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Vol. 3, No. 1, Siti Nuraishah Ahmad

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 1

Malaysia as the Archetypal Garden in the British Creative Imagination

Siti Nuraishah Ahmad*

* Department of English Language and Literature, International Islamic University Malaysia, Jalan Gombak Kuala Lumpur 53100, Malaysia

e-mail: snuraishah[at]gmail.com

European travel writing (1512–1984) represented Malaysia as a tropical Garden of Eden, an image that has also percolated into literary texts concerning the region. This article examines spatial images in British fiction through the framework of archetypal literary criticism and theories of colonial representations of space to reveal the worlding (Spivak 1999) of Malaysia as a garden. In order to ascertain the ways in which the garden archetype has been deployed by the British creative imagination in the past and the present, novels from the colonial and postcolonial periods have been selected for analysis. Three dominant incarnations of the garden archetype can be discerned throughout novels by Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, and Anthony Burgess: the lush, Romantic garden; the restrained, ­disciplined Victorian garden; and the barren, dried-up garden. The postcolonial British novel, for its part, deploys images of the barren garden revived (William Riviere’s Borneo Fire) as well as a return to the earlier Conradian image of the Romantic locus amoenus (Frederick Lees’ Fool’s Gold). This article concludes that the representation of Malaysia in various guises of the archetypal garden negates the indigenous worldview concerning space and produces instead “knowledge” about Malaysia rooted in the white man’s perspective.

Keywords: archetypes, British fiction, colonialism and space, Malaysia, representation


Since the arrival of Portuguese traders in Malacca in the sixteenth century, Malaysia1) has been represented in European travel writing and fiction as an archetypal garden. This is also the case in English literature, for example, the novels and short stories by Joseph Conrad, William Somerset Maugham, and Anthony Burgess; in addition, these works and their authors have been regarded as canonical where Malaysia is concerned. Therefore, this paper reads images of Malaysia in British fiction through the framework of archetypal literary criticism and theories of colonial representations of space to reveal the production of a specific body of knowledge about Malaysia revolving around the garden archetype. The focus of this article is on representations of British Malaya: the parts of the Malay Peninsula under British administration (1786–1957); Singapore (1819–1957); British Borneo, that is, the parts of Borneo ruled by the Brookes (1842–1946) and the British North Borneo Company (1882–1946); and Malaysia, that is, the federation of 13 states in the Malay Peninsula, Sabah, and Sarawak (1963–present). It highlights the importance of representations of space in shaping the British creative imagination on Malaysia, where previous research focused on representations of its peoples and cultures. It also extends the discussion of literary works on Malaysia beyond that of the British writers who are more familiar to readers—Conrad, Maugham, and Burgess—to others such as Frederick Lees and William Riviere.

The archetype of the garden, suggesting “paradise; innocence; unspoiled beauty; fertility” (Guerin et al. 2005, 189) is an important and recurrent image in travel writing about Malaysia. Sixteenth-century Portuguese travel accounts portrayed the countryside of Malacca as a veritable Garden of Eden, with abundant waters and excellent soil from which the local inhabitants could easily pick their food. Besides edible plants, there were others that could be commercially exploited. Godinho de Eredia, for example, reported seeing various trees and shrubs that could produce “gums and oils that one could fill a ship’s hold with . . .” (de Eredia [1613] 1997, 22).

In eighteenth-century travel narratives, Malaysia is still portrayed as a garden. A Portuguese text on Johor by Joao de Vellez Guerreiro celebrates Johor’s climate of “perpetual Spring” and “the large and diverse growth of many trees” (de Vellez Guerreiro [1732] 1935, 119). Western fascination with the country intensified in the nineteenth century as the rise of imperialism and developments in science and technology during the Victorian Age in England brought British men and women to Malaya and Borneo to rule it and to study it. There were explorers, naturalists, colonial administrators, political agents, missionaries, tourists, and travelers. A variety of texts were written, from many perspectives, to portray the Malay Peninsula and North and West Borneo, and the archetypal garden consistently appeared in such writings. Isabella Bird, the famous Victorian travel writer, spoke of the Malayan jungle as “a huge spread of foliage, bearing glorious yellow blossoms of delicious fragrance” (Bird [1883] 2006, 135), while in Borneo James Brooke described his first impressions of being in the rainforest, using distinctly Edenic imagery, as “nature fresh from the bosom of creation . . . stamped with the same impress she originally bore!” (Keppel 1846, 19). A variation on the garden archetype found in Hugh Clifford’s stories about Malaya (1897) is the “enchanted land,” where sensual delights and experiences await the European who dares to venture here.

A century later, V. S. Naipaul, a British writer of Trinidadian origin, arrived in Malaysia to record his impressions of the country. Employing the archetype of the garden in his account of the lush vegetation and what to him was the extreme fertility of Malaysian soil, he wrote:

The land was rich: rain and heat and rivers, fertile soil bursting with life, with bananas, rice fields, palm trees, rubber. Grass grew below the rubber trees; and cattle, which would have suffered in the sun, found pasture in the shade. The heat which in the town was hard to bear was in the countryside more pleasant. Water and sun encouraged vegetation that sheltered and cooled; and green quickly covered the red earth where it had been exposed by road works or building developments. (Naipaul 1982, 254)

The intertextuality between travel literature and works of fiction concerning Malaysia presents us with the possibility of the garden image spilling into fiction, perpetuating the image across genres and generations of writers who have traveled in Malaysia. Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), William Somerset Maugham (1874–1965), and Anthony Burgess (1917–93) are writers whose novels and short stories have made the country familiar to generations of English-literature readers.2) Their works roughly represent the early colonial period (Conrad), the high colonial period (Maugham), and the late colonial period (Burgess). As for the postcolonial period, William Riviere (1954–) and Frederick Lees (1924–) have added to the corpus of fiction about Malaysia, tackling themes and events from the Malayan Emergency (1948–60) to the deforestation of East Malaysia.3) This paper examines the role of the garden archetype in representing Malaysia in the following literary texts: Joseph Conrad’s An Outcast of the Island (1896); William Somerset Maugham’s stories in the collection titled The Casuarina Tree (1926); Anthony Burgess’ Time for a Tiger (1956); William Riviere’s Borneo Fire (1995); and Frederick Lees’ Fool’s Gold: The Malayan Life of Ferdach O’Haney (2004).

Archetypal literary criticism involves a close study of images and motifs, in other words, archetypes, defined by Carl Jung as “mental forms . . . which seem to be aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind” (Jung 1978, 57). The garden is one such archetype, and it has appeared in various incarnations in the mythologies and ­literatures of the world. In this paper, the garden archetype in colonial and postcolonial British fiction are investigated in order to reveal the British project of “worlding” Malaysia (Spivak 1999)—representing and producing specific images of Malaysia through the imposition of Western notions of truth, knowledge, and the importance of writing.

The research questions that this paper will answer are as follows: What are the patterns in which the garden archetype is used to represent Malaysia in British fiction? In what ways do the patterns of images in which the garden archetype appears reveal specific archetypes about Malaysia? In what instances are the garden archetype used and repeated throughout the literary texts analyzed? What are the combinations of the garden archetype, colonial rhetoric, and/or strategies of worlding with which the British creative imagination represents Malaysia?

Previous literature on European colonialism and its representation of colonized peoples, cultures, and spaces in Malaysia and other regions are reviewed in the following section in order to establish the position of this paper in the field. It is followed by a discussion of the theoretical framework used to examine the garden archetype in the works of Conrad, Maugham, Burgess, Riviere, and Lees. Jungian archetypal criticism, theories of colonial rhetoric by David Spurr (1993) and Pramod Nayar (2008), as well as Gayatri Spivak’s (1999) concept of worlding provide this study with the theoretical tools to answer the research questions. Also included is a section reviewing the meanings and significance of the garden motif in the Malay world and in the West in order to provide a background to the analysis of the garden archetype in British fiction.

The analysis divides the literary texts into those from the colonial period and those from the postcolonial period so as to trace the patterns of the garden archetype used to represent Malaysia over a period of almost 110 years.4) The conclusion summarizes the patterns in which the garden archetype is used by British writers to represent Malaysia and the notions about Malaysia that is produced as a result.

The use of the term “Malaysia” to refer to the geographical and sociopolitical areas covered in the works of the abovementioned British authors might to some be ambiguous. Joseph Conrad wrote his fiction in a time when the British were consolidating their power in not just the area included in today’s Federation of Malaysia, but also in Java, Sumatra, and Northeast Borneo (Hampson 2000, 15). Similarly, the settings for William Somerset Maugham and Anthony Burgess’ fiction are Sarawak and Perak respectively, before the creation of the Federation of Malaysia. However, the term “Malaysia” is used in this paper as a collective term for the various geopolitical incarnations encompassing the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Borneo, and Sumatra from early British involvement at the end of the eighteenth century to the present, and is not restricted to the Federation of Malaysia that came into existence in 1963. This definition follows that of an early nineteenth-century coinage of the name “Malaysia” to refer to “a geographic-zoological-botanical region comprising the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Borneo, Sumatra, and Java” (ibid., 14).

Literature Review

This paper aims to shed more light on the ways in which Malaysia is imagined by the West, a subject that has been addressed by several literary scholars but which is still relatively unexplored. For example, the portrayal of Malaysian peoples and cultures in fiction by Joseph Conrad is the topic of numerous studies such as van Marle (1985), Lester (1988), Hampson (2000), and Masood (2007). The representation of Malaysians in William Somerset Maugham’s short stories is the subject of Holden’s 1996 study, but few have actually addressed his and Conrad’s representations of the Malaysian geophysical environment. Studies by GoGwilt (1995), Zawiah (2003), and Yeow (2009) are the few that focus on the representation of Malaysia instead of Malaysians and their culture. Fewer still examine fiction by postcolonial British writers; Subramaniam and Pillai’s 2009 article on Henri Fauconnier’s The Soul of Malaya (1931) and William ­Riviere’s Borneo Fire (1995) are the exceptions. Meanwhile, Said’s (1978) framework of Orientalism remains the main theoretical approach in analyses of representations of Malaysia, for instance, in Hawthorn’s 2006 chapter on Conrad’s African and Malaysian fiction. This study proposes instead that archetypal criticism and worlding be deployed in readings of images of Malaysia in order to facilitate a careful study of how an archetypal image like the garden participates in the production of knowledge about Malaysia according to the British, from colonial to postcolonial times.

There are signs of colonial ideology at work in the seemingly innocent descriptions of landscape in fiction, which Zawiah Yahya examines in Resisting Colonialist Discourse (2003). This book is a vigorous critique against the pitfalls of reading English literature without equipping oneself with an awareness of the colonial discourse at work within such “canonical” texts. One of the ways in which colonial discourse infiltrates English literature is through descriptions of space, otherwise known as setting. Zawiah critically engages with novels by Joseph Conrad and Anthony Burgess (those with a Malaysian setting) to show how “novels claim space and convert it into a system of meaning—just as colonies claim territories and turn them into systems of meaning” (ibid., 106). Descriptions of space function as strategies of control through the author’s “claim to knowledge” (ibid., 168) about the lay of the land.

The importance of Zawiah’s work to the present study lies in its exhortation to postcolonial scholars and readers to be aware of how colonial ideology “interpellates” them (Althusser 2000) through literature. It also introduced the need to examine critically the ways in which Malaysia has been represented by the British during the colonial period. It applied various literary theories to provide an “against-the-grain” reading of Conrad and Burgess, including Marxist literary criticism, formalist criticism, and post-structuralism. This paper aims to extend the project of re-reading English literature initiated by Zawiah, looking specifically at representations of the Malaysian geophysical environment, applying Jung’s theory of archetypes, contemporary postcolonial theories on colonial rhetoric, and representation through worlding.

The importance of spatial images to colonialism was discussed in detail by Mary Louise Pratt in her study Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992). It draws attention to the ways in which narrative and rhetorical strategies were employed by European travelers to portray South America and Africa as wild, sublime, or idealistic. Pratt indirectly invokes archetypes in her observation that the European naturalist-traveler often portrays himself in the narrative as “Adam alone in his garden . . . [i]n the writing, people seem to disappear from the garden as Adam approaches . . .” (ibid., 51–52). This suggests that the Garden of Eden is a significant image in the representation of colonized land by Europeans, while the motif of the lone white man writing about his surroundings evokes worlding, an act in which the European imposes himself onto the space he colonizes via the act of writing (Spivak 1999, 209).

This paper will also identify the narrative and rhetorical strategies that help establish the garden archetype in British fiction about Malaysia. One of them is the Romantic rhetoric on space, which Pratt highlights in her analysis of nineteenth-century European travel writing.

Other studies on spatial representations of land in colonial narratives have also taken a similar path as Pratt’s by highlighting the various types of colonial rhetoric on landscape images. David Spurr (1993), for instance, identified several modes, among which the following are relevant to landscape and space:

Surveillance, or the establishment of power relations between colonizer and colonized and colonized space through the gaze

Appropriation, or the seizure of land using the justification of “inheritance” and on moral grounds

Debasement, or the representation of colonial space as the site of disease and filth

Eroticization, or the depiction of colonizer and colonized land in gendered and sexual terms

Negation, or the rhetorical strategy “by which Western writing conceives of the Other [space] as absence, emptiness, nothingness, or death” (ibid., 92); and

Insubstantialization, or the rendering of the exotic, non-European space as lacking reality, stability, and coherence

Spurr’s categorization of rhetorical modes enables a systematic approach to reading behind the seemingly neutral images of landscape described by colonial writers. It is particularly useful to examine the rhetorical processes with which British fiction worlds Malaysia, as the garden archetype can be established through eroticization, debasement, and negation. There are at present no previous studies which have taken this approach towards the representation of Malaysia in British literature, and so this study aims to fill that gap.

However, more recent studies theorizing the representation of space via colonial and/or imperial discourse reflect a growing awareness of the significance of spatial imagery within the field of postcolonial studies. They highlight not just the role of literary texts, but also that of travel writing, in the creation of specific images of colonies in Africa, America, Asia, and Australia. They usually combine several theoretical perspectives in addition to postcolonial criticism, thus providing new and interesting readings of colonial spatial representations. One such work is Pramod K. Nayar’s English Writing and India, 1600–1920: Colonizing Aesthetics (2008). It explores the nature of colonial rhetoric on landscape in more detail, using colonial writing on India from the seventeenth century onwards as case studies. Nayar writes exclusively on British colonial representations of Indian space, which echoes this paper’s project of looking at British colonial representations of Malaysian space as distinct from other colonial powers such as the French and the Dutch. Like Spurr (1993), his interest is in how rhetorical strategies have been employed by the British to understand and represent an unfamiliar space:

. . . particular aesthetic modes trope[d] India in specific ways in order to demonstrate English control and power over it. The various tropings of India were transformative in nature, proposing particular roles for the English in India. In the early, mercantile age it helps English rhetorical or narrative control over Indian variety and vastness. The later aesthetics of the picturesque and the sublime map a colonial shift from a primitive, poor and desolate India to an altered and “improved,” “Englished” one. (Nayar 2008, 3)

Nayar’s work is useful to this research since it gives priority to spatial representations of the colony rather than to the colonized peoples and their culture. His study follows up on the work done on textual strategies of colonial discourse on space by Mary Louise Pratt (1992) and David Spurr (1993). This paper applies some of Nayar’s concepts in the analysis of the garden archetype (see “Methodology”). However, while Nayar describes the images of India in colonial writing from an aesthetic perspective, he does not treat them as instances of archetypes in a British collective unconscious5) on India. It is the archetypal perspective on space that this article foregrounds.

In light of the objectives of this paper, Sharae Deckard’s Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden (2010) adds support to the proposal that the British worlded Malaysia using the garden archetype. Applying cultural materialist, ecocritical, and postcolonial perspectives, Deckard compares the varieties of paradise discourse in which Europeans have represented colonies lying in tropical regions: ­Mexico, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Sri Lanka. Her discussion of the discourse on paradise is particularly relevant because of Western literary and mass media representations of Malaysia as a tropical paradise or tropical Eden. This study focuses on the production of knowledge by the British through an image related to paradise discourse—the garden; however, it does not cover as broad a geographical area as Deckard’s work nor the economic ramifications of the garden archetype in contemporary times, both of which require a separate research.

As for studies on fictional portrayals of Malaysia, Norman Sherry’s Conrad’s Eastern World (1971) is an early attempt at mapping out Conrad’s Malay world. Sherry sets out to reveal the real-life inspiration of the fictional Patusan and Sambir that appeared in novels such as Almayer’s Folly and Lord Jim (identified as an amalgamation of Berau, on the northeast coast of Borneo, and Sumatra). On the whole, Sherry’s book would be of interest to those who would like to know the “autobiography” of Conrad’s characters and settings, so to speak. However, aside from providing definite compass points with which a reader of Conrad’s stories can navigate him/herself with, it is not a critical piece on spatial representations of Malaysia.

Recent studies have sought to address the gaps in Sherry’s work. For example, Jeremy Hawthorn (2006) provides a reading of the sexual politics between male colonizer and female colonized enacted in the tropical jungles of Borneo, the setting of Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands (1896). According to Hawthorn, the landscape—the fecund, “writhing” jungle—becomes a metaphor for the danger that the female colonized subject poses to the male European: “The desirable woman in Conrad’s fiction, often displaced into mud and creepers, tempts, undermines, corrupts, and finally kills and consumes the vulnerable man” (Hawthorn 2006, 232). This projection of the Oriental femme fatale onto the tropical landscape invokes the enchanted garden (Frye 1990, 149) that seduces and traps the gullible hero. In this way, Malaysia becomes part of the colonial “porno-tropics”—a “libidinously eroticized” zone on which Europe projects “its forbidden sexual desires and fears” (McClintock 1995, 22).

Hawthorn’s arguments revolve around the concept of binary opposites discussed by Edward Said in Orientalism (1978). The opposing pair of Oriental woman-as-predator and European man-as-prey in Conrad’s African and Malaysian fiction reveals the racism in Conrad’s works. Rather than seeing such images as binary opposites, this paper proposes instead that they be viewed as archetypes that help establish a certain image of Malaysia. The Oriental femme fatale that Hawthorn notes in An Outcast of the Islands, for instance, can be read as the negative anima6) (von Franz 1978, 187) that could serve as a means of Othering. In the context of colonial representations of space, archetypal figures also contribute to the representation of Malaysia as an archetypal garden, as will be discussed in the analysis.

Christopher GoGwilt (1995) and Agnes Yeow (2009) have also given more attention to the significance of landscape in Conrad’s Malaysian fiction. Both argue that Conrad’s depiction of space and landscape is crucial to understand how notions of the “West” and the “East” in the age of imperialism were constructed. The landscape of the Malay Archipelago is subjected to an eroticizing treatment in Conrad’s fiction, says GoGwilt, in order to naturalize the irrevocable difference between the “East” and the “West” ­(GoGwilt 1995, 50). However, he adds, Conrad’s exotic landscape more often than not reveals the problems behind this “natural” division of “East” and “West.”

The representation of Malaysia in English literature also contributes to how the “East” is constructed as a region that defies definition and comprehension. Agnes Yeow (2009) identifies the imagery of the sea in Conrad’s Malaysian novels as one of the means by which this mysterious “East” is fashioned. The following extract from Yeow’s study ties in with Spurr’s argument that colonial space is subjected to the rhetoric of insubstantialization (Spurr 1993, 142), and suggests that spatial imagery helps support a notion of the disorienting Orient:

In Conrad’s East, the sea is a vast and potentially distorting mirror where refracted and fragmented images abound and where reflections rather than the thing itself are emphasized. The imagery Conrad employs again and again in describing his fictional land and seascape evokes a nebulous and hazy setting where things are not quite what they appear to be. (Yeow 2009, 162)

GoGwilt and Yeow’s studies show that images of the Malaysian landscape do inform how the “East” appears to Western minds and its transmission to Western readers through the novel and short stories. This paper also adds to the available literature an examination of images of Malaysia in works by colonial and postcolonial British writers besides Joseph Conrad, who has so far received the most attention from scholars.

To conclude, this paper emphasizes the significance of representations of space in the production of knowledge about Malaysia by the British in their literary texts. The archetypal framework of criticism has not been applied before to studies on images of Malaysia produced by British writers; this approach is relevant considering the recurrence of the garden archetype in travel writing. The works of lesser-known British writers will also be examined, since scholarly focus on Joseph Conrad tends to overshadow his contemporaries and those who wrote in the postcolonial period.


Images of Malaysia in the novels and short stories chosen for this study are analyzed through the frameworks of archetypal literary criticism and colonial rhetoric to reveal the worlding of Malaysia via the garden archetype. Gayatri Spivak defines worlding as the process of “Europe . . . consolidat[ing] itself as sovereign subject by defining its colonies as ‘Others’” (Spivak 1999, 199). Worlding and writing are related in that writings about colonized regions produce a fictional version of the space represented (ibid., 203). Using the example of India’s representation by British colonizers, Spivak examines the production of knowledge about India in archival material about the Rani of Sirmur. She proposes that worlding involves several strategies: the investment of authority in the white, male subject and author as the “custodian of truth” (ibid., 205), the rewriting of colonized space as “empty” in order to enable the colonizer’s truth and ideology to prevail (Spivak 1985; 1999), and the redefinition or at times, rejection, of pre-existing native information and sources (Spivak 1999, 228).

