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Panel 9. Re-thinking the Colonial Past

Chair: Yi Li (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Inspired by Furnivall’s observation of the “market place” in colonial Burma, this panel aims to re-investigate and deconstruct the colonial state and society in Southeast Asia. It will focus on everyday practices and/or individual experiences within or outside of the established institutional framework. By looking at narratives from multi-ethnic actors and communities, and asking questions such as, how ’order’ was negotiated and violated, how knowledge was produced and transferred, and how boundaries were delineated and transgressed, this panel queries the complexities that made the colonial presence possible in Southeast Asia, and examines its long-lasting impact on the formation and development of the region in the post-colonial era. Contributors with anthropological, religious, political, and social-economic approaches are particularly welcome. By incorporating various perspectives on historical subjects, the panel hopes to re- examine a recent past that inevitably influences the present.

Paper 1: Conquering Manila: The Intersection of Colonization and Globalization, 1565-1603

Ethan Hawkley (Northeastern University)

The conquest of Manila is often described as a sudden event that involved only two parties, the Spanish conquerors and the indigenous conquered. This paper, however, highlights the multiethnic nature of the conquest—which included diverse European, indigenous, Chinese, and Japanese peoples—and it shows that lasting victory over precolonial power was several decades in the making. This more complete account of conquest is told in three parts: the building of local alliances around Manila, the gradual weakening of the Moro (Muslim) influence in Manila, and the emergence of Manila as a center of global activity. Beginning with the arrival of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s expedition in 1565 and ending with the massacre of Chinese immigrants in Manila in 1603, the paper describes the transformation of Manila into a settlement that was, at once, both colonial and global. Much more than an isolated military event, the conquest of Manila involved the reformation of indigenous loyalties throughout the Philippine islands, the invasion of various Moro settlements beyond Manila, and the creation of the Pacific galleon trade connecting China and the Americas.

Paper 2: Burmese British Subjects: Teak Traders in Chiang Mai

Thanyarat Apiwong (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Burmese traders moved across the border to monopolize the teak trade in Chiang Mai. It aims to examine how the Burmese teak traders played an important role in dealing with the teak business in Chiang Mai. The analysis thus demonstrates that Burmese teak traders took advantage of being British subjects to conduct their business in Siam. They were exempt from the system of corvée, and they used “British protection” to safeguard their interests from the jurisdiction of Siamese authorities. Finally, they were able to make local connections on both sides of the border.

Paper 3: The Cantonese migrants in colonial Moulmein

Yi Li (School of Oriental and African Studies)

After annexed by the British in the 1820s, Moulmein, a Burmese coastal town, underwent rapid developments and soon became a colonial centre. Being the first capital of British Burma, it attracted European and Asian migrants, as well as Burmese, Mon and other local ethnics, and a vibrating urban centre with cosmopolitan outlook emerged. This paper looks at the community of Chinese migrants in Moulmein, with focus on one particular surname, the extended Leong family from Canton. As locally renowned businessmen, they managed vast commercial enterprises spanning over several generations and expanding from Canton to Burma, and maintained significant influences on the multiethnic Moulmein society from the mid nineteenth century. By presenting the story of the Leongs in Moulmein, it hopes to investigate the subtle negotiations among various institutional actors within the colonial establishments that often transgressed ethnical, political, social and religious boundaries, and eventually, to exemplify the role of colonialism in shaping the migrant community in Southeast Asia.

Paper 4: Powerless Pawns or Passionate Actors: British Women of the Pahang Corporation, 1892-1900

Coral Carlson (Northern Illinois University)

In a long-forgotten photograph taken in 1893, a small group of women and men pose for an anonymous photographer in the jungle of Pahang, Malaya, at the site of a recently opened British tin mine. The five women and seven men were unidentified; the caption reads “Group of European mine officials and their wives at Baias, South Kerau, Kuantan.” The presence of these women raises questions about their identities, and the lives of British women in colonial Malaya more generally, far from the social center of Kuala Lumpur. This paper suggests possible identities for the women photographed at the Pahang tin mine that day. Moreover, they were not the only women to live at the site in the 1890s. Despite their undocumented status in colonial archives and corporate documents, they were far from powerless pawns in a male-dominated hierarchy. By revealing the rational life choices made by these women and their tangible contributions to existence in the colonial outpost, this paper adds nuance to the study of British colonial women by reconceptualizing their power within the traditional family structure and situating them in a specific cultural and historical context.