theory of “diffusionism,” which emerged in the late nineteenth century: instead of developing, the inferior culture degenerated, and the population was likely to “decline” when it was “under the influence of bearers of a superior culture” (162).
The anthropological contradiction — that is, the contradiction in the assumption of racial and cultural differences in the colonial discourse— can be summed up as the inconsistency in the premise of difference between degree and kind, which is apparent in Clifford. He writes in his 1898 novel ‘
Since the Beginning’: “It is difficult to draw the line at which savagery and barbarism may be said to begin, and civilization to end. The fact is that the twain blend curiously. . . . The only difference [is] . . . one of degree” (12). Yet in the 1908 novel Saleh, he notes “a difference in kind rather than in degree” (190), which is stressed again in the “Foreword” of the book as a “fact that the genius of Asia differs from that of Europe in kind rather than in degree.” Interestingly, the two discrepant positions of the difference “in degree” and “in kind” were persistently in conflict although the latter got stronger later on. Even in his early works, Clifford depicts Malays as essentially different from and inferior to the English and so “doomed to speedy extinction” or “pre-destined to be blotted out of existence” “by contact with a stronger, harder race” like the English ( Court80; Beginning68).
This pessimistic view of the indigenous goes so far as to reject the idea of education of the Malays, as he notes that “Malays who have been educated” are “as offensive and familiar as a low-caste European” (
Studies123). Ironically, though, Clifford’s pessimistic and essentialist view contradicts his position as the resident minister, established for the British “project of colonial ‘regeneration’ of the Malay race” (Holden 20). It can be said then that the colonial project of Malay “regeneration,” which derived from the idea that the Malays were “degenerate” rather than savage, failed, as demonstrated in Clifford’s novel about the Malay prince Saleh. Educated in England, Saleh finds himself “unfitted by training to be a Malay raja, unsuited by nature to be an Englishman,” “a hybrid, a waif, an outcast,” and ends up running amokto kill himself ( Saleh286). The regeneration or “denationalization of Raja Saleh” appears to be “a completed fact” until he realizes that he is not to be given “the equal chance” with the English “to satisfy the aspirations” that the education has inspired—to love an English girl—“because his skin [is] swarthy” ( Salley20, 32, 42). The denationalization of the Malay turns out to be “a sorry imitation, a sham”—that is, the Malay cannot be regenerated into an Englishman, which signifies the failure of the British colonial project, as Clifford acknowledges it as “a gigantic mistake” made by the English “in the name of Progress” (47-48). It seems that Clifford intends to emphasize the inadequacy of the regeneration project through the two novels. As the narrative goes, “the Englishmen’s determination to force a blending of the East with the West” had been “so hideous an error in the case of [the] single individual” Saleh, it was “reasonable to suspect that they had made blunders even more deplorable when dealing with a country and its entire population” ( Saleh103-04).
Clifford opposes only the reformist vision, however, while supporting the imperialist view that underscores the superiority of the English. It is worthy to note that he apologizes for the Englishmen’s “glorious intentions” resulting in the tragedy of Saleh and that his apology is addressed to the English public instead of the Malays (306), as pointed out in the earlier quote from Thomas. The ruined life of the Malay prince is a mistake resulting from the “glorious intentions” of the English, which is to be shared among the English themselves, rather than recognized by the Malays to whom the mistake was committed. And it has given the English the lesson that while “the native guided by white influence is all right,” “the denationalized native,” though merely an imitation, is “the devil” (127). Put differently, the denationalization of the Malay is not only impossible but unthinkable to the English no matter how seriously they believe in making him an Englishman. Undoubtedly, the denationalization of the Englishman is not even acknowledged. The narrator Norris in both
Salleyand Salehis depicted as “an Englishman whom the East had tested, trained, and tempered,” yet who has “never” become “denationalized” (28); the colonial official Frank, “once semi-orientalized,” recalls his past as that of “dead self” in another novel ( Beginning95, 116). On the whole, then, Clifford views that the Malays differ from the English not “in degree” but “in kind” and therefore should not be educated in the same way as the English. The English should learn about the Malays instead, through colonial officials like himself, to guide and protect them. It is inevitable that the Malay Saleh “suffers as a result of his exposure to English culture,” while the Englishman Norris “benefits from his immersion in Malay culture” (Hampson, “Clifford” 160).