Worlding theorizes representation as a textual act, focusing on the role of writing and textual material—specifically, historical and archival texts—in producing knowledge of colonized peoples and regions. Archival material is dissected for its gaps, silences, and slippages in order to highlight the discourse of history as an agent of worlding. It is relevant to this study because it explains how representation works through the written word. The selected novels and short stories are the textual materials that produce a certain body of knowledge or fiction of Malaysia, while at the same time erasing the meanings already given to Malaysia by its indigenous inhabitants. This paper will emphasize the role of the garden archetype as an additional dimension in worlding Malaysia.

First, the portrayal of Malaysia in images invoking the garden archetype will be examined through the frameworks of colonial rhetoric on space outlined by Spurr (1993) and Nayar (2008). Spurr (1993) proposed the following rhetorical tropes that can be applied to readings of spatial representations: surveillance, appropriation, eroticization, debasement, negation, and insubstantialization. Nayar (2008) suggested these tropes: the social monstrous, the imperial sublime, the missionary picturesque, and the sporting luxuriant. For this study, a slight modification has been made to the last two of Nayar’s rhetorical tropes in order to widen their scope—the picturesque and the luxuriant.7)

Next, the role of the garden archetype in representing Malaysia is examined. Worlding, as explained earlier, is a process of representation (or misrepresentation) that purports to portray reality according to the colonizer’s own ideology and vision of truth (Spivak 1999). Similarly, the representation of Malaysia by the British through variations on the garden archetype establishes a certain view of Malaysia that is filtered through colonial ideology. Therefore, the images in the selected literary texts will be examined to determine if the following acts of worlding occur:

• The representation of Malaysia through archetypal imagery (that is, the garden) inflected with colonial rhetoric

• The representation of Malaysia as “empty” of all except the white man/woman

• The representation of the white man/woman, whether the author or his characters, as “the sovereign subject of information” (ibid., 217) vis-à-vis the native subject

Before moving on to the analysis of images, this paper briefly discusses what the garden symbolizes in the Malay world, in order to outline what preceded and then coexisted with images of Malaysia in Western narratives. The following is a brief summary of the garden according to the Malays as it appears in their language and literature, followed by an overview of Western notions of the garden archetype.

The Garden in the Malay World and in the West

The garden is a significant icon that has appeared in the religious and secular literatures of the Malays for centuries. A pre-Islamic notion of a paradise-garden for those who are righteous and obey God is evident in the inclusion of the Sanskrit word sorga meaning “heaven” or “paradise” in the Malay language (Malay: syurga). As for secular literature, some Malay hikayat8) feature garden-like magical kingdoms known by the generic term kayangan. Virginia Hooker cites an example of such a garden of pleasure, called taman ghairat in Hikayat Indraputra, “encircled with a trellised fence of copper with golden gates, trees fashioned from precious gems, bathing places, golden peacocks, verse-­singing birds, performing fish, pavilions carpeted with sumptuous rugs, golden thrones and nymphs providing food and drinks” (Hooker 2009, 341).

Images of the garden in the Qur’an are also integral to an understanding of the Malay worldview of this space prior to the coming of Europeans in the sixteenth century. Being the first source of reference for Muslim Malays and influential in their literature, the Qur’an contains many descriptions of a garden-like paradise with “rivers flowing beneath.” Below are some examples of Qur’anic verses about paradise:

Would any of you like to have a garden of palm trees and vines, with rivers flowing underneath it, with all kinds of fruit for him therein. (Al-Qur’an 2: 266)

Whoso obeyeth Allah and His messenger, He will make him enter Gardens underneath which rivers flow, where such will dwell forever. (Al-Qur’an 4: 13)

And We have placed therein gardens of the date-palm and grapes, and We have caused springs of water to gush forth therein. (Al-Qur’an 36: 34)9)

The Islamic paradise is a garden for the righteous who obeyed Allah and His prophet, where pleasure is a reward for faith and good conduct.10) This is subsequently incor­porated into Malay literary texts to reinforce the value of piety and education. In her article, Virginia Hooker (2009) traces the uses of the Islamic garden image in the ­Indonesian parts of the Malay world as a literary metaphor denoting good conduct, the ­exemplary behavior of kings, and as a model for religious education. Nuruddin al-Raniri’s Bustan al-Salatin [The Garden of Sultans], commissioned in 1638, is an Islamic manual of good conduct and administration for the Sultans of Aceh (ibid., 344) that uses the title bustan (Arabic: garden; Persian: garden, orchard) as a literary metaphor; it also includes a description of the Aceh royal garden, “a garden of delight which reminds Muslims of the wondrous nature of God the Creator and includes a mosque where ­religious duties may be performed” (ibid., 345). Raja Ali Haji’s Bustan al-Katibin (c. 1840s), a text prescribing good and pious conduct among Malay rulers and administrators employs the same ­metaphor while in present-day Indonesia, the word taman (Malay: garden) has been incorporated in an Islamic education program for primary schoolchildren (ibid., 351).

In short, the garden carries a positive resonance in the Malay world, associated with eternal bliss, reward for piety, and superior moral conduct. This percolates into the Malays’ living spaces as well. In the sixteenth century, Duarte Barbosa observed that the Malays of Malacca lived in “large houses outside the city with many orchards, gardens and tanks, where they lead a pleasant life” (Barbosa [1518] 1967, 176). Similarly, Frank Swettenham (1993) describes well-planned Malay kampong with fruit trees and decorative shrubs laid out like miniature gardens.

The Jungian archetypal framework lists a variety of garden images, showing the many different meanings and situations in which the archetype appears to the European collective unconscious. Northrop Frye outlines its various incarnations in Western litera­ture: (1) as the garden of paradise, it is the manifestation of human desires, expressed by shaping the vegetable world into gardens, parks, and farms; (2) in demonic imagery, the corresponding garden images are the “sinister enchanted garden like that of Circe . . . the tree of death, the tree of forbidden knowledge in Genesis, the barren fig-tree of the Gospels, and the cross” (Frye 1990, 149) as well as “the labyrinth or maze” (ibid., 150). These images portray a world “before the human imagination begins to work on it and before any image of human desire, such as the city or the garden, has been solidly established” (ibid., 147). The garden of the world of romance, or the “analogy of innocence” (ibid., 151), includes the Garden of Eden—Frye cites images from the Bible, Milton, and Dante—and the locus amoenus as examples. However, the garden is not as prominent in “high mimetic imagery” or the “analogy of nature and reason” (ibid., 153); it appears, for instance, as “formal gardens in close association with buildings” (ibid.) such as palaces, houses, and cities. Finally, in “low mimetic imagery” or the “analogy of experience” (ibid., 154), the garden is associated with human toil and labor—indicative of the common experiences of mankind—and is represented in literature by farms.

The German Jungian critic Erich Neumann (1963) has written about the link between the garden, fertility rituals, and female deities in many cultures in the world, indicating the feminine aspect that this archetype can take. In her dissertation on the symbolism of the garden in ancient texts, the Bible, and apocalyptic literature, Susan Lau outlines its importance as a symbol of fertility, life, and as a means of “reveal[ing] the transcendent or the sacred in and to the profane world” (Lau 1981, 326). Elsewhere, Christopher McIntosh (2005), taking a leaf out of the Jungian approach, elaborates on the multifarious meanings of the garden archetype in Europe: as a symbol of paradise and as human interpretations of the seasonal cycle and spiritual journeys.

The garden archetype also appears in British fiction about Malaysia throughout the colonial and postcolonial periods. Joseph Conrad’s fiction, here represented by his 1896 novel An Outcast of the Islands, inaugurates the tradition of portraying Borneo bearing the influence of the Romantic literary tradition, with its emphasis on the sublime. He is followed by William Somerset Maugham (1926), in whose short stories the garden archetype takes on the Victorian virtues of order and discipline in an attempt to control the destructive instincts of white men and women marooned in the tropics. Anthony Burgess’ Malaya in Time for a Tiger (1956) then is represented as the barren, dried-up garden, devoid of fertility and beauty, as if the death of Great Britain’s empire in the region also sounds the death knell for civilization as the West knows it.

The postcolonial period sees a waning interest in Malaysia in the British literary world. Few British writers have emerged to rival Conrad, Maugham, and Burgess, and the task of writing about Malaysia seems to have fallen onto the shoulders of young Malaysians based in Europe such as Preeta Samarasan and Tash Aw. The chosen texts represent some of the British fiction on Malaysia available today: Borneo Fire (1995) by William Riviere is an “ecothriller” (Kerridge 2000, 245) about the devastation of ­Sarawak’s rainforests by logging and forest fires; while Fool’s Gold (2004) is written by Frederick Lees, a former officer in the colonial British administration of Malaya whose long experience during the Emergency (1948–60) is reflected in the novel. In Borneo Fire, the garden archetype is invoked in visions of a lost Eden that needs to be recovered, while in Fool’s Gold, we see a return to the Romantic vision of nature first employed by Conrad.

The Garden Archetype in Colonial British Fiction

Lust/Lost in the Garden of Eden: The Romantic Garden of Joseph Conrad’s “An Outcast of the Islands”

Joseph Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands ([1896] 2002, henceforth AO) has as its subject a lonely exile meeting and falling for a beautiful but dangerous woman in his wanderings. Peter Willems, a Dutch trader in Maluku, is condemned to wander, Odysseus-like, in Sambir, a remote trading outpost located on the northeastern coast of Borneo.11) Like Odysseus, he encounters in Sambir an enchantress figure, Aïssa, the daughter of the old Arab “pirate” chief Omar al Badavi. They begin a passionate but ultimately destructive affair, and used by the Malays as pawns in a political game pitting the European traders (consisting of Captain Tom Lingard and his protégés Almayer and Willems) against the Arab merchant Abdulla. Willems and Aïssa lose their trust for each other, exemplifying Kipling’s adage that East and West shall never meet.

In Borneo’s vastness and lush forests, Conrad found a geophysical setting that lent itself well to that aesthetic value definitive of the Romantic literary movement—the sublime. The sublime is defined by its original proponent, Edmund Burke, as “[w]hatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror” (2001). It is in addition an aesthetics that values emotive descriptions of nature, vastness, obscurity, darkness, and gloom. The rhetoric of the sublime had already appeared in English travel writing on India from around 1750 to 1820 (Nayar 2008). “The aesthetics of the sublime, circulating in England around the mid-eighteenth century,” according to Nayar, “suggested an aesthetic framework for the [English] travelers. An aesthetics of terror and vastness, darkness and obscurity, danger and challenge . . .” (ibid., 64–65). On the other side of the world, in South America, the German explorer, ­Alexander von Humboldt, similarly wrote of nature’s magnificence and sublimity in language reminiscent of the Romantic writers (Pratt 1992). This Romantic attitude also emphasized “drama, struggle and a certain sensuality” (ibid., 121) in any description of geospatial features.

While Willems and Aïssa’s first encounter in Sambir is depicted in the iconography of Adam and Eve’s first meeting in the Garden of Eden, this is done in the Romantic mold. Willems, lonely and bored in his new surroundings, decides to take a short trip up the river to explore the land for “some solitary spot where he could hide his discouragement and his weariness” (AO, 52). He sees no other human being on his early excursions. Sambir is all his own, making Willems the solitary Romantic hero, whom John F. Danby aptly describes as “a monolithic figure in an empty landscape . . . the metaphysical ‘I’ . . . which insulates us and yet is the very means whereby we have communion with things and with other I’s” (Danby 2000, 49). This also affirms the worlding of Borneo by the white colonizer, who inserts himself as an authority on the region by his claims to know Borneo in a landscape strangely empty of other human beings.

The scene of Willems’ first glimpse of Aïssa takes place in a garden-like space similar to the locus amoenus, a “space for sensual enjoyment” (McIntosh 2005, 51) familiar to medieval and Renaissance literature, thus briefly departing from the usual gloom of the Romantic atmosphere. Willems happens to discover a path beside the river one day that seems to be well-worn, and which he believes would lead him somewhere interesting. The path runs beside a brook; following it, he arrives in a clearing where “the confused tracery of sunlight fell through the branches and the foliage overhead, and lay on the stream that shone in an easy curve like a bright swordblade dropped amongst the long and feathery grass” (AO, 53). The brook is an important element in garden imagery for its evocation of fertility, while its sword-like “curve” foreshadows the sinuous form of the female figure; this and fertility are significant motifs in the locus amoenus. The sunlight and trees enhance the reader’s sense of touch (warmth on skin) and sight (the green leaves, the play of light and shadow), heightening the anticipation of the moment when man and woman would first lay eyes on each other.

Conrad projects onto Aïssa’s body the archetype of the garden, so that landscape and woman are fused together:

 She had taken up her burden already, with the intention of pursuing her path. His sudden movement arrested her at the first step, and again she stood straight, slim, expectant, with a readiness to dart away suggested in the light immobility of her pose. High above, the branches of the trees met in a transparent shimmer of waving green mist, through which the rain of yellow rays descended upon her head, streamed in glints down her black tresses, shone with the changing glow of liquid metal on her face, and lost itself in vanishing sparks in the somber depth of her eyes that, wide open now, with enlarged pupils, looked steadily at the man in her path. (AO, 54)

In projecting the elements of the landscape onto the physical body of the Other woman, Conrad is deploying the familiar colonial rhetoric of “eroticization,” which David Spurr defines as “a set of rhetorical instances—metaphors, seductive fantasies, expressions of sexual anxiety—in which the traditions of colonialist and phallocentric discourses coincide” (Spurr 1993, 170). However, it is equally important to acknowledge that imagery also plays a significant role in the eroticization of Borneo, and that this instance from Conrad’s novel illustrates how the garden archetype is used to mark the sexual attraction of both protagonists. The garden is an appropriately representative site and symbol for this to take place because of the sexual connotations of fertile earth, the sowing of seeds, springs and other water features, growth and maturity into flower and fruit. No less important is the “hortusconclusus,” the woman’s body as enclosed garden, “derived from the Song of Songs” (Frye 1990, 152) suggested by Conrad’s description of Aïssa.

Between the first meeting of Willems and Aïssa and the moment they became pawns in Babalatchi’s game pitting the Europeans against the Arabs, the image of the locus amoenus is predominant. This initial encounter, however, gradually descends from the heights of passion to destructive extremes of love and hate as Conrad draws out an important lesson from Willems and Aïssa’s doomed relationship: that the two worlds, the East and the West, cannot coexist in the same sphere. To be specific, the relationship is impossible because the female Other is a negative force whose influence is literally deadly to the white male colonizer, for “[T]he colonized territory represents not only sexual promise, but sexual danger as well” (Spurr 1993, 177). In this context, the garden takes on a more sinister image than seemed. The benign aspect is actually deceptive, illusory. In reality, Sambir is the magic garden of the enchantress (Frye 1990, 149), the domain of the beautiful but deadly female memorably described by the Romantics such as John Keats in his poem “La belle dame sans merci.” It is then that the aesthetics of the sublime asserts itself in Conrad’s images of Sambir.

The sensuality of Willems and Aïssa’s relationship, as mentioned earlier, owes itself to the repeated imagery of the locus amoenus. As their love deteriorates into obsession and the locus amoenus fades from view, it is replaced by the overtly sexual image of parasitic creepers clinging to trees (Hawthorn 2006, 232), invoking a sense of the sublime:

Slowly she raised her arms, put them over his shoulders, and clasping her hands at the back of his neck, swung off the full length of her arms. Her head fell back, the eyelids dropped slightly, and her thick hair hung straight down: a mass of ebony touched by the red gleams of the fire. He stood unyielding under the strain, as solid and motionless as one of the big trees of the surrounding forests; and his eyes looked at the modeling of her chin, at the outline of her neck, at the swelling lines of her bosom, with the famished and concentrated expression of a starving man looking at food. She drew herself up to him and rubbed her head against his cheek slowly and gently. He sighed. (AO, 109, italics my own)

The lush, forested landscape of Sambir now manifests the overwhelming desire that Willems and Aïssa have for each other. The image of Aïssa’s mass of hair and Willems standing still and strong like one of the trees in the forest recall a garden of sensual delights darker than the one implied by the locus amoenus. Here is the Romantic garden “powered by life forces many of which are invisible to the human eye; a nature that dwarfs humans, commands their being, arouses their passions, defies their powers of perception” (Pratt 1992, 120). It is a fitting geophysical setting for a love that has progressed into extremes of anger, jealousy, and revenge in the style of Wuthering Heights (1847).

The deployment of the garden archetype through allusions to the locus amoenus, the rhetoric of eroticization that accompanies it, and the rhetoric of the sublime in which the landscape is depicted, turns Borneo into a setting for the sexual adventures of the colonizer. The worlding in Conrad’s novel also relies on the colonizer representing himself as an authority in defining the landscape (Spivak 1999, 213), as seen in the depiction of Willems exploring the jungles of Sambir on his own.

None of the vestiges of this Romantic vision of the garden, however, remains in later British fiction with a Malaysian setting. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, it has given way to an orderly, disciplined garden after the Victorian worldview. The lushness, extreme emotions, passions, and invisible forces at work in Conrad’s portraits of Borneo are by then reined in by the carefully tended garden of the Victorian Age. Nonetheless, the darker forces of human instinct continue to threaten the boundaries of this garden, as Somerset Maugham’s stories amply illustrate.

Vice and Virtue in the Garden of Eden: British Borneo as the Disciplined Garden

British Malaya and Borneo at the time of Maugham’s sojourn there between 1921 and 1922 and a second trip in 1925–26 (Holden 1996, 95) was not far from the archetypal garden that European travel writers turned to time and again throughout five centuries when describing the region. Malaya in the 1920s enjoyed the economic prosperity that came with being the world’s top producer of rubber and tin. The landscape was dotted with orderly rubber plantations resembling English estates (ibid., 98) and presided over by verdant rainforests. Meanwhile, the British carved out retreats in the cool highlands where flowers and fruits familiar to them at home thrived in the lower temperatures (Aiken 1994, 3). The peace and stability of life for the British in Malaya and Borneo before the Great Depression in 1929 that caused tin and rubber prices to plunge added to the sense of living in an enclosed and orderly space—much like being in a beautiful garden protected from the elements by high walls.

One sees in Maugham’s images of orderly rows of rubber trees in well-tended plantations, along with picturesque riverside outposts, echoes of the garden archetype that dominates European discourse on colonized spaces in Latin America (Pratt 1992) and South Africa (Low 1996). The garden with its concomitant meanings—a space for peace and tranquility, and a mirror image of paradise (McIntosh 2005, 36)—is the perfect archetype for a region known to the British then for its excellent economic prospects and its natural beauty. And unlike Conrad’s sensual and overwhelming garden, Maugham’s is restrained and disciplined; it appears as the neat lawns and gardens of British homes and residencies, and as rubber plantations. These well-kept spaces are geophysical manifestations of the still-prevailing Victorian virtues of self-control and an irreproachable moral conduct.

However, in Maugham’s stories, this semblance of a disciplined garden is more often than not broken by shocking acts of sexual and social transgressions by the British themselves (Holden 1996, 114). Murder, adultery, and interracial liaisons between white men and native women undermine British efforts to create an Eden in the tropics. Such representations are instances of Maugham’s worlding of British Borneo by reinscribing it (Spivak 1999, 211) as a space for the re-enactment of the fall of mankind from a state of bliss into a sinful existence. This simultaneously requires the erasure of pre-existing notions of the garden among the native population of British Borneo. My reading of Maugham’s short fiction also proposes that the rhetoric of debasement (Spurr 1993, 76) operating in Maugham’s narratives contributes to the worlding of the land. This is apparent in images of Borneo’s geophysical features as contaminating white men and women with the deadly sins of wrath, lust, and envy, among others.

It is worth noting that Maugham’s preoccupation with exposing the hidden sins and vices of his countrymen in Borneo reflects the conflicted Victorian attitude towards morality—one revolving around simultaneous attraction/repulsion—as well as pre­vailing pseudoscientific attitudes towards race and physical environment (ibid., 80). In his ­stories about British Borneo, Maugham erases the positive meanings of the garden archetype already existing among the peoples of Borneo from the landscape. Instead, Borneo’s garden-like façade is represented as a cover for the undercurrents of evil and degeneration running below the surface. These dark urges seduce the white man or woman into committing acts that go against solid Victorian values of family and decency, so that adultery, murder, and treachery seem like everyday occurrences in Maugham’s Borneo.12)

Three stories in The Casuarina Tree ([1926] 2005) feature the fictional state of Sembulu—a thinly-disguised Sarawak—whose delightful rural landscape remind each protagonist of the Garden of Eden. Two of these stories will be discussed together because of the similarities in plot and characters. In “Before the Party” and “The Force of Circumstance,” two British women travel to Sembulu for the first time as brides of colonial officers stationed there. After a short period of domestic bliss, both women discover their husbands’ dark secrets: one is an alcoholic while the other has had a liaison with a Malay woman prior to marriage.

Maugham’s representation of Borneo’s geospatial features in these two stories first foregrounds the positive garden archetype as paradise on earth as well as the bower suggestive of domestic harmony. The women are enchanted by their first sight of Sembulu. There are shades of Eden in the following excerpt from “Before the Party” (henceforth “BP”):

She [Millicent] thought of those first months of her married life. The Government launch took them to the mouth of the river and they spent the night at the bungalow which Harold said jokingly was their seaside residence. Next day they went up-stream in a prahu. From the novels she had read she expected the rivers of Borneo to be dark and strangely sinister, but the sky was blue, dappled with little white clouds, and the green of the mangroves and the nipas, washed by the flowing water, glistened in the sun. On each side stretched the pathless jungle, and in the distance, silhouetted against the sky, was the rugged outline of a mountain. The air in the early morning was fresh and buoyant. She seemed to enter upon a friendly, fertile land, and she had a sense of spacious freedom. They watched the banks for monkeys sitting on the branches of the tangled trees and once Harold pointed out something that looked like a log and said it was a crocodile. (“BP,” 31)

Millicent’s panoramic view (Pratt 1992) of Sembulu presents the reader with images invoking the garden—a lush landscape fed by a river, exotic wildlife, and clear blue skies. Interestingly, she feels “a sense of spacious freedom” in Sembulu. This hints at the restrictions that she faced as a woman in Britain, but also establishes her as a figure of authority who assumes the right of defining Borneo for others through her surveillance of its space. Through the power of the written word, Maugham consolidates his voice (via the figure of the white woman) as the authority on colonized space (Spivak 1999, 234).

