Sunday, 11 January 2009

Immigrants in Colonial Malaya and Borneo: a pictorial account (1)

Studying History is a secondary school student's perennial nightmare, due primarily to the insipid way it had been and still is being taught. Ask me what I remembered of my History classes and I can't tell you a thing except for a few dates and a few names or events. However I was enthralled by The Encyclopedia of Malaysia's " Early Modern History (1800-1940)", the 7th volume of 15 volumes on Malaysia, which gives a concise account of life in that era. What is particularly 'edutaining' about the volume are the images that populate the book. These are rare photos and paintings that offer vivid glimpses into the past, especially the Chinese and Indian 'pendatangs'. Most of the images were scanned from the pages of this excellent volume. Hence my first instalment on these 'pendatangs'.




Female Immigration in colonial Malaya

It was only in the early 20th century that saw a dramatic influx of female immigrants, both Chinese and Indians to Malaya, many, to join their husbands. The Aliens Ordinance Act which restricted further recruitment of male workers sparked a wave of female workers. The Indian female migrants worked in plantations as rubber tappers and weeders while the Chinese were mostly found in tin mines as dulang washers. Those English speaking ones worked as amahs looking after the children of European families.

By the 1940s, they formed about 50% of the workforce toiling in the estates and tin mines, and other ancillary occupations.


The arrival of Indian migrant workers, particularly women in the early 20th century


On the left: a female Indian rubber tapper in an estate. On the right, Indian women workers sorting rubber seeds collected for planting


The arrival of mostly female Indian workers. On the right, an Indian family


Chinese women and children arriving to work in the tin mines and rubber estates. Inset: Chinese dulang washers, the most famous of whom were the Samsui women


Most gravitated to the tin mines as dulang washers, panning for tin ore, though a substantial number also worked in rubber estates and agricultural farms. The women from Samsui, a district of Guandong, were hardy women well-known for doing heavy manual work.


Left: those who lived in towns worked as domestic helpers. Right: A fortunate few worked with European families as child minders.


Japanese prostitutes set up the first brothels in 1887

Life was hard for the predominantly immigrant male workforce in the 18th and early 19th century. Prostitution was condoned although the manner of acquisition by buying, kidnapping and trickery was inhumane. They worked and lived in sordid and abject condition. Yap ah Loy, the Kapitan China of Kuala Lumpur is reported to own 300 prostitutes in his brothels in 1883.

4 comments:

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  2. hi, I am a researcher in Singapore of Inidan origin and I am very much interested in the pictoral representations of the Indian women labour in malaya. I would like to get in touch with you. Kindly contact me at-- datta.arunima@gmail.com

    Regards,
    Arunima

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    Replies
    1. hi arunima

      i have done my doctoral degree in malaysian rubber plantaion indians (colonial period). you can get photos of the above topic in malaysian govt archives. many pictures are available (unpublished one) in the archives. you try for that. all the best.

      vendan
      kurinjivenden@gmail.com

      Delete
    2. hi arunima

      i have done my doctoral degree in malaysian rubber plantaion indians (colonial period). you can get photos of the above topic in malaysian govt archives. many pictures are available (unpublished one) in the archives. you try for that. all the best.

      vendan
      kurinjivenden@gmail.com

      Delete