Colonial officials like Clifford, often anthropological investigators themselves, collected and organized information about the natives into a system of knowledge, which resulted in “systematic misunderstanding of indigenous cultures” (Kuklick 279). The Clifford tales’ “claim for authenticity” on Malay culture is “undermined by their emphasis of the agency of the collector,” as in the case of Steel’s collection of Indian folklore (Crane and Johnston 86). Steel, like Clifford, stressing “the unchanging traditions of the ‘real’ India,” exhibits “the ‘backwardness’ of the country and the need for British rule” in her collection (81). Quite strikingly in this context, Clifford’s stories about the Malay habits or tradition, which are “presented as having occurred more frequently in the past” before the British influence, are “still described in detail as a defining quality of ‘Malayness’ in the present” (Holden 104). The Malay life is to be improved under the guidance of the English, while its degeneracy is unchanging, as symbolized by the occurrence of “
amok,” a sudden, extremely destructive act of killing himself: Saleh’s potential to run amok is merely regarded as an “incongruity” in which the “English-nurtured” Malay displays “savage instinct” ( Salley45). Interestingly, the act of amok, which Clifford accounts is caused by “the state of the feeling which drives a European to take his own life” ( Court37), may be viewed as parallel to “dueling” in English culture, associated with the notion of “gentlemanliness,” as in the woman traveler Isabella Bird’s depiction of the Malay (Holden 103). Paradoxically, then, amok serves as the signifier of both the savageness and gentlemanliness of the Malay—which Clifford acknowledges as well—that is, both his difference from and sameness as the English. In addition, the symptom of “ latah,” a “temporary nervous surrender of self-control and will-power” ( Studies196), is also marked as a symbol of racial difference of the Malay. Yet occurring to the Malay who is “sufficiently persecuted, teased, and harassed” (195), latahmay well signify the resistance of the Malay to the British influence rather than his inherent racial difference.
Such “systematic misunderstanding” or misrepresentation of the Malay, which inescapably induces self-contradiction in colonial discourse, is not rare in Clifford’s works. Typically, the Malays are depicted as “dumb” and “mimetic,” whereas they can be quite clever and capable of manipulating the English, as in the episode of the first white trader who is forced to give away his “goods” as a “gift”; the Malays conduct conversation “like a scorpion,” which is “one of their winning ways” (
Beginning26, 86). Particularly in Conrad, the “extreme deliberation and deviousness of [the Malay] mental proceedings” is demonstrated in the character of Babalatchi who regards the white men as “fools” ( Outcast172). Again in Clifford, the Malays are characteristically depicted as indolent, which is contradicted by his own statement elsewhere that “you will hesitate” to say that “the Malays are the laziest people” in the world, as they can ceaselessly labor at the paddles “for more than five-andtwenty hours” ( Studies163). Furthermore, the Malays of Arabic origin, who comprise the largest population in the multiracial archipelago and threaten the commercial dominance of the white traders, as obvious in Conrad, are denied their identity, being marked as “lax Muhammadans” ( Court11); even their religion is deprecated as “apt to breed religious animosity” ( Beginning41).
While Clifford’s work contributes to the systematic misrepresentation of the Malay culture, on which colonial discourse is founded, Conrad’s fiction resorts to a strategic misrepresentation that reveals the relativity of the discourse. While the narrative of white characters is “shaped by the imperial texts” about the Southeast Asian archipelago, which designate the non-white Malays as the Other, the account of the Malays “empties out the category of the Other” in Conrad (Hampson,
Cultural142). The imperial text or discourse is rendered meaningless and at best relative, as betrayed in Conrad’s response to Clifford’s criticism in ‘Mr Conrad at Home and Abroad,’ a review article of Almayer’s Folly:
Conrad affirms that he is “inexact and ignorant” about things Malay and that significantly, so are “most of [the white men].” Besides, “all the details” proved wrong have been taken out “from undoubted sources,” books by the “serious traveler” or anthropological investigator, which contributed to the establishment of British authority and consequently Clifford’s office in Malaya. Conrad here pinpoints that most of the white men— be it a serious traveler like the ethnographic field-worker or a plain one like the merchant navy officer—can have no “authority” on the subject of the
realMalay and that “curiously enough,” the “characteristic acts and customs” of the Malay observed by the English can be deployed to prove both the former’s degeneracy and gentlemanliness, the racial difference and sameness. Put differently, Conrad’s “disavowal of knowledge” may be an “implicit accusation of [Clifford’s] claim to knowledge” and judgment of the Malay as differing in kind or in degree from the English (GoGwilt 71-72). In this sense, Conrad creates a “carefully misrepresented Malay fiction” from the perspective of the white man, only to expose the “complicity” of the white man’s “writing and imperialism” (72).