Similarly, Doris, the protagonist in “The Force of Circumstance” (henceforth “FC”) is ecstatic at the delightful sights that greet her upon her arrival in Sembulu. Once again, the land appeared “friendly rather than awe-inspiring” (“FC,” 159). Doris’ imagination is free to roam the open vistas like Adam and Eve in their garden: “[s]he had no sense of confinement nor of gloom, but rather of openness and wide spaces where the exultant fancy could wander with delight” (“FC,” 159). The abundant greenery and wildlife, coupled with obedient natives waiting to ferry her to her new home, are all reminiscent of the Edenic idyll where the concepts of work and labor do not exist.

While the garden that is Sembulu offers the women freedom from the restrictions of the motherland, other “freedoms” that would contaminate solid Victorian values of family and decency are lurking underneath the surface. At this point in both stories, Sembulu’s potential for corruption is still carefully concealed from view. Only the cunning crocodile that, Serpent-like,13) appeared to Millicent’s untrained eyes as a log, hints at the illusory quality of the images that she is enjoying and her husband’s moral downfall.

According to David Spurr (1993, 80–81), one of the manifestations of the rhetoric of debasement in colonial discourse is the transposing of individual instances of abjection among the colonized onto the population as well as onto geophysical space. Debasement lies behind the pseudoscientific belief in the nineteenth century that the climate of Africa or Asia can cause the European to lose his/her self-control and judgment. The rhetoric of debasement “invokes an ancient repertoire of images denoting evil and foreboding apocalyptic destruction” such as “[d]ark, enclosed spaces, infestation, contamination, sexual and moral degradation” (ibid., 90). That geophysical space can also be contaminated by individual sin, filth, and degradation of character is evident in the two women’s husbands, whose inability to rein in their baser instincts occurs in an environment that “encourages” sinful behavior. One of Borneo’s seemingly corrupting influences that captured Maugham’s imagination was the practice among colonial officers in Sarawak of taking local women as mistresses. In view of the very few white women in Sarawak at that time, this was deemed a necessary measure until the officers eventually found suitable British or white women to marry. The practice raised the specter of miscegenation and was particularly abhorred by British women (Brooke 1970, 81).14) It is a perfect example of how the European’s fear of contamination operates on several levels, “social and psychological as well as biological” (Spurr 1993, 87). The women’s discovery of their husbands’ transgressions raises the fear of social, psychological, and biological pollution. However, neither are white women spared the degeneration of character that comes with living in Borneo: in “Before the Party,” Millicent too falls victim to Sembulu’s environment by exemplifying the sin of wrath—she murders her husband in a fit of rage after discovering that he was still drinking despite her efforts to reform him.

In their domestic routine, both women attempt to re-create the state of bliss suggested by their first impressions of Sembulu: breakfast at dawn, work, lunch, afternoon siesta, evening drinks, reading the mail, golf or tennis, and meeting other expatriate British men and women at the club. After all, the garden is a pleasant space only if it is regularly tended to; the order and discipline the memsahibs imposed on their husbands’ lives as well as theirs are the means with which they attempted to maintain that ideal. The manicured lawns of British homes also reaffirm Victorian ideals of morality, which must be upheld at all costs. Despite this vigilance, the region’s propensity for bringing out the white man’s darkest instincts cannot be kept at bay. There is the oppressive heat and also the surrounding jungles that represent “the forces of dissolution that wait outside” (Holden 1996, 98), or perhaps more accurately, within the garden that Sarawak appears as to Maugham’s protagonists as well as to his readers. This archetype Maugham puts to full use in “The Outstation” (henceforth “TO”), where he addresses the rivalry between two colonial officers and its tragic consequences.

Mr. Warburton, the Resident of Sembulu, gets a new assistant, Allen Cooper. They are a mismatched pair: Warburton is a middle-class Eton man and Cooper, a “colonial” born in the Barbados and a foot soldier in the Boer War. They soon discover a mutual hatred for each other. Cooper’s blatant racism and superior attitude towards his Malay servants also gets on Warburton’s nerves, himself ever courteous and respectful (if also condescending) towards them. After a quarrel over Cooper’s abusive behavior towards Abas, Cooper’s house-boy, Warburton finds himself wishing for Cooper’s convenient death. He resolves to do nothing, waiting for the time when the opportunity would present itself. Warburton’s wish is finally granted when Abas kills Cooper after having been wrongfully dismissed from his job.

“The Outstation” is a classic parable of the sins of wrath, envy, and fratricide. Despite the seeming innocence and tranquility of Sembulu’s geophysical setting, a palpable sense of menace can be felt in the air. It is only too easy for Warburton to be seduced into ceding to his baser instincts in such an environment, Maugham says, for “[n]one knew better than Mr. Warburton how irritable the incessant heat could make a man and how difficult it was to keep one’s self-control after a sleepless night” (“TO,” 133). Initially, however, Maugham cultivates the positive meanings of the garden archetype—in the story it appears as an arbor for Warburton to rejuvenate his spirits in the contemplation of nature’s beauty—before swiftly unmasking the setting to reveal the evil that it conceals:

 He [Warburton] strolled down his garden. The Fort was built on the top of a little hill and the garden ran down to the river’s edge; on the bank was an arbour, and hither it was his habit to come after dinner to smoke a cheroot. And often from the river that flowed below him a voice was heard, the voice of some Malay too timorous to venture into the light of day, and a complaint or an accusation was softly wafted to his ears, a piece of information was whispered to him or a useful hint, which otherwise would never have come into his official ken. (“TO,” 111)

The riverside arbor first signals tranquility and acts as Warburton’s own secret space where his worldly cares can be temporarily forgotten. Yet here too, treacherous voices whisper into his ears, delivering secret information likely gained through underhanded means. The similarity between this image and that in the Old Testament of Eve’s temptation by the Devil disguised as a serpent, sibilating the secrets of the Tree of Knowledge into her ears, is part of the “ancient repertoire of images denoting evil” in colonial discourse (Spurr 1993, 90). It is as if, despite the control that the British attempted to impose on the tropical landscape through their visions of disciplined gardens, the “natural” propensity of the environment for encouraging vice and corruption in human beings keeps battering down the walls erected to keep them out.

Maugham’s representation of Borneo relies on pseudoscientific beliefs in the ability of foreign environments to pollute the inherent characteristics of white people, part of the colonial rhetoric of debasement (ibid.). The disciplined garden therefore reveals the extent of the colonizer’s fear of contamination by Malaysia’s geophysical environment. The archetype can also be read as the colonial writer’s imposition of his own ideology about the region, which readers are expected to accept as the truth (Spivak 1985, 254).

Maugham’s portraits of a tamed garden threatened by moral and social degeneration pave the way for the next incarnation of the garden archetype in colonial British fiction: the garden made barren by the demise of Western civilization from Malaya and Borneo after the Second World War. This was Burgess’ vision of the garden at the time of his service in Malaya in the late 1950s. If the Victorian garden of Maugham’s stories is blighted with hidden sins and corruption, for Burgess the disease is full-blown, showing itself in Malaya as instances of decay and filth everywhere evident in the landscape.

The Barren Garden of Muslim Malaya in Anthony Burgess’ “Time for a Tiger”

Conrad and Maugham’s archetypal representations of Malaya as the garden that leads to the downfall of positive European values set in motion a tradition for portraying the region as a fallen Eden in later British writers. One work that encapsulates this tradition at a later period of British colonial rule in Malaya is Anthony Burgess’ 1956 novel Time for a Tiger (henceforth TFT). Published on the cusp of Malaya’s independence from British rule (it would formally become independent in 1957), Burgess’ novel is a late colonial-era representative of British fiction concerning Malaya.

Conrad and Maugham’s use of the garden archetype represents Malaysia as an ­idyllic but corrupting space, achieved by invoking the imagery of Romanticism and ­Victorian notions of order. Burgess, on the other hand, invokes the barren garden to illustrate a cynicism towards Islam and its manifestations in Malay culture and attitudes. His worlding of Malaya involves the inversion of the garden’s symbolism in Islam and reinscribing over it a landscape marked by deformities and aberrations as well as by instances of filth and contamination. This echoes Conrad and Maugham’s treatments to a certain degree; it also reminds one of representations in European travel writing (for instance, de Vellez Guerreiro 1732; Bird 1883) that portray Malaysia in the context of a region whose landscape is literally tainted by the sins and false worship of the Muslims.15)

The significance of the garden archetype in Islam and to the Malays has been explained earlier. In Islam, the garden is significant as the form of Paradise in the Hereafter; see, for instance, the Qur’an (2: 266 and 4: 13). Burgess is familiar with Malays and Islam, having spent six years in Malaya (1954–60) as an officer in the colonial education service (Burgess 2000, vii). He studied Malay and the Jawi script (Habibah 1969, cited in Zawiah 2003, 163–164), and was attracted to Islam (Zawiah 2003, 175). Despite his obvious interest in Malay culture and Islam, his portraits of Malaya in Time for a Tiger are not very flattering. His images of Muslim Malaya are inscribed within a combination of various rhetorical tropes of colonial discourse on landscape—what Pramod Nayar (2008, 42) articulates as the rhetoric of the monstrous, and Spurr’s (1993, 76) theory of debasement. This effectively erases the connection between Malaya and the archetypal garden of Paradise, thus disavowing the positive impacts Islam has had on the region. Taken together, these images suggest a continuity in British writers’ negativity towards the Islamic heritage from the early days of their arrival to the formal end of their rule as implied in narratives on Malaysia’s physical landscape.

Kuala Hantu,16) the setting for Burgess’ narrative of British men and women in a rapidly decolonizing world, is central to the inversion of the garden archetype. In naming the town Kuala Hantu—meaning “the estuary of ghosts” in English—he already indicates the irreverence with which Malaya would be treated. The reader’s introduction to the town proceeds on the same note of derision:

. . . Soon the bilal [muezzin] could be heard, calling over the dark. The bilal, old and crotchety, had climbed the worm-gnawed minaret, had paused a while at the top, panting, and then intoned his first summons to prayer, the first waktu [prayer time] of the long indifferent day.
“La ilahailla’llah. La ilahailla’llah.”
 There is no God but God, but what did anybody care? Below and about him was dark. And the dark shrouded the bungalow of the District Officer, the two gaudy cinemas, the drinking-shops where the towkays snored on their pallets, the Istana [palace]—empty now, for the Sultan was in Bangkok with his latest Chinese dance-hostess, the Raja Perempuan [the Queen Consort] at Singapore for the race-meetings—and the dirty, drying river.
“La ilahailla’lah.” . . .
 God knoweth best. Allahualam. The nether fires awaited such, a hot house in naraka [hell]. Not for them the Garden with the river flowing beneath. He looked down on the blackness, trying to pierce it with his thin voice, seeking to irradiate with the Word the opacity of Kuala Hantu. (TFT, 11–12)

Burgess’ choice of the Islamic “Garden with the river flowing beneath,” in other words, Paradise, to contrast with this decadent town and its dissipated inhabitants, could only have been deliberate. Instead of a garden, we encounter Kuala Hantu at dawn enveloped by darkness. The dark is indicative of its mainly Muslim inhabitants’ spiritual corruption—drinking, womanizing, and gambling seem to be their favorite pastimes, from the Sultan down to the ordinary haji. The lifeless river that flows “beneath” Kuala Hantu is another geophysical marker of the town’s degeneration. Like Maugham’s Sembulu, Kuala Hantu’s Edenic façade is polluted with sin, although Burgess represents it in his novel as a physical manifestation of the Malays’ corrupted nature rather than of Malaya’s natural propensity to wear down European strength of character. Burgess’ Malaya is a garden in which the forces of life and beauty are gone and only a wasteland or abandoned garden can be discerned.

Other targets of Burgess’ derision for Muslim Malaya include the mosque, whose domes are “as bulbous as a clutch of onions” (TFT, 26), and “the great Hollywood vision of Baghdad, the vast vulgar floodlit Istana” (TFT, 97). These edifices, together with the town’s cinemas and drinking shops, emphasize the rhetoric of the monstrous (Nayar 2008, 42) at work in the garden archetype. The rhetoric of the monstrous operates by a displacement of individual instances of deformity onto the population and its social structures:

Troping the Indian body or the Indian religious procession as strange and/or deformed, the English traveler often folds or shades the monstrous into the grotesque. The latter [the grotesque] . . . located deformity as a social phenomenon. It orders Indian people, monarchy, bodies and events into the category of the unnatural to create . . . the “social monstrous.” The “monstrosities” perceived in Indian bodies . . . were portents of the imminent decay of Indian culture and civilization. (ibid.)

This is the same way in which the rhetoric of debasement (Spurr 1993, 90) operates in colonial discourse. These tropes are evident in Burgess’ description of the mosque’s deformed “bulbous” domes and the “vulgar” Arabian Nights fantasy that is the palace—a case of architecture signifying the land’s degeneration into the single-minded pursuit of sensual gratification. In this reading, geophysical markers act, like the human bodies of the land’s inhabitants, as indicators of its moral and civilizational decay. The mon­strosity of the mosque and palace thus contributes to the representation of Malaya as a perverse version of the Garden of Paradise.

Burgess had better knowledge of Islam and of the Malays than most of his fellow officers. In this he can be considered as part of the corps of “experts” on Malaya, including Thomas Stamford Raffles, Frank Swettenham, Hugh Clifford, and Richard Winstedt, who made the country and its people objects of their study. However, Burgess resorts to images already employed by his predecessors who themselves came to acquire that “knowledge” through the platform of colonialism, which necessitates a superior attitude towards native sources of information. Gayatri Spivak (1999, 228) noted this in her essay on worlding: one of its strategies is to deny authoritative status to pre-existing indigenous records of a country so that the right to speak and write about it lies solely in the hands of the colonizer. Burgess displays this in Time for a Tiger by appropriating the symbols familiar to Islam and the Malays only to negate them; this is made possible because the colonial writer has appropriated the right to write (and rewrite) Malaysia.

The garden archetype also figures significantly in Time for a Tiger’s cautionary message to white men and women of the very real danger of “going native” in Malaya. Both Victor Crabbe, the British schoolmaster posted in Kuala Hantu, and his wife Fenella are vulnerable to this danger; both are fascinated by Malaya, although to different degrees.17) Malaya’s threat is portrayed in several images overturning the positive meanings of the garden archetype in Malay culture. Its fertility is obscene rather than benign, and images of its excessive filth and monstrosity are everywhere apparent. The following description of the market is one such representation:

 The market was covered, dark and sweltering. Ibrahim had to mince delicately along foul aisles between rows of ramshackle stalls. Old women crouched over bags of Siamese rice, skeps of red and green peppers, purple eggplants, bristly rambutans, pineapples, durians. Flies buzzed over fish and among the meat bones, ravaged, that lay for the cats to gnaw. Here and there an old man slept on his stall with, for bedfellows, skinny dressed chickens or dried fish-strips. One ­vendor had pillowed his head on a washbowl full of bruised apples. Thin, pot-bellied Chinese blew ­cigarette-ash onto sheep carcases [sic] or tight white cabbages. The air was all smell—curry-stuff, durian, fish and flesh—and the noise was of hoicking and chaffering. Ibrahim loved the market. (TFT, 102)

At a glance, the portrayal of the market parallels the catalogues of edible plants, fruits, and animals produced by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Portuguese colonizers of Malacca in their travelogues. But where those early narratives articulated European fascination at Malacca’s fertility, Burgess’ only registers disgust. Images of rotting meat and fruit in the market, and the bones and animal carcasses hint at the unsavory aspect of life in Malaya should the white man or woman consider becoming part of the country. The durians, whose overpowering smell and taste remind one of “eating a sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory,” represent the “stink” of Malaya (TFT, 70), and the hoicking (sounds made when clearing one’s throat of phlegm) of the Chinese towkay is made out to be Malaya’s signature sound. This market scene presents a landscape marked by dirt, filth, and a perverse form of fertility—abundant but rotting fruits and vegetables—leading to the archetype of the barren garden.

The barren garden represents a British creative imagination grown weary and skeptical towards the Malayan landscape, starkly different from the sensual fear/desire that Conrad displayed towards the verdant space of Borneo. Maugham’s troubled Victorian garden image had foreshadowed this later disillusionment with its hints of the corruption that lay underneath the immaculate surface. It is as if the only fitting image to capture the spirit of those times—the end of the Empire, decolonization, the rise of independent nations in the Third World—is a shriveled, infertile garden reflecting the diminished potency of British influence in the world and a barely concealed distrust of the local sociopolitical entities that would replace the British in their former colonies.

The Garden in Postcolonial British Fiction

Recovering Eden: Representations of Sarawak in William Riviere’s “Borneo Fire”

William Riviere’s Borneo Fire (1995, henceforth BF) perhaps owes some inspiration to the nineteenth-century writings of James Brooke, since it also features geospatial depictions of Sarawak. Brooke was awed by the majesty of the rainforest but at the same time wished to see them tamed in order to make way for development (Keppel 1846, 18–19). Riviere’s characters, on the other hand, have inherited the consequences of Brooke’s vision of progress: indiscriminate logging and the resulting floods, forest fires, and the loss of wildlife and way of life of the indigenous tribes. Therefore the characters’ desire to save Sarawak’s forests becomes more urgent, and the image of a paradise on earth that had once been becomes the defining archetype in Riviere’s narrative. Two white men, Philip Blakeney and his son Hugh, stand at the center of this crusade to recover paradise from imminent destruction. The worlding of Malaysia occurs in this novel through the representation of Sarawak as paradise lost and the white, male protagonists as saviors and experts who possess the authority to produce knowledge about Sarawak (Subramaniam and Pillai 2009, 9).

Philip represents the older generation of Sarawak-born British, a former colonial officer who knew the country’s unspoiled beauty before the coming of the timber companies in the 1980s. Through his recollections, the reader gets glimpses of Arcadian spaces such as the one below:

. . . Long Kai where the stream flowed so cleanly you could see every fish flicker. Where the carved totem poles to commemorate the dead, called kapatongs, were still standing and had their magnificence. Where I heard an Argus pheasant call from the forest and they took me to search for it and we found the dancing ground they clear but we never saw the bird—who, for that matter, ever has? (BF, 93)

The tone is nostalgic, and towards the end, speaks of such scenes as mythical. Life is symbolized by the fish in the clear streams of the past, and beauty by the reclusive Argus pheasant whom no one has ever really seen. The wooden poles commemorating the dead signal the lives and traditions of a people closely entwined with that of their physical environment. But what his son, Hugh, and his adopted daughter, Cassandra have inherited instead is

. . . a wilderness of mud slides and broken trees and dust, a desert where the forest would not grow again, where the creatures and plants were gone forever, where the longhouses and their cultures were gone and no man would come back to plant rice and hunt deer . . . (BF, 83)

This is the background for the urgency of Hugh’s mission to save Sarawak’s rainforests from the fire devouring them. An environmental and political activist who has been to Burma and Timor, Hugh’s heroic stature at times reflect the hero of that other novel by Conrad, Lord Jim (1900). He is also an idealistic young man with a task to complete in the interior of Borneo, perpetually dressed in white,18) and with a half-white, half-Iban beauty,19) Cassandra, waiting for him to marry her once he has put out the fire.

In the island’s interior, Hugh finds Philip’s “garden of earthly delights” (BF, 93). This is the parts of the forest still untouched by fire, reminiscent of what Philip had once seen and known. Hugh writes to his father of the garden:

Rough travelling all day, one lot of rapids after another. But then we’d drift forward into a quiet green reach and it would look like heaven. Trees reflected in the clean river, creepers festooned, suspended orchids flowering, fish that jumped. Deep blue sky, small white cumulus clouds. Curve after curve of the sultry river opening before us and closing behind. We heard a hornbill’s laughter—not a common sound any more. A lot of kingfishers, they sit looking very brilliant on branches over the water, fly up as we go by. A superb country, a peaceful country—I could travel on and on, lose any wish to arrive anywhere. (BF, 189)

The scene is heavenly in a sensual way (“curve after curve of the sultry river,” “suspended orchids flowering”), marking the trope of eroticizing geospatial description often practiced by colonial writers (Spurr 1993, 170). Hugh’s desire to remain in the forest and not travel to a specific destination echoes the anaesthetizing effect of the Malaysian landscape on the traveler once described by Hugh Clifford (1897, 4).20) These residues of colonial discourse imply the strength of the garden archetype in the British creative imagination on Malaysia, surviving into the present.

Hugh’s goal and Philip’s wish are that this paradise be recovered and preserved from the evil forces threatening to destroy it, which were not “nebulous powers of darkness . . . battening on the great island” (BF, 215) but “organizations with names, men with names. The Sarawak Timber Association. The Japan Lumber Importers’ Association. What he [Hugh] called the Asian Progress Mafia Bank. The Sarawak Land Development Board . . .” (BF, 215). Their nostalgic renderings of an Edenic landscape now gone or in danger of extinction, while reflecting an awareness of Sarawak’s plight, also reflects a retrospective desire for the paradise of the past that colonial writers such as James Brooke, Isabella Bird, and Hugh Clifford had written so eloquently about. And when presented as a battle between good and evil over that paradise—Hugh, Philip, and their friends on one side; and the fire, the timber companies and corrupt politicians on the other—the archetypal symbols of heroes, villains, and quests come into play, so that Sarawak is reinscribed as a space for the white hero’s fulfillment of his destiny.

