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,
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
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 “
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
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 (
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” (
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,
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
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 ‘
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” (
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
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 “
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” (
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,
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
In Conrad’s view, the imperial ideology, based on anthropological
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” (
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
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 (
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” (
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 (
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” (