In Conrad’s view, the imperial ideology, based on anthropological
facts, may well be the reiteration of English opinionsabout the indigenous in the peripheries of the Empire; the British “colonizer’s power depends on the presence,” specifically, the misrepresentation “of the colonized” (Spurr 11). Characteristically and in Conrad’s way of careful misrepresentation, Willems’s “feeling of enormously remote superiority” over the Malays or Javanese is created by their “humble” dependence, “their silent fear, their loquacious love, their noisy veneration,” while their hidden “hate” explodes when they are able to make the white man “nobody” and “less than dirt” ( Outcast8, 24). In fact, Willems is “nobody,” a “vagabond” rescued by Lingard, who is a rover himself, feared by the Malays as the “King of the Sea” yet slighted by his countryman Travers as “a man of the lower classes” ( Rescue271). Similarly, Jim is respected by the indigenous for what he is not recognized for by his fellow white men who consider him “not good enough” ( Lord194). Even Travers wanders around the archipelago “when worsted in [his] struggle” at home, as if “to gather fresh strength” and new self-confidence ( Rescue123). In this sense, the Englishman’s civilizing mission, the “self-appointed task,” has “no dealings” with the non-white peoples “but with himself” ( Lord206). Lacking self-confidence, the Englishman needs to prove his superiority and thus requires what he can represent or misrepresent to his fellowmen as his inferior.
Undoubtedly, the Englishman’s very “first sight” of the indigenous conceives the misrepresentation or illusion about them which is systemized as colonial discourse: their look of “unconcern,” their staring “without a murmur, without a sigh, without a movement,” fascinates the white man, making him feel “like a conqueror,” which satisfies his craving for superiority (“Youth” 30, 39, 42). Likewise, the “amazing unconcern” of the Bugis chief is (mis)interpreted by Lingard as “the silent, the complete, unquestioning, and apparently uncurious, trust,” to which he feels “a heavy load of [condescending] obligation” (
Rescue88). The typical impassive look of the Malay, however, “like a dummy”—which may be associated with the pathology of latah, mentioned earlier—embodies nothing more than “disdainful obedience” (8). The Englishman may assume that the indigenous obey him for his superiority not only in technology but also in morality, which is measured in anthropological thinking by the capacity for “material advance” through the “scientific management” of resources and the repression of “animal instincts” (Kuklick 84). Indeed, the natives obey the white man’s advance in technology, particularly in making gunpowder, as it is critical to power, which does not necessarily mean that they obey or even acknowledge the superior “morality” or the idea of “ethical progress” of the white man ( Lord 206). The inexpressiveness of the Malays masks their resistance, helpless in the face of the English firearms; there can be only “great stillness” when Jim’s ethical “lecture” forbids their customary activities (153).
Significantly, the resistance of the Malay that is silenced in Clifford’s texts is registered in Conrad’s, not only in the words and acts of the indigenous characters but also in the third-person omniscient narrative. The very beginning of
The Rescuesums up the history of the Southeast Asian archipelago as the native resistance to the European conqueror:
Although “the vices and the virtues” of European “nations” have defeated the native “race,” their characteristics of “love of liberty,” “fanatical devotion,” and “blind fidelity” have “not been changed.” Only the “country” of the Malays has been occupied by the “superior strength” instead of the “superior virtue” of the “Western race.” This overview of the history underlines the struggle of the indigenous populations, more so than the conquest of the Europeans, who have never completely surrendered and whose characteristics, or vices and virtues, have never changed. It is notable that the initial contrast between the European “nations” and the native “race” is replaced at the end by that between the Western “race” and the Malay “country.” The interchange in the terms not only blurs the distinction among the European nations as common Western race but also between the Europeans and the Malays — both races, or nations (countries) from both regions, commonly endowed with both vices and virtues. In this sense, the English are indistinguishable from the Dutch, though competing with them for commercial dominance in the archipelago, as demonstrated by the fleeting nationality of Willems and Almayer. Even the Malay can be the British subject, born in the British territory of Straits Settlements: the Arab trader Abdulla and the Chinese Jim-Eng are “British” (
The boundary is further blurred between the white man and the aboriginal in Conrad, as the white outcast is called “a savage” and acts “savagely” (25, 49). In fact, Clifford, too, recognizes the relativity or ambiguity of the label “savage,” at least in appearance: the Englishman appears to the Malay as “hideous,” “red like the hide of a pink buffalo,” and “like an ape,” covered with hair, which makes the white man feel like “Frankenstein’s monster” among the Malays (
Beginning25, 42; Court112). Moreover, while the Malays are anthropologically deemed “effete or effeminate” (Thomas 133), the white men, though strong, are “like silly women” to them, believing that “by the power of many speeches,” a tiger may “change its stripes” ( Rescue198; Almayer’s57). The mutual debasement renders making the boundary between the white man and the Malay futile in Conrad. It is remarkable, in this sense, that the Malay chief Lakamba enjoys “Verdi’s music,” “the Trovator,” weeping in “endless iteration” “under the unsteady hand” of his statesman Babalatchi and “float[ing] out on the great silence” of the forest (60). The scene of the Malay listening to Verdi’s Trovator wailing on is comparable to the Londoners watching the Malay prince’s running amokin Clifford, both of which epitomize the “contact zone” where “disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other” (Pratt 7): the European endlessly wails in the hands of the Malay in Conrad, whereas the Malay is driven into frenzy by the English in Clifford.