While Riviere reveals good knowledge of and sensitivity towards Sarawak’s environmental degradation, Philip and Hugh’s quest to preserve paradise in Sarawak at times come across as patronizing. As defenders of the forest, they speak about it in a patriarchal way. The prominence given to Philip and Hugh by the writer implies that leadership of the quest to restore Borneo’s rainforests naturally falls on the white men because they know more about the land than others do. Philip is an old Sarawak hand (to adopt a colonial term for such experts) while Hugh is a contemporary reincarnation of that colonial figure. Emphasis is given to his Oxford education and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Sarawak’s deforestation, strengthening the hero-crusader image (Subramaniam and Pillai 2009, 9). Hugh’s detailed knowledge of Sarawak also marks him as “the master [who is] the subject of science or knowledge” (Spivak 1999, 216) who invests himself with the authority to represent Malaysia to Malaysians as well as to others. As a result, the Garden of Eden that is to be recovered is subject to the two men’s vision.

Riviere’s postcolonial project of recovering Eden extends to other contemporary British writers, evident in another novel, Fool’s Gold (2004) by Frederick Lees. Visions of the garden from Malaysia’s colonial past also inform Lees’ narrative. What Lees revives is the wild, lush Romantic garden of Conrad, with an emphasis on the erotic connotations of the archetypal garden. In a different guise, the white man takes on narrative authority to represent the geospatial features of Malaysia.

Reviving the Romantic Garden: Frederick Lees’ Malaya in “Fool’s Gold” (2004)

As a novel written by a former colonial officer but published in the twenty-first century, Frederick Lees’ Fool’s Gold (2004, henceforth FG) sits astride the colonial and postcolonial time divide, enabling the question of whether colonial representations of Malaysia as the archetypal garden have survived or perhaps transmuted into something quite different. This novel’s approach to Malaysia’s geospatial features parallels Conrad’s worlding Malaysia as a site for the white male colonizer’s sexual awakening through contact with a desirable Other. Lees’ focus is, however, on homosexual love, portrayed in the attraction between the white protagonist, a British resettlement officer, and his Malay subordinate. The garden archetype, specifically a sensual Garden of Eden, albeit one without Eve, is useful to Lees as a suitable background for the white protagonist to take his sexual experimentations to a new realm—that with the male Other.

Ferdach O’Haney, Lees informs readers, has always had unconventional attitudes towards sexuality even back home in England. He is openly bisexual; his links with the bohemian London crowd contributed to this unconventional view on sexuality. His arrival in Malaya in 1950 as a fresh recruit of the British Colonial Service puts him in the position of discovering the country via various sexual encounters with men and women, white and non-white. These encounters represent Ferdach’s cultural and sexual initiation in a new environment both culturally and sexually. While one of his longest affairs is with a white woman, Ferdach is strongly attracted to Chinese and Malay men. The latter represent his first experience of the male Other, and he discovers that they are no less attractive for not being white; perhaps even more so. In this way, Ferdach is similar to the male protagonists of the French writer Henri Fauconnier’s novel Malaisie or The Soul of Malaya (1931), whose subtly portrayed attraction to each other represents Malaya as “a homo-erotic geography of adventure” (Ravi 2003, 429) in which only relationships between men matter. In addition, Ferdach is the white male subject as the “sovereign subject of information” (Spivak 1999, 213); as a resettlement officer he penetrates the Malayan jungles equipped with his [Western] knowledge, mapping territory, and reorgan­izing the population in service to British efforts to control the spread of communist ideology.

The image of the locus amoenus or the sensual garden is again a central and symbolic image against which Ferdach’s attraction to Mat Noor, his subordinate, is played out. Much of the action of Lees’ novel takes place in the forests of Malaya, concerning as it does the exploits of the British during the Emergency. There is a discernible pattern of images that links the geophysical environment with the protagonist’s burgeoning sexuality. In an early encounter not long after his arrival in Malaya, Ferdach notices Laura Sweinsoep, the wife of a teacher, and their mutual attraction is described by Lees in imagery reminiscent of the garden:

Mrs. Sweinsoep kept on glancing at him. She had beautiful olive skin, an oval face and regular features, set off by lustrous black hair that fell in a long sweep over her right cheek down to her elegant neck. . . . Ferdach went to work on a luscious mango. On a large wooden platter, a dulang, shaped like a cooking wok but actually a receptacle used for gold panning, other fruits, papayas, jambus, bananas, rambutans, mangosteens and a pineapple awaited his attention. So colourful, so sensual; he would never be short of vitamin C. He glanced across at Mrs. Sweinsoep and wished he knew her Christian name. She was still looking at him. He allowed a rambutan to wink at her from between his lips, white framed by red, before swallowing it. Their eyes met and they both smiled, she very broadly. (FG, 17)

The sexual connotations of fruit cannot be missed in the description, aside from the oblique reference to the “forbidden fruit”—Mrs. Sweinsoep herself, a married woman. Lees’ depiction of the seduction using garden imagery once used by Portuguese and British travelers in the past places not just economic value on Malaysia but also eroticizes it. Such accounts listed the various fruits and plants to be found in Malacca—durians, rambutans, mangosteens, bananas, and other strange fruits—attesting to their wonder at, and later, conviction of Malacca’s prodigious fecundity (Pires 1512; Barbosa 1518; de Eredia 1613; Dampier 1931). Lees reworks those lists, reinscribing Malaya’s fertile soil as aiding the white man’s sexual adventures.

The pattern of a sensual garden in Fool’s Gold continues as Lees fleshes out ­Ferdach’s sexuality. The following description acts as a prelude to Ferdach’s pursuit of a homosexual relationship with Mat Noor:

. . . Early in the morning, the three of them had an almost wordless breakfast. . . . Ferdach would then follow in his newly acquired green Morris Minor to meet up with his team and get on with his census work. The house was left in the efficient care of Cookie, a large self-confident Hakka Chinese, whose real name he never learned, and the garden in that of Yusuf’s wraithlike young brother Subian who was to be seen each morning clad only in a sarong gracefully tending the ­haphazard plots of hibiscus, frangipani and canna lilies, or cutting the grass around them in an abstracted sort of way as though he was a celestial gardener tending the lawns of Paradise. (FG, 65–66; italics my own)

The narrative’s preoccupation with the male body, represented by Subian’s “wraithlike,” sarong-clad physique occurs simultaneously with the garden archetype, which appears literally as the garden surrounding Ferdach’s quarters. Together with the suggestive phrase—that Subian resembled “a celestial gardener tending the lawns of Paradise”—this passage can be considered, in light of Spivak’s theory of worlding, as the white male colonizer’s reinscription of Malaysia’s geophysical environment as an expression of his own sexual fantasies.

Later, the locus amoenus appears again when Ferdach and Mat Noor begin to explore the possibility of a relationship. This takes place in a secluded spot in the forest, Mat Noor’s “secret garden,” where Ferdach, Mat Noor, and their friend Gordon Choo go for a swim. The spot is “a serenity shut off from the rest of human creation” (FG, 249), which, Gordon points out, is similar to “the Garden of Eden . . . the beginning of the world,” albeit one without Eve (FG, 249). As Mat Noor puts it, “[W]e are all Adams. No Eves to make trouble. So we can stay in paradise for ever” (FG, 249). Ferdach’s fantasy of male nudity—“that the three of them could be naked for it seemed that nakedness was an aesthetic requirement in such a sylvan scene” (FG, 249)—once again brings up the sexual connotations of the garden, projects his homoerotic fantasies onto the landscape, and marks his initiation into forbidden territory (forbidden fruit again), that is, a relationship with the male Other. As Srilata Ravi puts it, “[i]n the Other space, the slightest breath and faintest flicker are received by all senses at once and nakedness brings kinship with the elements” (Ravi 2003, 430).

The representation of Malaya as a sensual Eden produces an image of Malaysia inflected with eroticization; to know and represent the country to others is to experience it sexually. In Fool’s Gold, the white man reproduces the geophysical landscape of Malaya through multiple processes of sexual awakening, culminating with an initiation into the most exotic sexual experience of all, that with the male Other. This represents Malaya as an eroticized space ripe for experimentation for the sexually adventurous white male.


This study has revealed the patterns in which the garden archetype is used by British writers to represent Malaysia and the resulting notions about Malaysia that have been produced. Three dominant incarnations of the garden archetype can be discerned throughout the works representative of the colonial period: the lush, Romantic garden; the restrained, disciplined Victorian garden; and the barren, dried-up garden.

The garden archetype has been used to represent Malaysia as marked by corruption, deception, and sin. This motif is familiar to Western writers from portrayals of Eden in their religious and secular literature, but prior to the coming of Europeans to the Malay Archipelago, not to the indigenous inhabitants of the region themselves. In this way, native inscriptions of meaning regarding the garden are replaced with Western notions of the garden. This is how the worlding of Malaysia works, where Europeans establish themselves as the “sovereign [as] subject with a capital S” (Spivak 1999, 213) and represent regions outside the European sphere as its Others. The role of the white male subject as author of Malaysian images is evident in the selected novels as they ascribe to themselves the authority to represent geophysical features inflected with colonial rhetoric. Worlding also extends to the white male subject as characters in the novels, as they turn Malaysia into a sensual garden of earthly delights (Conrad and Lees) or, in a replication of their creators, appropriate the right to represent Malaysia by virtue of their superior knowledge (Riviere).

In Conrad’s images of Malaysia, one sees elements of the discourse of Romanticism on nature, which paints the geophysical landscape as alive with unseen forces and with which the observer establishes an emotional connection (Pratt 1992). The archetypal anima, or the “eternal feminine,” in An Outcast of the Islands symbolizes the combination of fear and desire of the white hero in Malaysia’s forests—sensations that are part of the rhetoric of the sublime central to Romantic and colonial discourses (ibid.; Nayar 2008). As the early period of British colonialism in Malaya moved on to the high colonial period, however, the sensual, Romantic garden is replaced by the calm order of its Victorian counterpart. Maugham saw a need to tame the passions that had run wild in Conrad’s fiction as well as in the men and women he encountered during his brief visit to Borneo in the 1920s. This manifests itself in images of neat British residencies and rubber plantations in his fiction.

By the time Burgess published his novel on the eve of Malaya’s independence from British rule, the archetype of the garden in which the land has been represented has attained a barren aspect. The garden, and by association Malaya, is depicted as having degenerated into a wasteland of filth matched by the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of its people.

The revival of interest in Malaysia as a lost paradise, evident in the contemporary novels by Frederick Lees and William Riviere, raises some interesting questions regarding the use of the garden archetype in the present such as: What prompted the nostalgia for a lost paradise? And what does this nostalgia signify? Perhaps there is dismay among contemporary writers at the rapid changes that have transformed the country such that it is no longer recognizable from the idyllic pictures of colonial times. The archetypal garden therefore is the ideal image on which they can project their atavistic desire, a return to a familiar space in unfamiliar times.

Finally, the literary texts explored in this article feature the experiences of British colonizers and expatriates in the Malay Peninsula (for instance, Time for a Tiger, Fool’s Gold) and Borneo (for example, An Outcast of the Islands, Borneo Fire). The patterns of the garden archetype discussed in this article may lead to further studies that would take into account the different socio-political structures in the Malay Peninsula and Borneo and how those differences would have affected representations of both regions in British fiction. Additionally, the colonization of parts of the Malay Peninsula and Borneo by the British consisted of distinctive policies and practices; it would certainly be worth looking into how these too would have left a mark on how British writers viewed the Malay States and British Borneo in the past and in the present.

Accepted: January 10, 2013


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1) “Malaysia” is used in my reading of Conrad as a loose term that encompasses Sumatra and North East Borneo because of their proximity to what would eventually become Malaysia (Hampson 2000, 14).

2) Joseph Conrad is a British writer of Polish origins who traveled to India, the Malay Archipelago, and Australia as a merchant sailor between 1874 and 1893 (Stape 2002). William Somerset Maugham is a British novelist and playwright who visited Malaya and Borneo between 1921 and 1922 and again between 1925 and 1926 (Holden 1996). Anthony Burgess taught in Malaya and Brunei between 1954 and 1960 (Burgess 2000).

3) Frederick Lees served in the Malayan Civil Service after the Second World War up to the 1950s (Lees 2004). William Riviere is based in Italy and has traveled in Southeast Asia and East Asia (Hodder & Stoughton website, http://www.hodder.co.uk/authors/author.aspx?AuthorID=2041).

4) The earliest novel chosen for analysis is Joseph Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands (1896) and the most recent is Frederick Lees’ Fool’s Gold (2004); a gap of 108 years exists between these two works.

5) Jung introduced the concept of the “collective unconscious” in addition to the individual unconscious theorized by Sigmund Freud. The collective unconscious exists in all human beings and is universal in nature, containing archetypes that are also shared by mankind.

6) The anima or the archetypal feminine refers to the feminine aspect present in the collective unconscious. “What is not-I, not masculine, is most probably feminine, and because the not-I is felt as not belonging to me and therefore as outside me, the anima-image is usually projected upon women” states Jung (1991, 27).

7) Nayar defines the missionary picturesque as the “visual vocabulary and aesthetic ideas . . . in order to trope Indian primitivism and colonial improvement” (2008, 94) present in travel writing by English missionaries in India, while the sporting luxuriant refers to the colonial rhetoric that specifically applies to descriptions of the jungle and wildlife in hunting memoirs. Thus each trope is specific to the genre of travel writing it is found in.

8) Classical Malay epic poems featuring heroes’ exploits and semi-mythical histories of the Malay world.

9) The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an, 2001, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall.

10) John Brookes notes that the expression “gardens underneath which rivers flow” is found more than 30 times in the Qur’an (cited in McIntosh 2005, 36–37).

11) The settings for Conrad’s Malaysian fiction are a hybrid of the places in the Malay Archipelago that he visited as a merchant sailor, for example, Sumatra, Singapore, and Northeast Borneo (Sherry 1971; Hampson 2000). Robert Hampson prefers the term “Malaysia” as that was the term used in the 1830s (Hampson 2000, 14; see the Introduction of this paper).

12) It should be noted that the expatriate British community in Malaya and Borneo protested at Maugham’s misrepresentation of them in his stories.

13) The form that the Devil took when he tempted Eve to eat the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden.

14) Sylvia Brooke, former Rani of Sarawak, explains: “The barrier between the sexes was in those days unbreakable. The Rajah reckoned that if any man in his service got married, he lost ninety-nine percent of his efficiency. If he wanted a woman, there were plenty of Sarawakians, and girls of twelve or thirteen were exploited for this purpose by their parents. It was a vicious doctrine; it drove white men into the welcoming brown arms of the local girls, involved them in tropical entangle­ments, and produced a harvest that remained long after they had gone” (Brooke 1970, 81).

15) De Vellez Guerreiro describes the consecration of a plot of land granted to the Portuguese by the Sultan of Johor on which to build a church as “sanctifying that land already rendered unclean by the spurious rites of Mohamed and abominable sacrifices to idols” ([1732] 1935, 145). Isabella Bird pronounces the Malay Peninsula as “a vast and malarious equatorial jungle sparsely peopled by a race of semi-civilised and treacherous Mohammedans” ([1883] 2006, 1).

16) A thinly-disguised Kuala Kangsar, the seat of the Sultans of Perak and also where the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), Malaya’s experiment with the British public school system, is located. It appears in the novel as Mansor College. Burgess taught at MCKK in the first years of his service in Malaya.

17) Victor is portrayed as the serious, passionate scholar of Malaya while Fenella only pretends to the title.

18) In the novel, Hugh is described wearing cricket whites as an unofficial uniform.

19) The parallel figure in Lord Jim is Jewel, a girl of white and Malay parentage.

20) “As you sprawl on the bamboo decking under the shadow of the immense palm leaf sail . . . you look out through half-closed eyelids at a very beautiful coast. . . . The wash of the waves against the boat’s side and the ripple of the bow make music in your drowsy ears, and, as you glide through cluster after cluster of thickly-wooded islands, you lie in that delightful comatose state in which you have all the pleasure of existence with none of the labour of living” (Clifford 1897, 4).


Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 49-84
©Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

Vol. 3, No. 1, Takagi Yusuke

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 1

Beyond the Colonial State: Central Bank Making as State Building in the 1930s*

Takagi Yusuke**

** The writer revised this paper as a part of the writer’s Ph.D. dissertation, “Nationalism in Philip­pine State Building: The Politics of the Central Bank, 1933–1964,” which was submitted to the Graduate School of Law and Political Science, Keio University in ­October 2013.

** 高木佑輔, GRIPS, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, 7-22-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8677, Japan

e-mail: y-takagi[at]grips.ac.jp

The purpose, origin, and strength of the Central Bank of the Philippines remain a puzzle for students of the Philippine political economy. Trade policy and fiscal policy have been well studied within the theoretical framework of a weak state, but the politics of monetary policy have curiously been overlooked. As it happens, the bank enjoyed an excellent reputation as “an island of state strength.” This paper sheds new light on the politics of economic policies by arguing that monetary policy introduced a new type of politics in the 1930s. This was a period during which a network of Filipino policy makers emerged and became an incubator for other leading policy makers in the early years of the Republic of the Philippines. Established politicians such as Manuel L. Quezon and American colonial officers paid scant attention to monetary policy reform, while these policy makers shouldered the responsibility of policy proposals. Their proposal to establish a central bank went beyond the monetary policy mandate, because they aimed to depart from the conventional market-governed colonial economic structure to a managed currency system backed by economic planning. By focusing on their attempts, this paper reveals that while the emergent crop of Filipino policy makers were beneficiaries of the colonial state, they were not satisfied with colonial economic policies and worked toward building an independent state equipped with qualified institutions.

Keywords: colonial state, Central Bank of the Philippines, state building, nationalism, politics of economic policy


The process of the setting up of the Central Bank of the Philippines remains a puzzle for students of the Philippine political economy. Existing studies, including those done by the bank’s first governor, Miguel P. Cuaderno, reveal that Cuaderno, who was responsible for designing the bank when he was the secretary of finance, enjoyed a cooperative working relationship with influential politicians (Cuaderno 1949; 1964; Valdepeñas 2003). The bank, after its establishment in 1949, was regarded as “an island of state strength in an ocean of weakness [of the state apparatus]” (Abinales and Amoroso 2005, 184). Not a few scholars, however, have argued that politicians representing an oligarchic society prevented the government from achieving efficient rule through bureaucracy—in other words, the state in the Philippines was weak (see, for example, Hutchcroft 1998). How could bureaucrats establish constructive relations with politicians to form solid institutions, such as the Central Bank, in the midst of a weak state?

Few studies have been undertaken on the politics of the formation of the Central Bank. Citing Cuaderno (1964) in a column, Abinales and Amoroso indicate that he played a pivotal role in the management of the bank (2005, 184). Cuaderno himself wrote two significant books (1949; 1964) but did not provide enough information on the political process of the formation of the bank. A historical study by a prominent economist, Vicente Valdepeñas (2003), on the development of central banking is helpful but does not pay much attention to the political context within which policy makers had to ­operate.1)

One exceptional study is Nick Cullather’s diplomatic history on the Central Bank and its policies from the 1940s to the 1950s, in which he asserts that the US government supported the establishment of the Central Bank of the Philippines, while the Philippines did not necessarily share the policy goal to create the bank (Cullather 1992). Cullather asserts that Filipino policy makers viewed the bank as a symbol of sovereignty, and yet he does not touch upon the domestic politics of the time. Instead, his study highlights the discrimination against Chinese and US businesses, the failure of the bank’s developmental policy, as well as graft and corruption in the 1950s (ibid.), as if these were the main targets that Filipinos aimed to achieve. The hypothetical argument we can draw from his description is that the US government was the only serious actor reluctantly sustaining the Central Bank in order to protect and promote its own interests in the US military bases in the Philippines.

The US influence on Philippine economic policy-making should not be overemphasized or misunderstood. Cuaderno gives an impressive account of the Joint Philippine-American Finance Commission, which officially recommended the establishment of a central bank to the Philippine government in its report published in 1947 (JPAFC 1947, 46–53; Cuaderno 1964, 9–11). However, what actually happened is that in a series of commission meetings the Filipino members had to refute the claims of the American members, who opposed the idea of setting up a central bank. The Filipino members eventually prevailed on the American members, gaining support from President Manuel A. Roxas, who was not a member of the commission (Cuaderno 1964, 9–11; Valdepeñas 2003, 85). In addition, several studies have emphasized US expansionist or imperialist attempts and actual interventions into Philippine affairs (e.g., Constantino and ­Constantino 1978; Jenkins 1985; MacIsaac 1993, Ch. 7, 9; Golay 1997).

A brief review of the literature demonstrates that the stage of Philippine-US relations was peopled by complicated actors. First, American residents who still maintained their influence on the colonial authority in Manila and on Filipino politicians opposed independence (MacIsaac 1993; Golay 1997). Second, Americans who supported the independence of the Philippine Islands were divided into two groups: the “isolationists” and the “internationalists” (MacIsaac 1993). While the isolationists in Congress endorsed cutting off relations with the colony as soon as possible, the internationalists in the US government did not hesitate to intervene in the domestic politics of the Philippine Islands so that the Philippines would establish an independent government (ibid.). Third, the internationalists paid a great deal of attention to the fiscal discipline of the Philippine Insular government (Golay 1997: 330–332),2) although some of them gradually accepted the protectionism of the Philippine government (Doeppers 1984, 29). Filipino policy makers, therefore, though they might have learned from the US experience, could not depend for support on the United States. Moreover, they had to deal with pressure from Manila Americans who were not in favor of the independence of the Philippine Islands. Their roles should be seriously analyzed.

