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Imperialism and Decolonisation in Southeast Asia

Pingtjin Thum
University of Oxford

Karl Hack
Open University


Paper 1:  “Ghosts”, Crypto-Colonial Archives, and “Thai” Empire-State: The Politics of Autoethnography in Northern Thai Ghost Stories since The Siamese Revolution of 1932

Supakit Janenoppakanjana
Chulalongkorn University

Recent studies of Thai ghost stories have highlighted the questions of gender, sexuality, and the abject body. However, these works have not adequately addressed the issues of canon formation and the process of de/constructing nation-states. My paper grapples with the issue of crypto-colonialism with special attention to subaltern histor(iograph)y of Northern Thai ghost stories since The Siamese Revolution of 1932. Specifically, in my project, I investigate the fundamental links between crypto-colonialism, nationalist developmental discourse, temporality and space, representation of “ghosts”, and literary field as cultural production in order to show the decolonization of modern “Thai” nation-state and centralized government, particularly as it relates to the coming of linguistics and cultural nationalism, by which texts and authors, such as Mala Khamchan, Uthit Hemamul, were priviledged and became the icons of Northern Thai ghost stories tradition. This means transforming Northern Thai ghost stories as cultural texts from objects in need of analysis into analytical objects. I will discuss complexities of crypto-colonialism and the ethnography of colonial archives, and juxtapose them against nationalism and the anxieties about miscegenation in Thai society. I argue that as a result of postcolonial cartographies of globalization, Northern Thai ghost stories can serve as an equipment for liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions in that region through the eyes of non-elites. In conclusion, this project, by closely examining how Northern Thai ghost stories, the law, and the archive have historically served as agents of colonialism and how they can be turned creatively into constructing autonomy, sheds new light on new possibilities for indigenous mobilization that are taking shape presently at the heart of new global Southeast Asia.


Paper 2: British Imperial Expansion and the Survival of Brunei in the Nineteenth Century

Paul Brumpton
Universiti Brunei Darussalam

The survival of Brunei as an independent Sultanate after 1945 was far from certain. The establishment of an independent Indonesia keen to see a complete end to the influence of the old colonial regimes and the formation of Malaysia meant that its survival was to depend on a complex mix of factors. The survival of the Sultanate had also been seriously threatened in the mid-nineteenth century. At this time British imperial expansion, rather than withdrawal, threatened to destroy Brunei. A central role in this process was played by Sir James Brooke. As the established ‘White Rajah’ of Sarawak from the 1840s his presence weakened Brunei and placed its long-term survival in jeopardy.

The central argument of this paper is that to understand this threat it is necessary to examine British imperial expansion generally and in particular the growth of the Indian empire and the ideas that sustained it. Far from being a lone adventurer Brooke’s ideas on empire building and the methods that he employed to establish his rule in Sarawak drew on an important strand of British imperial thought derived largely from India. Borneo’s political development was shaped by the ideological disputes of an expanding global naval power and this paper will therefore focus on the development of British imperial ideology and the ways in which it impacted Brunei.


Paper 3: Wayang’s Role in the Decolonization of Indonesia

Marianna Lis
Polish Academy of Sciences

Wayang is the ritual–performance having three dimensions which cannot be separated: political, social and entertainment. In colonial times, under the rule of the Dutch, wayang, which previously had served to promote new values: first, Hinduism, and Islam was “purified” of politics. As Schechner noted the aim was, first of all, to hide the colonial presence of the Dutch, the changes that took place in the Dutch East Indies, and the growing discontent and military actions taken by the Javanese. After gaining independence in 1945, wayang regained its political face. During the Guided Democracy (1945-1965) the rule of President Sukarno focused mainly on cleaning the remains of colonial Indonesia and uniting culturally diverse islands into a single, independent nation. Wayang was at that time the propaganda tool used willingly by the emerging Indonesian nationalism. During the New Order (1966-1998) under the rule of Suharto, wayang was institutionalized, and the performances became a way of controlling the distribution of information to the public.

The paper will present the path passed by wayang since the nineteenth century, when colonial rule began to influence the shape and content of the performances to the early twenty-first century, when wayang has become a field of free public discussion and the criticism of the past regime. The author will focus on the manifestation of political ways to use wayang in the first decades after independence, and the role it has played in the process of decolonization and the construction of Indonesian nationalism.