Indeed, the cultural contact challenges the boundary between the white man and the indigenous. Moreover, it is inevitable, as both are mutually as irresistible as abhorrent. Lakamba, “with closed eyes and a delighted smile,” listens to the infinitely-howling Trovator, which seems as fascinating as repulsive—just as the Balinese Dain, with closed eyes, recalls his half-cast lover Nina’s “long and burning kiss,” the “hitherto unknown contact” to the indigenous, “with all its delight and all its fear” (
Almayer’s49). Likewise, Willems recalls his life with the native woman as “a vision of heaven—or hell” ( Outcast70), which is acknowledged in Clifford as well: the Englishman’s experience of the Malay life is described as that of “Heaven,” though “only known to himself” and spoken of as “Hell” to his fellow white men ( Court111). The ambiguity between heaven and hell about the contact with the aboriginal suggests not only “fear” of the Other, that is, “the recognition of difference,” but also “a desire for and identification with the Other,” which nullifies “difference” ( Spurr80). The fear may lead to the refusal of encounter with the Other when it occurs by depriving it of subjectivity or aestheticizing it; the Other is depicted as something “to be seen” rather than as existing (Thomas 53). It is interesting, in this respect, that Lingard, deemed “a disgrace to civilization,” is viewed as “picturesque” ( Rescue147, 130); Mrs. Travers, dressed in the Malay clothes and meeting with the Malay sea-robber, feels “as if in a dream” or “acting” on the “stage of an exotic opera” (288, 295). Nevertheless, the desire for the Other creates the denationalized or half-breed, though despised by both the indigenous and the white man. In particular, the white man or woman becoming denationalized is not even recognized as a person but “a bitter thought” that “must be hidden” or remains “incognito” or forgotten ( Outcast212; Lord4) — after his daughter Nina leaves with Dain, Almayer thinks “only” of “his duty to himself” and “to his race” which is “to forget her,” to “systematically” erase the crossing over the boundary between the white man and the natives ( Almayer’s125, 128).
Conrad’s Malay texts, in exploring the dilemma of denationalization to various degrees, problematize the making of the boundary and misrepresentation of the indigenous as inferior. The difference between the white and the non-white does not prove the former’s superiority: both appear “colourless and shadowy” against the gloomy sky, and both sound “like the voices of pigmies” after a roar of thunder (
Outcast213, 215). Specifically, The Rescue was intended to be a “political fable” to reveal “the precariousness of the West’s claim to superiority,” which is highlighted in the deleted part of the manuscript: the English are “no better” than, but “different” from, the Malays, who are “human beings”—a recognition that leads to the recognition of “injustice and cruel folly” perpetrated on the indigenous to make the white men appear “just and wise” (Hay 99, 101). In other words, the Malays, who are different yet “human beings,” are unjustly made inferior for the English to appear superior. Besides, Conrad shows the difference among not only the natives but also the white men, as people like the Traverses are “as strange” to Lingard “as the Malays” are strange to them ( Rescue158), which makes them all equally different.
The difference and not superiority, the cultural contact and not conquest, is suggested in Clifford as well, as the Malay Court under the English Resident is described as the “hybrid creation” of “two opposed and clashing civilizations” (
Saleh131), instead of the dominance of civilization over barbarism. It is true that Clifford sees no conflict with the idea of the civilizing mission in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which he views only as “a powerful study” about the “demoralization of the white man” effected by the “contact with barbarism” (qtd. in Holden 165), instead of the civilized man’s dilemma between the identification with and fear of barbarism. However, he is not confident of the Englishman’s mission at times: aware of the “crooked vision” of “judging the Oriental from the standpoint of the European,” he notes that “civilization,” in the name of “the moral-forcing system ”called “Protection,” “stamps out much of what is best in the customs and characteristics of the native races” ( Saleh124; Court3-4). Clifford’s skepticism does not only reveal the contradiction inherent in the misrepresentation of the indigenous but also accounts for his life-long friendship with Conrad, who deals with the dilemma of the representation of the English based on the misrepresentation. The dilemma of representing the English in Southeast Asia epitomizes the ideological crisis the British Empire experienced in the early twentieth century. It was the crisis of imperialism which was equated with the civilizing mission by the superior English.