Early attempts to establish a central bank gave an impetus to the politics of economic policy. Three major changes—in terms of actors, ideas, and political contexts—need to be examined. First, social change under colonial rule introduced a colonial middle class. By the beginning of the 1930s many professionals, such as colonial bureaucrats, lawyers, and professors, formed part of the colonial middle class (Doeppers 1984). The expansion of educational opportunities at all levels, and the Filipinization of bureaucracy, especially under the Francis B. Harrison administration (1913–21), created a colonial middle class in Manila who established their careers in white-collar jobs (ibid.). In fact, several delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1934 belonged to the new generation of professionals, and therefore the convention could be assumed to be a “national congress” whose representatives had different antecedents from the traditional elites (Uchiyama 1999, 201).

Second, the members of this emerging colonial middle class expounded new ideas in their discussions at the Constitutional Convention (De Dios 2002). The inflow of inter­national policy ideas such as economic nationalism (Aruego 1937, 658–669) and a strong presidency (De Dios 2002) greatly influenced the delegates. It is to be noted that, however sensational and well accepted at the convention, the idea of an international inflow of ideas was still taboo in the existing interest structure that had shaped the patronage politics that Manuel L. Quezon, the tycoon of colonial politics, made the best use of (McCoy 1988).3)

Third, we cannot overlook the fact that the formation of the Constitutional Convention was a part of the Filipino effort toward state building. US colonial rule had brought into the Philippine Islands both political machines and politics by reformers (Abinales 2005).4) While the former were characterized by patronage politics, the spoils system, and a cautious attitude toward the expansion of the influence of the federal government, the latter were led by those who aimed at overcoming political machines by strengthening the administrative capacity of the federal government in the United States (ibid.). While Quezon established his career making the best use of patronage politics (McCoy 1988), the aforementioned middle class apparently emerged from the latter aspect of the US influence, or the effort toward state building. A series of US policy changes, including the passage of the independence act in the 1930s, prompted Filipino policy makers to recognize the necessity to work for state building themselves, because the policy changes in the United States took place without consideration for the situation in the Philippines, as we will see below.

In a nutshell, this paper demonstrates that the emerging professionals, international inflow of policy ideas, and resurgence of nationalism motivated a handful of powerful Filipino policy makers to strive to establish a central bank. Although their proposals failed to materialize before independence, the policy makers elaborated on the idea and succeeded in establishing the bank in 1949. Through a study of the early attempts, this paper explores the ideas among policy makers in the 1930s that would result in the creation of the Central Bank in the 1950s. The first section examines the origin of the idea through a study of the first initiatives from 1933 to 1935, when US policy changes prompted Filipino policy makers to recognize the necessity of autonomy. The second section, covering the period from 1935 to 1944, analyzes subsequent political contexts where the key advocates continued to work for their goals despite indifference and opposition from government authorities.

I Independence Act, Monetary Policy Change in the United States, and a Central Bank, 1933–35

I-1 First Independence Act and Creation of the Philippine Economic Association in 1933

The passage of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting (HHC) Act in the US Congress in 1933 led to a political power struggle among leaders of the dominant Nacionalista Party, with Senate President Quezon on one side and Senator Sergio Osmeña and Speaker Manuel A. Roxas of the House of Representatives on the other.5) The power struggle was an opportunity to consider the economic consequences of independence. Opposing the HHC Act in a speech, Quezon described it as a tariff act rather than an independence act (Golay 1997, 320). He said: “All I can say for the present is that the National City Bank [of New York] took an active interest in the passage of the Hawes-Cutting bill, . . .” (Tribune, January 1, 1933, 1, 19).6) He argued that the National City Bank worked for the passing of the HHC Act in order to protect Cuban sugar at the expense of Philippine sugar (ibid., 1; Golay 1997, 320). Quezon’s attack was so harsh that a split in the party was inevitable in early January 1933 (Tribune, January 3, 1933, 1).

Quezon expressed his opposition to the HHC Act on various occasions. When he was invited by a group of economists on March 17, 1933, he argued that the economic features of the act were so unfavorable to the Philippine Islands that social unrest could result in the rebirth of the military government rather than a commonwealth government (Tribune, March 18, 1933, 1). He explained that when the United States imposed the full tariff rate on Philippine sugar three years after the passing of the act, the US market would be virtually closed to Philippine sugar; this would precipitate the collapse of the export industry and be followed by massive unemployment, social unrest, and ultimately another military suppression by the United States (ibid.).

The group of economists who invited Quezon seemed to have been the founders of the Philippine Economic Association (PEA). The following three points support this assertion: first, Cuaderno points out that the PEA was organized after the passage of the HHC Act (Cuaderno 1949, 1). Second, the presiding officer of the day was Elpidio Quirino, who would have been the president of the PEA (Tribune, March 18, 1933, 2; PEA 1934).7) Third, the PEA’s first two publications indicate its gradual development as an organization from March 1933 (PEA 1933; 1934). Who, then, were the members of the PEA?

Table 1 is a compilation of biographic data about the founding members whose names were recorded in the first publication of the PEA (1933, I). From Table 1 we can glean three characteristics of the members. First, the only politician was Quirino, although some members had seats in the legislature. Second, the majority were bureaucrats with no visible representatives from any particular industry. Third, most of the members either studied economics or worked for administrations covering economic issues, and almost half of them went to the United States to study. All these points reflect the political as well as social developments under US colonial rule. These points are elaborated on below.

First, Quirino’s political career reflected the shifting phases in the politics of independence. Quirino, born in 1890 in Ilocos Norte, graduated from the University of the Philippines and became a public school teacher, a law clerk of the Philippine Commission, a legislator, and finally a senator. He was younger than Quezon by 12 years and established his political career under Quezon’s tutelage after he met the latter at the Philippine Columbian Club (Gwekoh 1949, 23). When Quirino was a clerk of the commission he also worked as a secretary of the club to get acquainted with the leading figures of the day (ibid.). Once he was elected to the Senate in 1925, he was appointed by Quezon as chairman of the Committee of Accounts and subsequently as chairman of the Special Committee on Taxation, because “a majority of lawyers of the old school [in the Senate] depended not only on the vigor of their young colleagues but on the steady flame of their mid-night lamps [to study the new problems of economics]” (ibid., 31–32).8) Quirino became so familiar with economic policy that he was referred to as the “high priest of protectionism” in a personal sketch published in the 1930s (Cabildo 1953, 13). Quirino, as well as Roxas—whom we shall study in the next section—belonged to the generation for whom the economic consequences of independence became an agenda, while Quezon and Osmeña belonged to the generation for whom independence itself was the prime concern.

Second, 15 of the 24 PEA members were former or incumbent bureaucrats working in various departments in charge of economic policy. For instance, Miguel Unson, born in Iloilo in 1877 and a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, was a prominent bureaucrat who had been a provincial treasurer as well as an undersecretary and secretary of finance (Cornejo 1939, 2193). In addition to him, incumbent Undersecretary of Finance Guillermo Gomez was an original member. There were many members who must have had firsthand information of fiscal conditions as officers of the Bureau of ­Internal Revenue or Customs, both of which were supervised by the Department of Finance. Meanwhile, Tomas Confesor and Cornelio Balmaceda were director and assistant director of the Bureau of Commerce, which was supervised by the Department of Agriculture and Commerce. The PEA functioned as a network of bureaucrats from various economic agencies of the government.

While bureaucrats occupied the majority of seats, the business sector was represented by a few individuals as well. Salvador Araneta, born in Manila in 1902, studied at Harvard University and became a partner in a law firm in the Philippines. The businesses he engaged in included the National Railroad Company, a sugar firm, and several mining companies (ibid., 1602). He was not a representative of any particular industry but was a very active member of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce. He eventually joined in the founding of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) in 1934.9) Unson became another prominent representative of the business sector when he shifted to the insurance industry, but, as mentioned above, he established his early career as a bureaucrat.

Third, all PEA members shared a knowledge of economics. They learned eco­nomics either through education in school or from the school of hard knocks. A member of the PEA, Professor Abdon Llorente of Far Eastern University wrote a column in which he described the dawn of economics in the Philippines (Llorente 1935). The column suggested that the PEA included most of the pioneering economists of the time, although it did not mention the association directly. Llorente, for instance, praised Dean Conrado Benitez of the College of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines, together with Confesor, Vicente Fabella, Fermin Francisco, and others as “men who crossed the sea in the early days of American regime to delve into the intricacies of economics” (ibid., 16). Andres V. Castillo, who was born in 1903 and earned his ­bachelor’s degree from the University of the Philippines and his doctorate from Columbia University, followed the path of these men and joined the PEA. He was the dean of the College of Business Administration in the University of Manila in 1934 (Tribune, August 19, 1934, 17; BSP 1998, 37). Meanwhile, Llorente praised Unson, who led a group of practitioners, including Gomez, because they “began the study of economics from the so-called university of hard knocks” (Llorente 1935, 16). He also commended Quirino as the one “who can easily lead to [sic] the oldsters as well as the youngsters” and “who has in him the making of a Hamilton” (ibid.).

With regard to their education, at least half the PEA members studied in the United States—either through private funding or on a scholarship from the government. Recipi­ents of the latter were called pensionados. Llorente described it thus: “The pensionado system, which was discontinued about 1910, was resumed in 1919. From 1919 to 1930, 379 students were sent by the government to the United States.10) Of this number, 58 took up the study of different branches of economics. . . . These returned pensionados are now employed as follows: 21 as government employees, 7 as teachers, 1 as a prac­ticing attorney, 3 as actuaries, 3 as life underwriters, 2 as newspapermen, 7 in business and 2 as farmers” (ibid.). The pensionados were selected beneficiaries of the colonial policy and organized their own social club, known as the Philippine Columbian Club, in 1905.11)

As the following section shows, however, their experience in the United States did not turn them into pro-US economists. Carlos Quirino, a leading postwar journalist, asserts that pensionados became even more nationalistic because of their stay abroad and that “this [Philippine Columbian] club became the focal point in the nationalistic campaign for independence for the next three decades” (Quirino 1987, 39). Quezon, in fact, delivered the aforementioned critical speech on the HHC Act at a luncheon meeting of this club. In this context, it is intriguing that Llorente encouraged Filipinos to go to the United States, referring to Americans who had studied economics in Germany or Austria-Hungary in the last century. He praised Quirino as a man who understood ­Alexander Hamilton, who was US Secretary of the Treasury during the George ­Washington administration (Llorente 1935, 13). The German school of economics in the nineteenth century, which was influenced by the ideas of Hamilton, was famous for its nationalist orientation wherein scholars were skeptical of the effectiveness of free trade for newly independent nations (Lichauco 1988, 32–49).

Those who established the PEA adopted the idea of positive role of regulation in economic activities by the government, which the American Economic Association (AEA) advocated since the end of the nineteenth century (Skowronek 1982, 132), although neither Llorente nor Lichauco mentioned the name of the AEA. AEA was in fact established by the American economists who were skeptical to American Social Science ­Association which tended to advocate the idea of laissez-faire (ibid.). In fact, names such as (Johann G.) Fichte or Friedrich List, who were German nationalists, especially the latter, and pioneers of the German school of economics (Lichauco 1988, 44–49), were mentioned in a speech by the well-known Filipino businessman Benito Razon. Razon was the founding president of the NEPA, for which Llorente later worked as a manager (Tribune, February 10, 1935, 17; May 29, 1935, 16).

The PEA members were, however, not yet radical in their first publication, The Economics of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act: An Analysis (hereafter, An Analysis), where they criticized the independence act instead of proposing their own economic policy (PEA 1933). In I, “The National Bonded Indebtedness,” they studied the Philippine government’s fiscal stability as well as its ability to redeem bonds and concluded, “The present sinking fund arrangement is sufficient to guarantee the ultimate redemption of the Philippine government bonds, and any additional guarantee for their redemption, like the export tax, is not superfluous but is also harmful to national interests” (ibid., 5). They focused on the adversarial effect of export tax, which the HHC Act required the Philippine government to impose. In the subsequent two sections, which devoted 28 of the total 40 pages to the topic (II, “The Export Tax,” and III, “Effects of Limitations Imposed on Foreign Trade”), they reiterated that the Philippine government could pay its obligation and that it would be faced with difficulty once it was compelled to impose export tax.

The authors criticized the HHC Act as if they were aiming to maintain the status quo, although (or perhaps because) they recognized the fragility of the existing economic structure. While they admitted that free trade between the Philippine Islands and the United States had contributed to the rapid expansion of export industries such as the sugar industry, they argued that “development [of the export industries] has stood on a weak and unstable foundation. Its ultimate effect has been to place the Islands in a state of almost complete dependence upon the United States market” (ibid., 8). They did not yet argue that the Philippines should change its economic structure.

Reflecting the conservative tone of other sections, the authors did not advocate any radical proposal in IV, “Currency.” Here they concluded, “As long as the present free trade . . . remains the same there is hardly any need for autonomy in currency legislation because goods like anything else follow the line of least resistance” (ibid., 38). They hypothetically mentioned that the Philippines would need to depreciate its currency to seek new export markets in Asia, especially if it could no longer export its products to the US market (ibid.). The authors recognized that “it is necessary to have our currency at our absolute and free control to provide us with one of the instrumentalities for establishing markets in other countries. We cannot ‘remain on a gold island in the midst of a sea of depreciated currency’” (ibid.). They knew what they needed to do once the current arrangement was abandoned, but they did not present their own comprehensive policy proposal yet.12)

The critical but conservative tone of An Analysis apparently reflected the political position of Quirino, who was close to Quezon. On the same day that Quezon delivered his speech, Quirino “declared that the Hawes-Cutting-Hare Act is a challenge to the Filipinos” (Tribune, March 18, 1933, 2). It is, however, more important to remember the origin of An Analysis. The PEA responded to a US policy change and limited its activity to the issue involved. Another US policy change would prompt the PEA to work on another issue. But before we study the PEA’s next activity, we examine an official response from within the government to the US policy change.

I-2 The Gold Embargo in the United States and the First Proposal to Establish a Central Bank in the Philippines, 1933–34

The year 1933 is pivotal not only because of the HHC Act but also because of a drastic change in US monetary policy. Faced with a series of banking crises after the Depression, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt “had grown convinced that ending the Depression required raising prices to their 1929 level” (Eichengreen 1992, 331). Roosevelt, pressured by Congress to adopt a more radical proposal for inflation, placed an embargo on gold exports and endorsed the Thomas Amendment authorizing the president to take various inflationary measures on April 19, 1933 (ibid., 331–332). This piece of news was sensationally reported in the Philippines (Tribune, April 21, 1933, 1).

The Filipino populace attempted to understand the implications of the US measures by turning to the knowledge of professionals. Castillo’s remark was, for instance, published as an explanation by a “Filipino political economist” (Tribune, April 23, 1933, 5). The latter wrote in a relatively pedagogic manner that inflation would stimulate the domestic economy although there was a risk that it could result in hyperinflation, such as that experienced in Germany in 1923 (ibid., 5, 25). In the context of our study, it is more interesting that he briefly mentioned, “It cannot be overemphasized that a managed Philippine currency would serve the country best at this time. . . . Unfortunately there is no central bank in the Philippines upon which the task of managing the currency could be very well entrusted” (ibid.). Although it took some time before the currency issue was connected to the issue of central banking, there was a gradual development of the policy proposal within the government.

Acting Secretary of Finance Vicente Singson-Encarnacion (hereafter, Singson) took the lead in handling the situation. Singson was also mentioned as a pioneer of economics by Llorente (1935, 16) and would be a significant advocate for the formation of a central bank. He was born in 1875 in Ilocos Sur, graduated from the University of Santo Tomas, passed the bar examination, and became a fiscal (public prosecutor) of provincial governments, a representative of the Philippine Assembly, as well as a senator (Cornejo 1939, 2143). His career path was seemingly similar to that of his contemporaries, such as Quezon and Osmeña, but it differed from them in two ways. First, he was in the minority in the legislature as a member of the Federal Party (Quirino 1987, 44), although he maintained close relations with American colonial officers and was a member of the Philippine Commission from 1913 to 1916. The second point that distinguished Singson’s career from Quezon’s and Osmeña’s was his experience in private business. He was an entrepreneur in the insurance and finance industry. He worked for the Insular Life Assurance Company (Insular Life) first as a director and later as the president (Tribune, August 15, 1934, 16). He also worked for the Philippine National Bank (PNB) as a director (Willis 1917, 418; Nagano 2003, 226). These two institutions are significant in the historical development of the finance industry in the Philippines. While Insular Life, founded in 1910, was the first Filipino-owned life insurance company (Batalla 1999, 22), the PNB, founded in 1916, was the first multipurpose government bank. It functioned as an agricultural financial institution, a commercial bank, and a bank of issue (Nagano 2003, 197–198). Singson achieved a great deal in business and was appointed as secretary of agriculture and commerce on January 1, 1933.

Agriculture and Commerce Secretary Singson promoted local production and domestic commercial activities through the Bureau of Commerce, which his department oversaw. Under his leadership, the government established the Manila Trading Center and organized the first “Made in the Philippines Products Week” in August 1933 in order to promote local production and domestic trade (Stine 1966, 85). Balmaceda, a member of the PEA and assistant director of the Bureau of Commerce, said that Secretary ­Singson took the initiative to organize the Products Week and to establish the center (Tribune, December 30, 1933, 6).

Singson was concurrently appointed as acting secretary of finance on April 21, 1934, after Rafael Alunan, a representative of the sugar industry, resigned from the post ­(Tribune, August 15, 1934, 16). In the Finance Department, Singson took the initiative to reduce Philippine dependence on the US economy. Informed of a possible change in the Philippine monetary system from the gold exchange standard to the dollar exchange standard in June 1934, he expressed his serious concerns about its “harmful” effect on the Philippines (Singson to Governor-General, 1933, JWJ, 2).13) In a memorandum dated July 6, 1933, he commented on the following two points: first, he argued that it was undesirable to link the Philippine currency system to the US one “much more intimately” (ibid.). He was worried about a situation where the Philippine currency would become more vulnerable to US currency policy, since the latter was managed regardless of Philippine conditions. Second, he believed that US inflationary measures would adversely affect the Philippine economy. He asserted, “In many cases, the likelihood is that this country would be the loser in the sense that its currency would depreciate in value . . .” (ibid.). Based on these considerations, he proposed inviting a monetary expert to consider whether the Philippine Islands should establish an independent monetary system or not (ibid.).

Singson aimed to gain autonomy for economic policy-making through the inde­pendent currency system. In another memorandum to the governor-general on August 5, 1933, he suggested that the Philippine government establish a monetary system sustained by the gold bullion standard rather than the dollar exchange standard. He also proposed that the government devalue the peso by half the current ratio (Quirino to Governor-General, 1935, JWJ, 2–5). The Philippine government had a gold exchange standard that functioned through gold deposits in New York prior to April 1933. Meanwhile, Singson proposed the establishment of a gold bullion standard, which required the government to establish a totally new monetary standard.14) The other proposal, devaluation, was heading in the same direction of reducing Philippine dependence on the United States because it would encourage Philippine exports to other countries.

While Singson continued to appeal for the services of a monetary expert, he made another policy proposal: founding a central bank in the Philippines (MacIsaac 2002, 159). After he came back from the United States, where he joined Quezon’s last independence mission, he publicly “advocated the separation of the control over the monetary system from the government, and the establishment of a central bank to assume such control under the government supervision” in a speech at a banquet for Singson and Unson on May 17, 1934, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands then headed by Eugenio Rodriguez (Tribune, May 18, 1934, 1, 7). The proposed central bank, according to him, should be a bank of the government, a bank of banks, and a bank whose responsibility was to manage the integrity and stability of the national currency.

The benefits Singson emphasized were the bank’s contributions to fiscal discipline and the expansion of commercial credit (ibid., 7). He argued that because the democratic government tended to carry out inflation-oriented policies to gain support from the ­people, the commonwealth government would not be able to resist the temptation to fall into inflationary finance unless it directly managed its currency policy (ibid., 1, 7). With regard to the credit market, he recognized the existence of doubts over the usefulness of a central bank at a time when the credit market had not yet fully matured. He argued, though, that “there is no better instrument to develop credit in a nation than the establishment of a central bank” (ibid., 7). Under the circumstances, what was the basis for his conviction?

In the speech mentioned above, Singson brought up the emerging international policy idea of establishing a central bank. He said, “The body of financial experts and economists of the League of Nations, about five years ago, had recommended the establishment of central banks where such banks do not exist” (ibid.). The Financial Committee of the League of Nations founded a Gold Delegation to conduct research on problems of the gold standard in 1929 and published the results of the research in several reports from 1930 (Eichengreen 1992, 250; Sudo 2008, 2–3). After World War II, European countries and the United States attempted for more than a decade to establish a systematic cooperation to respond to international monetary problems (Eichengreen 1992, Ch. 6–7). They failed to resolve the problems but held several conferences and published reports with recommendations. Regardless of the results of the efforts of the League of Nations, Singson used the recommendations for his proposal. Drawing examples from other countries, Singson also emphasized the necessity of establishing an independent central bank, citing responsibilities that the existing PNB could not fill. He argued that a central bank should be independent of the government and that the PNB should concentrate on long-term finance for the development of agriculture as in the case of Greece (Tribune, May 18, 1934, 7). He elaborated his proposal through a study of the recommendations of international organizations or cases from other countries.15) It is obvious that he was determined that the Philippines prepare the institutions necessary for an independent state.

In addition to these proposals, Singson expressed his interest in economic planning so as to change the economic structure of the Islands. On another occasion, he pointed out that “excessive attention was given to the development of the sugar industry while practically abandoning the other industries, so that when the crisis came in sugar, the country faced a great economic difficulty. . . . What is lacking, he said, is a plan” (Tribune, June 13, 1934, 1, 11). He clearly recognized and publicly announced the necessity to change the economic structure, which depended too much on the sugar industry. Economic planning in this context was not only an economic preparation for independence, but also a political challenge to those who were supported by the sugar industry.

Singson’s multiple proposals to change the Philippines’ economic structure failed to receive support either from Quezon or from the influential Americans. We can hardly find a written document directly explaining Quezon’s motive but can still use the data that mention two influential groups that were close to Quezon opposed Singson’s pro­posals. The sugar industry, which had enjoyed easy loans from the PNB and established close relations with Quezon (Larkin 2001), opposed the idea of establishing a central bank (Cullather 1992, 81). Most American residents, or so-called Manila Americans, were beneficiaries of the existing free trade and opposed the independence of the Philippines (Golay 1997, 332–333). In the Philippine Insular government, Governor-General Leonard Wood reconstructed the currency system based on the idea of “self-regulating markets” with the least intervention from the government (Giesecke 1987, 117–124). J. Weldon Jones, who was the Insular Auditor and “a valuable adviser to [Governor-General Frank] Murphy” (Golay 1997, 331), was concurrently appointed the adviser on currency to the Governor-General almost at the same time when Singson advocated making a central bank (Tribune, June 2, 1934, 3). Jones was one of those who undoubtedly opposed ­Singson’s proposal, as we will see below. Singson left the government without implementing any of his proposals when Governor-General Murphy appointed Quirino as the secretary of finance and Rodriguez as the secretary of agriculture and commerce on July 14, 1934 (Tribune, July 15, 1934, 1, 7).

I-3 PEA, Economic Planning, and a Central Bank, 1934–35

Before being appointed as secretary of finance, Quirino had already reactivated the PEA. He populated the association with several additional members in November 1933 when he prepared to join Quezon’s independence mission, which Singson also joined (Tribune, November 3, 1933, 10). After the last independence mission won another independence act, the Tydings-McDuffie Act, on March 24, 1934, PEA members began to prepare for a national economic program (Tribune, April 17, 1934, 2). The members who led the discussion reflected on the fact that the association was still composed of prominent bureaucrats—Undersecretary of Finance Gomez was the presiding officer of the day, and Assistant Director of Commerce Balmaceda was the secretary of the association (ibid.).16) PEA members paid attention to Singson’s proposal and invited him for a meeting while he was still the finance secretary (Tribune, June 24, 1934, 3rd ed., 4).

Cuaderno, the then PNB assistant Manager, became active in the PEA, especially in the field of finance and banking (Tribune, November 3, 1933, 10). Cuaderno, born in Bataan in 1890, graduated from the National University, became a lawyer in 1919, and was hired at the Bureau of Supply. He transferred to the PNB in 1926 (Cornejo 1939, 1657–1658). He energetically dealt with the bank’s legal cases, specifically in its reconstruction from damage caused by the financial crisis of the early 1920s (Galang 1932, 107). Although he established his career as a lawyer rather than as an economist, he received on-the-job training in banking during his time as a working student in Hong Kong (Ty 1948). When the PEA expanded its membership, he became the vice chairman of the Committee on Currency of the PEA, headed by Chairman Unson (PEA 1934, xii).

Quirino worked for economic planning and expected PEA members to be the “new dealers for the new Philippine Republic” (Tribune, May 2, 1934, 2). The PEA, with an additional 27 members, published the results of its study and policy recommendations in the form of a 270-page book titled Economic Problems of the Philippines (hereafter, Problems) in 1934 (PEA 1934). In the preface, Quirino asserted, “Our national economic structure, with the severance of our relations with the United States, must claim our attention. A comprehensive program of economic planning for the nation is imperative. . . . it is my hope that the work of the Philippine Economic Association in this regard will be helpful in crystallizing the mind of the people on the necessity of economic planning” (ibid., iv).

Quirino provided a time frame for his proposal and pointed out the actions to be taken during each period. Table 2 reveals the three steps Quirino had in mind before the establishment of the commonwealth, during the commonwealth period, and after independence. Before the establishment of the commonwealth, he suggested that the government focus on land issues and vocational education. During the commonwealth period, he proposed a more radical change in the economic structure, including the ­establishment of a central bank. After independence, he planned for the government to enhance foreign trade, to deal with immigration issues, and so on. The timetable and agenda bear testimony to Quirino’s intention to change the comprehensive economic structure of the Philippines.

In the chapter of Problems on banks and other financial institutions, the committee headed by Campos, president of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Rafael Corpus, president of the PNB, and Cuaderno asserted that the majority of the local banks had agreed upon the idea of organizing a central bank (ibid., 219). As for the functions of a central bank, “the power of a central bank to control the currency and the credit of the country and to stabilize foreign exchange is a fact recognized by monetary and banking experts” (ibid.). Campos, Corpus, and Cuaderno argued that they should form a central bank to increase credit facilities, to stabilize foreign exchange, and to meet periodic demands for circulation through note issues, all of which would help the government achieve credit elasticity (ibid.).

In the chapter of Problems on currency, the PEA reiterated the necessity of a central bank. The committee headed by Unson and Cuaderno argued that the existing system had failed to provide enough money in 1920 and 1921 and that the Philippine Islands should have a financial organization such as a central bank. While they admitted that “The Philippines is not in a position to adopt an independent currency at this time,” they argued that “the main objective, therefore, of an independent system is an adequate management of currency” (ibid., 242). In other words, the PEA distinguished the issue of the enhancement of the banking system from that of the establishment of a new currency system.

However, it was not true that Quirino gave up on the idea of establishing an autonomous currency system through the central bank. He kept his movement confidential, because “A wide open agitation coming from above in the discussion of such a delicate matter might invite alarm and misapprehensions to so serious a degree as to shake the confidence of capital in the stability of the financial structure of the country and thus disastrously affect investments and business in general” (Quirino to Governor-General, 1935, JWJ, 13). Quirino might have abandoned Singson’s strategy but not his idea.

In a memorandum to the governor-general on January 13, 1935, Quirino argued that the Philippines should establish an autonomous currency system and quoted Singson’s proposal (ibid., 15). Quirino, following Singson’s proposal, took it for granted that the Philippines should establish an autonomous currency system based on the gold standard because, first, the Philippines was a gold-producing country, and second, because it had a simpler economic structure than the United States and other European countries (ibid., 17). He also agreed with Singson on the necessity to devalue the peso. Taking into consideration an almost 40 percent devaluation of the US dollar in January 1934, Quirino suggested a one-eighth reduction of the peso against the US dollar, which would be almost equivalent to the ratio suggested by Singson in 1933.

Quirino also proposed the formation of a central bank to conform to the international policy idea, as well as to emphasize the merits of a national economy. Like Singson, he said, “The Financial Committee of the League of Nations would entrust a new important role to central banks. It has made these specific recommendations: ‘The aim of the Central Bank should be to maintain the stability of international prices both over long periods and over short periods, i.e., they should both keep the average steady over a period of years and avoid fluctuations round this average from year to year’” (ibid., 21). He emphasized that central banks were “necessary ingredients for the promotion of economy and finance of a country” because they would lower interest rates as well as expand credit supply through rediscounting operations (ibid., 22).

Quirino, however, failed, just like Singson. The Philippine Insular government introduced Act No. 4199 on March 16, 1935, stipulating that two pesos should be equal to one US dollar regardless of the content of gold. This was the first official introduction of the dollar exchange standard that had come to be the de facto standard of the Islands in the 1920s (Castillo 1949b, 429; Nagano 2010, 45). The currency system of the Philippine Islands “could be considered as representative of the evolving export economy of the Philippines under American rule” (Nagano 2010, 47). Quirino’s proposal was influenced by vested interests during the 1930s.

In addition to the US authority, Quezon publicly declined the idea of establishing an autonomous currency system when he accepted the nomination for presidency at the election for the commonwealth government. On July 20, 1935, he declared, “I shall keep our present currency system in all its integrity and will allow no changes that will affect its value. . . . For the present I can see no reasons for any radical modifications in our monetary system” (Tribune, July 21, 1935, 3rd ed., 1, 14). However, although Quezon did not share the idea of seeking currency autonomy with Singson or Quirino, he did not persuade policy makers to abandon it altogether, as we will see below.

II Stalwart Advocacy for Autonomy in Economic Policy-making, 1935–44

II-1 Early Work of the National Economic Council, 1935–37

The PEA succeeded in persuading the then newly elected President Quezon to organize a central agency for economic planning, although it had failed to convince him to create an autonomous currency system. President Quezon sent a message to the National Assembly on December 18, 1935, to endorse a bill to create the National Economic Council (NEC), which would be responsible for giving occasional advice to the president on economic affairs as well as for proposing comprehensive economic planning. In the message, Quezon mentioned a certain limitation to the idea of laissez-faire and emphasized the significance of the active role of the government in economic affairs (Soberano 1961, 185). The government created Commonwealth Act No. 2 stipulating the establishment of the NEC, presided over by the secretary of finance (NEC 1937; Soberano 1961, 182, 192). The establishment of the NEC and economic planning were the proposals of Singson, Quirino, and the PEA (PEA 1934, 213).

By the time the NEC began its operations on February 14, 1936, Antonio de las Alas had replaced Quirino as the secretary of finance and chair of the NEC. Quirino was appointed as secretary of the interior. Quezon initially preferred Roxas as finance secretary, but he finally chose de las Alas after Roxas declined the offer (Romero 2008, 119). De las Alas, born in Batangas in 1889, graduated from the University of Indiana and Yale University as a pensionado, worked for the Executive Bureau, became a lawyer, and was elected as a representative from Batangas (Cornejo 1939, 1586). Before he was appointed as secretary of finance, he was the secretary of public works and communication (ibid.). De las Alas was close to Quezon but was not as ambitious as Quirino or Roxas. He seemed to be more an able administrator than an aggressive politician.

In the first report of its activity in 1936, the NEC explained the reasons for the inactivity of the council in an apologetic tone, rather than proclaiming its achievements (NEC 1937). After mentioning the lack of data, funding, personnel, and so on, the NEC concluded, “The main reason [sic], however, why no complete economic program could be formulated at present are the uncertainty of our economic relations with the United States and the limitations placed upon the powers of the commonwealth government by the Tydings-McDuffie Law” (ibid., 31). The uncertainty came from the ongoing trade conference, while the limitations pointed to the fact that the commonwealth government could not enjoy any autonomy on tariff issues or currency (ibid.). Former Governor-General Francis B. Harrison, who was appointed as an adviser to Quezon, reported to the United States that the NEC “was ‘paralyzed’ because all of the energies of the govern­ment ‘are now bent towards getting a relaxation of the trade sanctions of the Tydings-McDuffie Act’” and that another government attempt to promote diversification of the economic structure was opposed by the “influence of the sugar interests and their lobby in Washington” (Golay 1997, 358).

The NEC report is intriguing, because it reveals that Filipino policy makers made continuous efforts to establish an autonomous currency system and a central bank even under considerable constraints. The first report on the activities in 1936 said, “the peso, under the present system, must follow the dollar for good or for ill, and the Philippines is helpless to influence the American currency policy” (NEC 1937, 33). The NEC advocated that “The Commonwealth should work for an independent currency system, and if granted, the gold bullion standard should be set up to take the place of the present system. . . . With the establishment of a Central Bank as the necessary accompaniment of an independent currency system, the management of the currency to suit the needs of the Commonwealth and an independent Philippines could be easily accomplished” (ibid.). It is easy to spot the influence of Singson’s 1934 proposal on this recommendation. Singson was, in fact, a member of the NEC (Tribune, July 2, 1937, 1).

Gradually the idea of an autonomous currency system found sympathizers in the legislature. Assemblymen Benito Soliven and Juan L. Luna, for instance, submitted Bill No. 2444 “to establish an independent currency system in the Philippines” (Luna and Soliven 1937). Luna, born in Mindoro in 1894, graduated from the University of Santo Tomas and was a teacher and a lawyer before he became a member of the legislature in the 1920s (Cornejo 1939, 1903). Soliven, born in Ilocos Sur in 1898, graduated from the University of the Philippines and became a lawyer and a member of the legislature in the 1920s (ibid., 2151). These two representatives, however, did not seem to have close relations with Singson or Quirino, although Soliven was from Ilocos Sur, where Singson and Quirino had also been born. In fact, Soliven would contest and defeat Quirino in the election to the National Assembly in 1938 (Espinosa-Robles 1990, 46).

In the explanatory note of Bill No. 2444, the authors argued that the currency issue was “a grave problem” untouched during the trade conference (Luna and Soliven 1937, 1). They asserted that the devaluation of the US dollar in 1934 was harmful to the Philippine economy, because the Philippine government would now pay more for its debt to other countries. They also asserted that the Philippine Islands needed to establish an independent currency system based on the gold bullion standard (ibid.). Generally speaking, however, the NEC’s direct input is barely visible in this bill. In fact, in the explanatory note the authors just briefly mention the name of Professor Jacinto Kamantigue, who was a founding member of the PEA when he was still affiliated with the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

The fact that there seemed to be no clear cooperation between these lawmakers and the NEC reflected President Quezon’s conviction about the currency system. In a memorandum by Jones, Quezon was recorded as having told Secretary de las Alas in April 1937, “Please inform the National Economic Council of my fixed purpose not to recommend or approve during my administration measures establishing a new currency system. The present system will be maintained in its integrity because, after consulting expert advice, I am convinced that it is best for the country” (Excerpt from the Quarterly Report of the High Commissioner, 1937, JWJ, 1).

Quezon reiterated his position to maintain the status quo of the currency system. What follows is a record from a press conference dated October 6, 1937:

Press: How about the currency, Mr. President?
President: The currency? That is tabooed. [sic] That is definitely settled; there is no more talk about that. (Press Conference, 1937, MLQ, 20)

Quezon’s brief reply elicits two interpretations: first, the currency issue had already been settled before the press conference. Second, the currency issue was literally tabooed by someone, although that was struck out with a line. It is highly possible that the US authorities restricted Quezon from taking a radical position on this matter.

Jones, now the financial adviser to the American high commissioner, criticized Bill No. 2444 in his memorandum to Washington (Jones to Coy, 1937, JWJ). Jones first stated that the authors of the bill did not understand the existing situation that prompted the Philippine government to adopt the dollar exchange standard (ibid., 1). He reported that there had been no serious problems after the devaluation of the US dollar in 1934 and that it was confusing that the authors condemned the US devaluation but asserted the necessity of peso devaluation (ibid., 1–2). The following concluding sentences of the memorandum clearly express Jones’ strong conviction about the existing monetary system and his unsympathetic attitude toward Filipinos who were seeking autonomy:

First, because if any currencies survive in this world of uncertainty we can feel that the dollar and the pound sterling will be included; and second, the economy of the exchange standard and the fact that Philippine foreign trade is so heavily over-balanced by trade with the United States that we can feel that now and for a number of years to come the Commonwealth and the independent Philippines can do more things with a dollar and do them more economically than they can with an actual gold peso. (ibid., 4)

The outcome was that Bill No. 2444 failed to receive enough support from Filipinos and Americans.

Facing strong opposition from the authorities, the NEC shifted the focus of its advocacy from making the currency system autonomous to creating a central bank. The NEC’s second report, a summary of its activities in 1937 during which the council had only two meetings (NEC 1938, 6), can be read as a record of its desperate efforts to win support for its ideas. In the report it reiterated that it was an internationally accepted idea to have a central bank (ibid., 7, 9–10). The report stated:

Since the war, under the leadership of the League of Nations, countries that have availed of expert financial advice of the League have established a central bank as one of the principal agencies in effecting the reconstruction of their disorganized economic life. Today, most countries find the central bank an indispensable part of their economic system, and even countries that are not yet independent, like the Dominions, India, and Java, have already established a central bank. (ibid., 7)

Another point that makes the second report important is the cue taken from it in order to figure out key advocates. The NEC mentioned, “Vicente Singson-Encarnacion, a member of the Council, has already framed with the aid of our technical staff the proposed charter for a central bank in the Philippines” (ibid., 11). Since we already know that Singson had been active in the advocacy, it is more interesting to find out whom the NEC meant by “our technical staff.” We can easily assume who the technical staff was, because the NEC report reiterates that the NEC had very few technical staff (NEC 1937; 1938). The first report said that Jose L. Celeste was the executive secretary, Castillo the technical adviser, and Juan S. Agcaoili the technical assistant (NEC 1937, 14). The second report said that after Celeste’s resignation in December 1936, Castillo was appointed as acting executive secretary of the council (NEC 1938, 1). Two of the three technical staff, Celeste and Castillo, were original PEA members.

II-2 Joint Preparatory Committee and Manuel A. Roxas, 1936–39

While Singson and others fought in the NEC, Roxas, who would be a significant advocate for the formation of the Central Bank in the late 1930s, fought for the expansion of economic autonomy in the trade conference. On April 14, 1937, the Joint Preparatory Committee on Philippine Affairs (JPCPA) was finally formed “to study trade relations between the United States and the Philippines and to recommend a program for the adjustment of the Philippine national economy” (JPCPA 1938, 3). Roxas joined the committee, which was headed by Jose Yulo, Quezon’s close aide and an important representative of the sugar industry (Larkin 2001, 169). The activity of the JPCPA revealed the clear difference between the positions of those who wished to maintain the status quo and those who sought a structural economic change.

Roxas was as keen about economic issues as Quirino and organized a movement named Ang Bagong Katipunan (the New Katipunan) to advocate economic adjustment for independence in 1930, although he soon abandoned the movement—partly because of Quezon’s indifference (Golay 1997, 292–293). Castillo praised Ang Bagong Katipunan as “The first serious attempt to apply economic principle [sic] on a national scale” when he explained the development of economics in the Philippines (Castillo 1934, 15). Roxas, born in Capiz in 1892, graduated from the University of the Philippines and became a lawyer and a representative in the Lower House. He belonged to the same generation as Quirino but had soared to the third-highest rank in colonial politics next to Quezon and Osmeña in 1922 when he was elected speaker of the Lower House. Quezon appointed him as a member of the JPCPA because of his knowledge and experience. Another member of the JPCPA, the then Majority Floor Leader of the National Assembly Jose Romero, tagged Roxas as “our leading economist” (Romero 2008, 134).

Roxas made his thoughts open to the public in a newspaper contribution before he joined the JPCPA, which was published under the title Philippine Independence May Succeed without Free Trade in the same year (Roxas 1936; Tribune, April 1, 1936, Sec. 4, 1, 2, 4). What he wrote about was close to the ideas of Singson and Quirino, although he did not mention reform in the currency or banking system. He argued, “Knowing that we cannot be certain of the continuance of free trade after independence, the logical course for us to take is to reduce as much as possible the relative importance in the national economy of the industries depending for their existence on free trade with America” (Roxas 1936, 14).

Roxas’ voice, however, failed to gain the support of the majority in the JPCPA. After surveying the process of the JPCPA, a historian succinctly summed it up thus: “It is clear that American economic policy toward the Philippines during the transition to inde­pendence was designated to increase American exports and curb Philippine imports. It was a classic example of economic imperialism” (MacIsaac 1993, 345). Echoing the US neglect of the Filipino plea, the JPCPA final report said:

Commercial banking facilities appear to be adequate in Manila and in the larger cities. . . . In view of the present structure of the Philippine banking and currency systems, there appears to be no necessity at the present time for the establishment of a bank in the Philippines whose functions would be primarily those of a central bank. (JPCPA 1938, 122–123)

This conclusion, however, did not reflect the position of Roxas, who would soon be appointed as the new chairman of the NEC as well as the secretary of finance.

II-3 Continuing Attempts to Establish a Central Bank, 1939–44

Roxas did not abandon his idea of changing the economic structure of the Philippine Islands after he was appointed as chairman of the NEC in August 1938, and subsequently secretary of finance on December 1, 1938. On January 4, 1939, he held a meeting with local bankers together with the NEC staff to discuss banking sector reform (Tribune, January 5, 1938, 1, 15). He did not invite anybody from foreign banks, because he expected that economic readjustments should be carried out in cooperation with local rather than foreign banks (ibid., 15). The local bankers Roxas invited included PNB President Vicente Carmona, Bank Commissioner Pedro de Jesus, BPI President Campos, and Philippine Bank of Commerce (PBC) President Cuaderno (ibid.). The PNB and BPI were the two biggest local banks, while the PBC was newly established in 1938.

Roxas’ plan, revealed on January 6, 1938, proposed overhauling the role of the PNB (Tribune, January 7, 1939, 1, 15). Roxas suggested that the government establish a commercial bank, convert the PNB into an investment bank, and “set up a reserve and discount department in the Philippine National Bank which will perform the same functions as those of the federal reserve system” (ibid.). It is impressive that Roxas did not refer to a specific name such as “central bank,” and that he did not advocate the establishment of an independent bank but proposed the setting up of a new department within the existing PNB.

His phraseology, however, did not reflect a retreat of the advocacy to establish a central bank. As a member of the JPCPA, he must have been familiar with the strong opposition from the United States, with whom Filipino policy makers had to negotiate to pass any act regarding currency issues under the Tydings-McDuffie Act. Roxas seemed to have chosen the least controversial way to propose a central bank under the circumstances. What he expected from the department was, however, an enhancement of the banking system and a reduction of interest rates, which were some of the roles Filipino policy makers had expected the central bank to play.

Later on, the bill to establish the Reserve Bank of the Philippines was completed. This time the bill was passed by the Philippine Assembly, signed by President Quezon, and became Commonwealth Act No. 458, “an act to provide for the establishment of a Reserve Bank in the Philippines,” on June 9, 1939 (Bureau of Banking 1940, 21). The Reserve Bank, whose design was taken from those of the newly established Bank of Canada and New Zealand (Cuaderno 1949, 4), would function as a central bank in the Philippines. The commonwealth government could not, however, implement the act immediately because it had to be approved by the American president. Again, Jones opposed the Filipinos’ attempts to establish a central bank (Jones to High Commissioner 1939, JWJ). He argued in a memorandum that Commonwealth Act No. 458 was against the general policy of the Office of the High Commissioner, which had been supported by President Quezon and recommended by the JPCPA as well (ibid., 1).

In the rest of his memorandum, Jones recorded the development of this move and mentioned Cuaderno’s name. Jones wrote that he had been told by A. D. Calhoun, manager of the Manila branch of the National City Bank of New York, that Secretary Roxas had pushed the Assembly to pass the bill despite Speaker Yulo’s skepticism. Jones also reported that “Mr. Mike Cuaderno of the Bank of the Commonwealth was the moving spirit behind the agitation. Mike is the more or less discredited former Vice-President of the Philippine Bank of Commerce [sic]” (ibid., 6). Jones’ hostility toward Cuaderno was obvious. After briefly mentioning the initiative without any comments on Roxas’ personality, he emphasized the role of Cuaderno, who was from one of “the small banks of the street owned by Filipinos,” and the uselessness—or even adverse effect—of Common­wealth Act No. 458 on the financial system (ibid.).

Cuaderno was, however, an established figure as a lawyer-banker in the 1930s. In addition to his job as the deputy manager of the PNB and his participation in the PEA, he was an elected delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1934 and became a member of the Committee of Seven, which drafted the constitution (Cuaderno 1937). At the convention, he again advocated the establishment of a central bank in the committee report, as the chair of the Committee on Currency and Banking (House of Representatives 1965, 52), although he could not convince other delegates to put the clause into the constitution. After resigning from the PNB in 1936, he became the head of the Finance Mining and Brokerage Company, which was designed as an investment business in the mining industry but was foreseen to become a bank providing financial support to other industries (Tribune, September 6, 1936, 13). Influenced by his work experience in Hong Kong, he nurtured a vision to promote manufacturing, rather than commerce, in his country.17)

In 1938 he established the PBC, the first private bank with Philippine capital (Reyes-McMurray 1998). The PBC was small in terms of quantum of business, but it played a significant role because it provided Filipino practitioners the opportunity to manage a bank, unlike most of the big banks, which were controlled by foreigners and did not provide Filipino workers with enough opportunities for banking experience. President Cuaderno of the PBC would become the first governor of the Central Bank. The first vice president of the PBC, Alfonso Calalang, became the third governor of the bank (ibid., 93).18) Sixto L. Orosa, one of the founding members of the PBC and a prominent banker in the postwar period, later recalled that the PBC was “the Alma Mater of Bankers” (Orosa 1988, 35–36). Jones’ aforementioned quote, however, failed to cite any of ­Cuaderno’s achievements and rather worked to discredit him.

In addition to Roxas and Cuaderno, Celeste, a founding member of the PEA as well as the first executive secretary of the NEC, took action to support the bill. There was a report on the history of the creation of the Central Bank written by a Japanese officer of the Southern Development Bank (Nampo Kaihatsu Kinko) in 1943 (Awano 1943). The book was, according to the postscript, based on A Reserve Bank of the Philippines written by a Dr. Celeste in 1940 (ibid., 44). It would not be misleading to assume that the author, Dr. Celeste, was Jose Celeste, considering his involvement in the proposal to establish a central bank. According to the author, Celeste mentioned the following four points as reasons to establish a central bank: the currency system’s dependence on the United States, the imperfection of the financial structure, the lack of a credit market, and the lack of investment credit (ibid., 1). The points Celeste mentioned reflected the argument of the previous proposals. The fact that Celeste wrote this document reflected his continuous commitment to the restructuring of the economy.

The act, however, did not receive support from President Quezon and the Assembly. Jones reported the following personal remark by President Quezon on Act No. 458 at a dinner held by the high commissioner. Asked about Act No. 458, Quezon told Jones:

To tell you the truth, Mr. Jones, I did not want to sign the bill. Joe [Speaker Jose Yulo] was not in favor of it particularly. I signed it because I did not wish to indicate any opposition to Roxas. I do not think the Bank will help us any. It is useless unless we have an independent currency. (Jones to High Commissioner, 1939, JWJ, 8)

What this conversation tells us is that Quezon signed the bill only because he did not want to show his opposition to Roxas. Quezon seemingly avoided any unnecessary confrontation with Roxas, who was still a man of influence—especially among politicians, having supported the Os-Rox mission in 1933—and might take over from Quezon in the years to come. Considering the lack of active support from the president, the National Assembly finally adopted a resolution to withdraw Act No. 458 from US government consideration on April 19, 1940 (Bureau of Banking 1941, 29).

Even after the failure of the Roxas plan, policy makers continued to advocate the establishment of a central bank whenever they had a chance. In 1941 Castillo published the first comprehensive textbook of economics in the Philippines, which he dedicated to Filipino students (Castillo 1949a).19) In the chapter on central banking, he summarized the historical development of central banking worldwide and reiterated its necessity in the Philippines (ibid., Ch. 19). In this context, he gave the following brief explanation: “The Reserve Bank of the Philippines would perform the traditional functions of a central bank and make possible the establishment of a banking system which could adequately and efficiently provide the credit needs of business” (ibid., 438). Here we can discern Castillo’s deepest convictions.

During World War II, he continuously advocated the establishment of the bank (Castillo 1943, 84–87). He said that the central bank would be “a responsible guardian of our monetary and credit system” (ibid., 84). He pointed out:

Already prices are rapidly increasing, bringing hardships to consumers and the country has not gotten the right weapons to combat a run-away inflation. . . . With the successive and unregulated issue of notes together with those already in circulation, bringing the total to around 300 million pesos as against about 241.5 million pesos before the war, coupled with economic scarcity, there is little hope that prices could be brought under effective control at present. (ibid., 86)

The Philippine Assembly, in fact, passed a bill to establish the central bank on February 29, 1944 (National Assembly 1943, 132–138; Cuaderno 1949, 4),20) but the bill was not implemented because of the objections of the Japanese, who feared losing the prerogative to issue military notes (Cuaderno 1949, 4). The diary of the Japanese ambassador to the Philippine Republic, Shozo Murata, recorded the last efforts of de las Alas and Castillo, who joined an official mission to Japan in April 1944 and appealed for the implementation of the bill (Fukushima 1969, 45–48). Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Cuaderno as the president of the PBC wrote to de las Alas to open the proposed central bank to curtail inflation in the Philippines (Cuaderno to de las Alas, 1944, MAR). Before the results of their appeals could be declared, the war was over. The agenda to establish a central bank was taken over by the Republic of the Philippines, in which Roxas and Quirino were elected president and vice president respectively while Cuaderno was appointed as the secretary of finance and Castillo became the secretary-economist.


Two policy changes of the US government prompted Filipino policy makers to perceive the existing constraints of policy-making and recognize the necessity to change the system of policy-making in 1933. First, the HHC Act drove Quirino and others to organize the PEA, a network of bureaucrats and professionals who shared common interests in economics, to study the economic consequences of political independence themselves. Second, the US government drastically changed its monetary policy to get out of its serious banking recession, and its policy change had certain impacts on the currency value of the Philippine peso. Although American colonial officers assumed the impact on the peso was negligible, Filipino policy makers regarded it as a crucial sign of the absence of autonomy.

Ideas that were irrelevant to the existing interest structure but emerged internationally encouraged Secretaries of Finance Singson and Quirino to propose the establishment of an autonomous currency system along with a central bank. The ideas were supported not only by Singson, who had been out of the center of political power, but also by Quirino, who had been a close aide of Quezon. They aimed to achieve autonomy in policy-making and to establish a suitable institution necessary for an independent state.

The commonwealth period witnessed continuous endeavors by Filipino policy makers to establish a central bank as well as consistent opposition by American colonial officers. The persistence of the proposal, despite objections and failures, testifies to the fact that the proposal was the creation not of a single individual but of a group of policy makers who were determined to work toward its realization. Roxas took over the proposal from former Secretaries Singson, Quirino, and de las Alas. The proposal grew as an agenda that no finance secretary could afford to avoid and which was worth addressing to attain renown as a new political leader. Professionals such as Castillo and Cuaderno, who scrutinized the issues and channeled the ideas into specific policy proposals, found like-minded partners in the Finance Department.

When we consider the development of the political process, we cannot overestimate the role the US government played in establishing the Central Bank of the Philippines after independence. It was true that Cuaderno collaborated with some American specialists when they pondered on a suitable design for a central bank in the Philippines. It was also true that Cuaderno and Roxas had to prevail over opposition from other Americans. History from the 1930s suggests that Filipino policy makers established the bank in spite of, but with help from, some Americans. Looking at the broader picture, the policy ­makers appeared to be beneficiaries of colonial state building but were never satisfied with the colonial status of the Philippines.

These findings lead to a reconsideration of our understanding of Philippine politics. First, the policy makers emerged from a changing political context rather than from the existing interest structure. Second, they took advantage of internationally accepted policy ideas to which American colonial officers paid little attention. Third, they were products of the US colonial state and yet at the same time promoters of Filipino nationalism to change the colonial structure. This study has thus revealed that the development of the colonial state spawned a group of policy makers who went beyond the realm of colonial administration. In sum, the setting up of the Central Bank was indispensable to the process of state building by Filipino policy makers.

Accepted: October 10, 2012


The writer appreciates comments on earlier drafts at the seminar on “Population Problems and Development Policy in the Philippines” organized by Associate Professor Suzuki Nobutaka (Tsukuba University), supported by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (Kyoto University), at Kyoto University on March 27, 2012; and at the round table discussion at the Third World Studies Center (University of the Philippines) on May 24, 2012. He is also grateful for comments on an earlier draft by Professor Yamamoto Nobuto (Keio University) and anonymous reviewers. The opinions and errors herein are, of course, his own.


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1) Historians mention the existence of attempts to establish a central bank in the 1930s (Golay 1997, 397; Nagano 2010, 46) but have not studied them in detail. Allan Lumba has studied relations between the emergence of an image of national economy and the establishment of the Central Bank of the Philippines (2008) but has not studied the actual involvement of policy makers in the 1930s.

2) “Insular government” was the name of the colonial government, while the Philippine government was called the government of the Republic of the Philippines. Although the Philippines became independent only in 1946, Filipino policy makers often assumed their government to be the government of the Filipino people. This writer uses “Insular government” to emphasize the viewpoint of American colonial officers and “Philippine government” to highlight the initiative by Filipino policy makers.

3) The appeal for economic nationalism was irrelevant to the agenda of the sugar industry. The sugar industry has been assumed to have had the strongest vested interest, pressuring politicians, including Quezon, to seek ways to maintain the status quo (Friend 1963; Golay 1997).

4) Abinales, however, concludes that the US colonial endeavor resulted in the creation of the foundation of the “cacique democracy” (Abinales 2005, 173), which is a type of “democracy” dominated by the cacique, or local landlord (e.g., Anderson 1988). This writer appreciates the kind suggestion of Professor Patricio N. Abinales (University of Hawai‘i) to refer to the insightful Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877–1920 (Skowronek 1982).

5) Osmeña and Roxas led the Philippine independence mission (Os-Rox mission) when the US Congress passed the HHC Act, while Quezon stayed behind in the Philippine Islands. Osmeña and Roxas could take the credit for winning the independence act and, therefore, prevail over Quezon (Agoncillo and Alfonso 1961; Friend 1965; Golay 1997).

6) The Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act was composed of the Hare Bill in the US House of Representatives and the Hawes-Cutting Bill in the US Senate and was sometimes referred to as the Hare Bill or Hawes-Cutting Bill.

7) The journalist and biographer Sol H. Gwekoh, in a biography of Quirino, wrote that Quirino organ­ized the PEA to study economic issues (Gwekoh 1949), while the authors of the PEA do not specify any single president or founder in the first pamphlet of the PEA (PEA 1933).

8) Gwekoh also mentioned that Quirino and Jose P. Laurel (later the president under Japanese military rule) were “the first two graduates of the University of the Philippines to be elected to the Senate and as the first English-speaking senators” (Gwekoh 1949, 30–31).

9) Araneta did not display an interest in any particular industry, although he would become close to the sugar industry in the 1950s (Takagi 2008). Gerardo Sicat recorded that Araneta disputed with representatives of the sugar industry in the 1960s (Sicat 2002, 2).

10) In August 1903 the pensionado system was introduced, under which “About 200 Filipinos were sent to the United States between 1903 and 1912” (Agoncillo and Alfonso 1961, 356).

11) Homepage of the Philippine Columbian Association

12) Regarding their comprehensive policy proposal, see the next section.

13) The Harry S. Truman Library keeps the J. Weldon Jones papers, which are a record of an influential American colonial officer, J. Weldon Jones. Professor Nagano Yoshiko (Kanagawa University) kindly shared her copies of the papers with this writer. This writer appreciates her generous support. Hereafter, materials from the collection are cited as follows in the text: (sender’s name to recipient’s name, written year, JWJ, page number/s). Details are provided in the reference list.

14) Castillo clearly distinguishes the gold bullion standard from the gold exchange standard (Castillo 1949a, 352–354).

15) The Philippine Insular government from the beginning paid attention to the example of other countries in its attempts at reshaping the banking industry. Nagano mentions that the government asked the American financial expert Edwin Kemmerer to study and make a report on the Agricultural Bank of Egypt when it designed the Agricultural Bank of the Philippine Government, which was established in 1908 and absorbed into the PNB in 1916 (Nagano 2003, 165–167).

16) Articles refer to the association as a society, but this writer prefers “association” based on the name of the PEA.

17) Interview with Martin C. Galan (Cuaderno’s grandson) in Makati, Metro Manila, on December 6, 2010.

18) Calalang was the third governor (BSP 1998), although Marisse Reyes-McMurray wrote that he was the second (Reyes-McMurray 1998, 93).

19) This writer uses the edition reprinted in 1949.

20) This writer is grateful to Professor Ricardo T. Jose (University of the Philippines) for kindly providing him with a copy of the National Assembly Bill.


Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 85-117
©Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

Vol. 3, No. 1, Agus Trihartono

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 1

Beyond Measuring the Voice of the People: The Evolving Role of Political Polling in Indonesia’s Local Leader Elections

Agus Trihartono*

* Graduate School of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University, 56-1 Toji-in Kitamachi, Kita-ku, Kyoto 603-8577, Japan

e-mail: atrihartono[at]gmail.com

Since 2005, political polling and the application of polls-based candidacy have been enormously influential and, in fact, have become vital for local leader elections (Pilkada), particularly in Indonesia’s districts and municipalities. The Golkar Party’s declaration that it was moving to polls-based candidacy created a domino effect, inducing other major political parties—such as the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, PAN), the Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat, PD), and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, PDIP)—to follow Golkar’s approach to contesting local constituencies. As polling becomes a new device for reforming the political recruitment process, political polling exercises have also unintendedly transformed into a means for waging a power struggle. Political actors have exploited polling as a tool for gaining a political vehicle, as a map for soliciting bribes, as a map for guiding the mobilization of votes, and as a means for inviting an indirect bandwagon effect. In short, political polling has moved beyond acting as a tracker of voters’ preferences to become a popular political device.

Keywords: political polling, local leader elections, democratization, Indonesia


Following the fall of Suharto in 1998, Indonesia embarked on an intensive project of local democratization. Under the banner of applying Law Number 32 of 2004 regarding “Regional Government,” local leaders—such as governors, district leaders (bupati), and mayors—were to be directly elected by the people for the first time in Indonesian political history. In particular, from June 2005 onward, Indonesia began experiencing two enormous waves of direct local leader elections (Pemilu Kepala Daerah, Pemilukada or Pilkada; hereafter Pilkada). The first episode was from mid-2005 to the beginning of 2009, and the second is still ongoing, beginning in late 2009 and extending to the beginning of 2014. From 2005 to 2008, Indonesia held no fewer than 500 Pilkada spanning all regions (Centre for Electoral Reform 2008). According to the Badan Pengawas Pemilu or Bawaslu (Election Monitoring Body), there were also approximately 244 Pilkada ­during the year 2010 (Indonesia, Badan Pengawas Pemilu [Bawaslu] 2011) and 116 Pilkada in 2011. In addition, from 2005 to 2010 more than 2,200 pairs of candidates ran for gubernatorial, bupati, and mayoral offices; there were also 333 pairs running for such offices in 2011 alone (ibid.). The implementation of Pilkada has resulted in the development of a remarkably vigorous local democracy, as indicated by the massive number of candidates and the frequency of elections. Judging from the large number of elections and candidates involved, Indonesia is unquestionably the country of elections.

One of the most important phenomena marking Pilkada has been the involvement of polling and other pollsters’ activities in these contests. The discussion of electoral politics in Indonesia has suddenly been filled with insider accounts of the results of polling activities,1) as polling has not only become a ubiquitous new fashion in local politics but has also noticeably colored the dynamics of local leader elections. It seems likely that political polling has become an integral part of almost every local leader election in Indonesia.

Previous seminal works addressing the topic of political polling in Indonesia have placed more emphasis on the mushrooming of polling at the national level (Mietzner 2009), the increasing role of pollsters as professionals (Mohammad Qodari 2010) or so-called polls-based political consultants,2) and the growing employment of political marketing that is the result of the presence of pollsters in the political arena (Ufen 2010). Those studies emphasize the impact of the presence of pollsters in the two national elections in 2004 and 2009. Although the involvement of polling and pollsters at the politically vibrant national level is headline-grabbing, previous works neglect the utilization of polling by political parties in attempting to identify electable candidates, as well as the fact that polling is used as a political weapon rather than a barometer of public sentiment.

Admittedly, the utilization and exploitation of polling in political history is not the newest phenomenon. In his classic seminal work more than 50 years ago, Louis Harris (1963), one of the key founders of polling, assertively foresaw that polls were “an important part of the arsenal of weapons used in modern American political campaigns.” R. A. Camp (1996) enthusiastically describes polling as a device that political leaders take advantage of for their own political interest, specifically to indicate successful platforms and increase their ability to defeat their opponents as well as to improve their political image. In a similar vein, Dennis Johnson (2001; 2009) and Christopher Wlezien and Robert Erikson (2003) view polling as being exploited by politicians to enhance their image during the campaign period. In short, it is not uncommon to take advantage of polling in political games.

However, in the context of Indonesia, one of the largest democratic countries in the world, a study discussing the development of public opinion polling and how it has been used (and exploited) seems exceptionally limited. While the importance of political polling in the consolidation of democracy in Indonesia has increased, the country has been neglected in discussions on the development of polling in both developed and developing democracies (Geer 2004; Carballo and Hjelmar 2008; Johnson 2009). Above all, in the context of Indonesia’s local politics, it seems no research so far has focused on issues such as the development, utilization, and exploitation of public opinion polling. Against this background, this study attempts to fill in the gap by demonstrating the extent of utilization and exploitation of polls in Indonesian politics, specifically in the era of Pilkada starting from 2005.

This paper suggests that political polling in local Indonesian politics has moved beyond its long-established use as an instrument to capture the so-called voice of the people. Even though from the beginning the development of polling in Indonesia was designed to consolidate democracy and to promote the previously neglected grassroots voice, this paper provides evidence that there has been an unintended transformation in the way polling is utilized. Local political players have exploited polling as a political instrument in their struggle for power. Polling is the most recent method by which political parties improve their political recruitment process at the local level. Polling also aids in campaign strategy, key decision making, developing winning strategies, and building up campaign communications. This study attempts to show that the use of polling is increasing, and that polling is gradually gaining acceptance as a sophisticated tool to obtain a political vehicle, a bribery map, and a voter mobilization map, and as a means for inviting an indirect bandwagon effect. While providing some cases from Pilkada in districts and municipalities of North Sumatra, East Java, and South Sulawesi in 2009 through 2011 will not permit generalization, this analysis sheds new light on the other side of political polling in the current dynamics of local Indonesian politics.

To explore the aforesaid argument, the paper is divided into three sections. The first briefly discusses local leader elections, political parties, and the significance of political polling in the age of Pilkada. The second section answers the question of why pollsters have participated in the fiesta of Indonesian local leader elections since 2005. The third elaborates on the use of political polling in Pilkada, specifically spotlighting how polling has become both a new candidacy mechanism and a new political weapon. Throughout this study, I attempt to demonstrate that the emerging role of political polling in the dynamics of contemporary Indonesian local politics has gone far beyond merely uncovering people’s preferences.

Pilkada, Political Parties, and Voters

The implementation of Pilkada was promoted as a means of deepening democratization and helping to consolidate democratic practices at the local level. Pilkada has provided local communities with important opportunities, as the emergence of grassroots national leaders has been followed by the appearance of local leaders who possess popular support (Leigh 2005). Furthermore, Pilkada has provided a space for the wider participation of society in the democratic process and a correction to the previous indirect system in that it supplies regional leaders of greater quality and accountability (Djohermansyah Djohan 2004). Finally, Pilkada also offers opportunities for the grassroots to actualize their political rights without worrying that they will be reduced by the interests of political elites.

There are several essential aspects of Pilkada that need to be highlighted. First, although the position of political parties is essential in Pilkada, there is an argument that Pilkada has made political parties weak in some ways (Choi 2009). Political parties are the most prominent and vital institutions in the current practice of local democracy, as their basic role is to recruit and provide cadres to participate in elections and to nominate candidates for administration in a “gate keeping position” (Schiller 2009, 152). In the political recruitment process, political parties make the initial selection of candidates and provide alternatives for voters in elections. Understandably, political parties are vital in the nomination process because candidates can be nominated only by them.

Second, since 2007, democracy at the local level has been revived following a key review by the Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi). This review was a legal consequence following the Constitutional Court ruling on July 23, 2007 that non-party candidates would be allowed to run in local elections subsequent to the post-conflict 2006 vote in Aceh Province that permitted local actors to run as independents. According to the review of Law Number 32 Year 2004, July 23, 2007, the court passed a petition regarding the process of non-party side nominations,3) known as the independent pathway (jalur independen). The review opened up the opportunity for candidates to run in elections without political party nomination.4) Considering that new development, therefore, at present Indonesia has two important and legitimate mediums through which political actors run for local elections, namely, the political party and the independent pathway.

Third, direct (local leader) elections have positioned voters as the premier judge in determining leaders. Voters have autonomy in electing a pair of local leaders inde­pendently. As we will discuss later, voters can even vote differently from their previous choice of party representatives in national and local legislatures. Consequently, responding to the “autonomy” of voters in electing candidates, the terms “popular,” “acceptable,” and “electable” are part of the vocabulary for candidates who struggle in contemporary local elections.

Finally, local elections are an indispensable arena for political parties to seize power. Following the implementation of decentralization at the local level, the authority given by the central government to local governments in managing financial and political resources has significantly increased. At the same time, lodging control of local government with local elites means the distance between those elites and their constituents has narrowed. Therefore, winning local elections is not understood simply as procuring control of local government but is also the means by which to be directly in touch with the acquisition and maintenance of political constituencies at the grassroots. In this sense, success in local elections is also about the survival and sustainability of political parties at the grassroots.

Accordingly, political parties have a strong rationale for extensive involvement in local elections. First, parties now recognize victory in local elections as an opportunity for their cadres to engage in the political learning process. For more than 32 years during the Suharto era, political parties were marginalized and impotent. According to Akbar Tanjung, a senior politician of the Golkar Party, during the Suharto era parties served as “cheerleaders” and as participants in political displays, as they did not have an arena in which to perform their traditional roles and functions regarding political recruitment and institutionalization.5) Second, political parties now consider success in local elections as an entry point for exercising executive power in each region. This realization is particularly important because executive positions are seen as part of a vital machine for the implementation of policies and political visions, as well as for providing access to financial and political resources. Finally, for young and minor political parties, which still have limited potential cadres to promote in the contestations, local leader elections are an arena for attracting potential and popular candidates from non internal party’s cadres to run under their flag.

In addition, the dynamics of local leader elections require political actors to understand changes in voting behavior. While we cannot generalize that all things are equal in all Pilkada, as in some cases voting behavior has special characteristics—particularly in areas of conflict such as Aceh, Poso, and Papua—significant changes in voting be­havior are evident in local leader elections. Departing from a class perspective, some scholars, for instance, started to question the weight of the political sects (politik aliran) approach (Hadiz 2004a; 2004b). Utilizing regression analysis, the works of politik aliran, religious affinity, regions, ethnicity, and social class of voting behavior in the post-Suharto democracy have been also questioned (Saiful Mujani and Liddle 2004; 2009; Saiful Mujani et al. 2012). Furthermore, political behavior is obviously different now compared with the 1950s (Saiful Mujani 2004). Regarding the significant changes, thus, the strategy for facing current Pilkada cannot be based merely on conventional ideas regarding the importance of political sects, political machines, and political patrimonialism.

Contemporary Pilkada are not only important for local people to have the opportunity to directly select their leaders; Pilkada necessitate political adjustments in local actors’ strategies to account for the large shift in local political dynamics. The new political dynamic has also provided an entry point for pollsters and political polling to play a role in an evolving set of political games, as pollsters are seen as one of the most capable actors in detecting and measuring new trends in voting behavior.

Therefore, there is a symbiotic mutualism between local players and pollsters that represents the new dynamics in local leader elections. According to Heri Akhmadi6) and Akhmad Mubarok,7) senior politicians in the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, PDIP) and the Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat, PD), political parties and pollsters are pillars that support each other as ­couples, striving to fulfill each other’s needs. Moreover, with the new circumstances in local contests, pollsters have been the most reliable means to detect fundamental changes in voting behavior. In short, pollsters fill the hole left by this new reality and play a notably significant role in local contests.

Polling in Local Elections

As previously mentioned, the increased involvement of political polling in local leader elections coincided with the first cycle of Pilkada that began in 2005. Before 2005, there were few pollsters in Indonesia. For instance, in the 1999 general elections there were five pollsters conducting polls at the national level: the Resource Productivity Center; the International Foundation for Election Systems; the Jakarta-based Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education, and Information (Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Sosial, LP3ES); the Kompas newspaper; and the Political Laboratory of the University of Indonesia (Komite Pemberdayaan Politik-Lab Politik UI) (Lembaga Survei Indonesia 2004, 30–31). In addition, before the 2004 general elections there were some pollsters involved in national pre-election polling, such as the Center for Islamic Studies and Society (Pusat Pengkajian Islam dan Masyarakat), the Indonesian Survey Institute (Lembaga Survei Indonesia, LSI), Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate (SSS), and Danareksa Research Institute. There were also media polls, such as the R&D of Kompas Daily (Litbang Kompas), polls by SMS (short message system) of the SCTV (Surya Citra Televisi), and tele-polling of MARS Indonesia (ibid., 47–54). Although the number of pollsters and their activities were obvious, as Kuskridho Ambardi, executive director of the Jakarta-based LSI, illustrated, polls in this period were not part of widely accepted political, social, and economic discussions as many party men were still unaware and rejected the idea that polls should be included in a shared democratic vocabulary. At the time, political actors and mass media exposed doubts regarding the value and political influence of polls.8)

Following the first wave of local leader elections starting in 2005, the number of pollsters mushroomed, including those participating in Pilkada, such as media pollsters (Republika, Bisnis Indonesia, etc.), political party pollsters (i.e. the PDIP’s Rekode), and national and local pollsters.9) Moreover, media coverage of polling was massive, and the publication of polling results was also intensive, which led to a “survey fever” in Indonesian politics nationally and locally.

The earliest involvement of polling activities in local politics was in the first local leader elections in Kutai Kartanegara, held on June 1, 2005. The duo of Syaukani Hasan Rais and Samsuri Aspar took the assistance of the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.10) Further, the election for the governor of Banten Province in November 2006 marked the beginning of the “war” among national pollsters in Pilkada, as many national pollsters became involved in the contest.11) The vigorous participation of pollsters in Pilkada has come to the fore ever since the Golkar Party officially invited pollsters to become a central instrument in its polls-based candidacy, which began in December 2005, under the banner of the party’s Operational Guidelines (Juklak, ­Petunjuk Pelaksanaan) Number 2 Year 2005.12) From those moments, polling has been omni­present in Pilkada.

The application of polling in direct local leader elections has raised the expectation that polling itself strengthens and supports the development of local democracy. In other words, political polling is thought to encourage political actors to hear the previously neglected voices of local communities, and to create visions and frameworks that reflect people’s opinions. The utilization of polling, therefore, has created great optimism that the government and political actors will be encouraged to be more responsive to popular perspectives. In particular, it is thought that polling promotes the emergence of local leaders in closer touch with community preferences.13) Consequently, it is believed that those policies and platforms that are contrary to popular aspirations will be abandoned.

In practice, political parties and candidates utilize polling to improve their adaptation to a new local political environment by engaging in such activities as the following: (1) mapping the most favorable program to attract voters’ support; (2) evaluating the performance of the incumbent; (3) measuring the degree of popularity, acceptability, and electability of both political parties and potential candidates; (4) identifying party identification among voters and swing voters; (5) observing which media are most appropriate for socialization; (6) determining how candidates should socialize with voters; (7) scrutinizing the whom, the where, and the why of potential supporters and rivals; and finally (8) testing the waters and mapping strategies for minimizing possible losses.14) Last but not least, political parties and candidates view polling outcomes as the ultimate factor in deciding whether or not to continue running for election. By doing so, political actors can minimize their losses and failures.

With regard to Pilkada, there are four types of pollsters that have played a role in local contests. The first are national pollsters. Almost all national pollsters are key players in local leader elections. Prominent names, such as the LSI, the Indonesian Survey Circle (Lingkaran Survei Indonesia), Indo-Barometer, Cirrus Surveyor Indonesia, National Survey Institute (Lembaga Survei Nasional), and Indonesian Vote Network (Jaringan Suara Indonesia), have increased the vibrancy of local elections. The second type of pollsters are local pollsters that are part of national organizations. These institutions have an organizational relationship with the “parent” pollsters in their headquarters. Examples are the 34 local partner institutions of the Indonesian Survey Circle, which are also incorporated in the Indonesian Association for Public Opinion Research (Asosiasi Riset Opini Publik Indonesia, AROPI).15) The third type are local pollsters who initially operated as individuals working with national pollsters but later, having gained the skills and knowledge required for public opinion polling and political consultancy, decided to become independent and set up their own local polling organizations. Examples are the Makassar-based Adhyaksa Supporting House and the Makassar-based Celebes Research and Consulting. Adhyaksa Supporting House worked together with the Indonesian ­Survey Circle to assist the pair consisting of Syahrul Yasin Limpo and Agus Arifin Nu’mang in the 2007 South Sulawesi gubernatorial elections.16) Meanwhile, the head of Celebes Research and Consulting previously worked at the LSI. The last type of pollsters are “independent” local pollsters. These pollsters have from the beginning worked on their own: acquiring the necessary skills, understanding polling methods, and conducting surveys. They have developed and expanded a specific market segment. These pollsters have no relations with pollsters at either the organization or the network level. Examples include the Surabaya-based Research Center for Democracy and Human Rights (Pusat Studi Demokrasi dan Hak Azasi Manusia, Pusdeham); the Makassar-based Insert Institute, Yayasan Masagena, and Script Survey Indonesia; and the Medan-based Inter-Media Study.

Local Leader Elections: Pollsters’ New Realm

In general, pollsters have realized that local leader elections are attractive because they provide opportunities to bet on the new arena of political contests. Because local leader elections are numerous and spread out in various areas, the elections have provided new ground on which pollsters can survive, obtain significant financial benefits, and even attain a sphere of influence.

In comparison, national elections (both general and presidential), though note­worthy, attention-grabbing, and having significant financial impact, attract only the biggest and fittest pollsters. Therefore, there have been only a few outstanding pollsters who have become involved in and taken advantage of these two principal national events. National elections require more than just skills and wills; they require such technical factors as a significant survey network that permeates the country, a high degree of professionalism, and the capacity to cover the high cost of a national survey. These are among the factors behind the low participation rate of pollsters in national contests. In addition, the national election is a ruthless judge of pollsters’ credibility because the results, particularly pre-election polling and quick counts, are directly tested by the public, openly examined by the mass media, and critically discussed in academic circles. Simply put, polling outcomes are scrutinized and compared to the official vote count of the Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum, KPU). Consequently, the publication of polling results means laying a bet not only on the credibility but also on the sustainability of a pollster’s activity. The ability to accurately predict the outcome of an election is one of the pollster’s pillars of credibility. Although polling is not an instrument for predicting election results, if polling results are significantly different from the actual results of the election it spells disaster for the pollster’s credibility. A pollster named Information Research Institute (Lembaga Riset Informasi, LRI), also known as Johan Polls, was closed down after it failed to predict the outcome of the 2009 presidential election. The LRI released the results of surveys conducted in the 15 most populous provinces, involving 4,000 to 12,000 respondents per province. Based on the polling, LRI confidently predicted that the 2009 presidential election would go to the second round. In fact, in the presidential election held on July 8, 2009 the SBY-Budiono pair had a landslide victory in the first round (60 percent). This failure to predict an accurate result led the owner of the LRI to close the office for good.17) This tale will not soon be forgotten in the Indonesian pollster community’s collective history. Thus, in national elections, it seems that accuracy is the ultimate test that accounts for the rise and fall of pollsters.

Unlike the case of national pollsters, for local pollsters Pilkada represent the future of their existence. Local leader elections seem to provide opportunities for all kinds of pollsters: prominent national pollsters, national pollsters who do not participate in national elections, and even local pollsters with limited capacity all come to enjoy the “feast of local democracy.” In addition, local leader elections absorb many kinds of pollsters who wield, methodologically speaking, good, bad, and ugly techniques. Even the image and credibility of a pollster seems not to be critical in the context of local leader elections. A pollster that does not always succeed in local polling is still able to advertise in the national newspaper claiming to be the most successful pollster in the country, without any significant objection from the public. The public does not easily recall the failures of pollsters in local leader elections because, on average, there is a local leader election every two days.

Second, although polling in local leader elections is not profitable compared to polling in national elections, judging from their enormous number the former appear to provide enough financial resources for pollsters to survive and continue their operations. Not only have pollsters gained significant financial profit, but many rely solely on Pilkada for their wealth and fame. For some pollsters, local elections provide the only opportunity for financial benefit, as they cannot compete in national polling. Most important, the wave of local leader elections is attractive because it is truly a huge market. To make a simple calculation, in the first wave of Pilkada, for instance, in one round of local leader elections for governors, bupati, and mayors, there were approximately 510 elections with more than 1,500 pairs of candidates. Furthermore, the average number of pairs involved in elections has increased in the ongoing second cycle that lasts until 2014. According to Juklak 2/2009, for instance, the Golkar Party requires three surveys for every local election, which means the party conducts at least 1,530 political surveys. Moreover, the PD and the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, PAN) require at least one survey during the nomination process. Meanwhile, the PDIP is beginning to consistently utilize polling for candidates to support the party’s decision to nominate local leader candidates. If we include polling conducted individually by candidates and businessmen, the number is significantly larger. Moreover, the potential market is not exclusively for pre-election polls/surveys but also includes quick surveys, quick counts, quick real counts, exit polls, and political consultation.18) Most important, pollsters’ activities in local leader elections are quite simple and manageable, requiring no large surveyor networks and costs, and fitting within local areas, customs, and cultures. Finally, several cases demonstrate that successful pollsters that predict the winning local candidates gain not just money but also access to power and/or projects in the local area.19)

Another factor influencing pollsters that are intensively involved in local leader elections is that supportive funding from foreign donors has mostly ended. Previously, between the 1990s and 2005, certain pollsters received operational funding from external donors to support their daily activities under the banner of developing democracy in Indonesia; for example, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) supported the LSI from 2003 to 2005.20) In 2004, almost all institutions, including the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, and LP3ES, saw the end of financial support from foreign donors. This development required pollsters to search for alternative funding to run their programs. The wave of local leader elections since 2005 has provided a significant alternative funding opportunity for pollsters.

To conclude, the huge market, the simplicity of managing local polling, and the end of some foreign donors’ support in 2005, as well as the invitation from political parties to engage in political and strategic adaptation, as we will discuss next, has led national and local pollsters to engage in the dynamics of local leader elections.

Instrument of Local Political Games

This section highlights the importance of the ongoing use of polling with regard to local political games. Polling is increasingly being used by political parties and other local political players in Pilkada. Political parties have started to utilize polling in the process of identifying candidates. However, at the same time, local political players such as candidates and local elites have also started to take advantage of polling as a tool for obtaining a political vehicle, a bribery map, and a voter mobilization map, and as a means for inviting the indirect bandwagon effect.

A Tool of Political Parties: Evolving Polls-based Candidacy

Responding to the change from indirect to direct local leader elections in the Indonesian election system, political parties began to consider adjusting to polls-based candidacy for winning those elections or at least minimizing failure and defeat. Previously, the nomination process for local leader elections was based on both the iron law of oligarchy with regard to local elites and the influence of “money politics.” Under this situation, a candidate was in a better position if he or she was part of the local political elite or possessed capital by which to procure a political party as a kendaraan politik (literally, a “political vehicle”). Accordingly, to obtain a political vehicle, candidates paid party elites for approval, a phenomenon known as political dowry (mahar politik). The latter is an amount of money that stands as a symbol of agreement between the party elite and the candidate so that the party or parties nominate the political actor as the only candidate to run in the election. In some cases, the giving of political dowry also means that candidates pay all the costs of both the election nomination process and the campaign. During this time, “money talks” politics, mixed with the influence of the elites’ and local bosses’ weight and approval, are not only the first element in the nomination process but to some extent are really the only game in town.

The period of Pilkada, which started in June 2005, has changed the local political landscape by emphasizing that politics is no longer centered merely on local elites. Instead, local direct elections provide greater room for the will of the people to be the new political epicenter. Unfortunately, most political parties were not ready to adjust to this new environment. Many parties, including major ones such as Golkar, held old views in facing the new situation: they assumed the effective working of the political machine and patrimonialism. Parties in general did not have any idea how to respond to the ­modern political challenges until they suffered defeats in the early stages of new direct local leader elections. For instance, the champion of the 2004 general elections, the Golkar Party, was beaten in almost 70 percent of local leader elections up until December 2005.21)

Responding to those embarrassing defeats in the early stages of the first cycle of Pilkada, the Golkar Party revised its implementation guidelines (Juklak) for short-listed candidates to take advantage of polling techniques. Golkar declared in December 2005 that it would rely on polling as the primary method for identifying candidates in local leader elections (Juklak 5/2005) and invited pollsters to assist the party in determining and selecting candidates. Golkar determined that it would examine the public acceptability of a candidate through periodic polling because it wanted to nominate the most popular and least disliked candidates. In Golkar’s understanding, the use of polling in the determination of prospective candidates would seem to increase the party’s success rate in local leader elections.

The Golkar way of polls-based candidacy created a domino effect, spurring other political parties to also utilize polling as a new device in reforming the selection process and improving strategies for winning local leader elections. The PAN in 2006 decided, based on the national meeting held that year, to utilize polling as part of its process for identifying candidates. The PD in 2007 also turned to a pollster for help with its candidate identification and nomination processes. Finally, although it had unofficially and partially utilized polling since 2006, the PDIP officially decided in 2010 to take advantage of political polling as part of the party’s decision-making process.22) Among the main reasons why parties utilize polling is the need to modernize the party, minimize money politics in local candidate selection, and reduce potential conflicts among political actors. Another reason is that political parties need to adapt to new situations in order to maintain their relevance in society.

1. Golkar Party

Golkar is one of the parties that have consistently applied polling in the recruitment of prospective regional leaders. The Golkar Party issued its Operational Guidelines Number 5 in 2005 and strengthened those guidelines in the most current version (Juklak Number 2 in 2009) (Dewan Pimpinan Pusat Partai Golkar 2009a). The new guidelines require that the National Assembly of Party Leaders (Dewan Pimpinan Pusat, DPP) select the most electable candidate based on polling outcome. In particular, the new guidelines require polling to be undertaken at least three times during the candidacy process. The guidelines also clearly divide the work between the party and the pollsters. Pollsters have been given a strong and independent role in measuring the popularity, acceptability, and electability of candidates, all important ingredients in the nomination process.

In Table 1, it can be seen that the party incorporates polling throughout the candidate nomination process. Among the 14 steps making up the candidacy process, almost half are handled by professional pollsters.

Since the Golkar Party decided to utilize polling, the party has hired at least three independent pollsters and polls-based political consultants. All polling activities were undertaken by the Indonesian Survey Circle in 2005, the LSI in 2006, and Indo-­Barometer in 2008. Political consulting services were provided by the Indonesian Survey Circle and Indo-Barometer. Meanwhile, from the beginning, the LSI consistently worked only on polling.

The new system has, on the one hand, led to a significant degree of displeasure in the Golkar’s local cadres, as it is seen as a re-centralization of the decision making of nominating candidates. Seen in this way, the involvement of pollsters has strengthened the domination of the DPP over the DPD in the candidacy process. The new system indicates a centralization of political recruitment. On the other hand, the new guidelines have had a somewhat significant impact on the party’s success rate in local leader elections. From January 2006, soon after the Golkar guidelines were implemented, until the end of the year Golkar won more than 64 percent of the 75 elections it participated in. After utilizing polling, the party’s achievements in gubernatorial elections were better than they had been in 2005. Golkar won 46.8 percent of elections at all levels of the first wave of Pilkada.23) Up until December 2008 Golkar had won 42.42 percent of all elections held at the district and municipal levels and 25 percent of all elections held at the provincial level. It is also interesting to note that 72 percent of Golkar’s achievements after 2006 were made through coalitions with other parties. This provides evidence that polling led Golkar to improve its winning strategy by increasing cooperation with other parties (coalition) to significantly achieve victory in the first cycle of Pilkada.

2. National Mandate Party

Since 2006, the National Mandate Party (PAN) has applied a new approach to invite prospective candidates. Unlike the previous approach, where the party selected only the internal party’s cadres, following its 2006 national meeting the PAN opened the possibility for outsiders (non-internal party cadres) to apply for nomination in local leader elections under the flag of the party. This decision challenged previous mechanisms, which emphasized that only the original candidates were to be supported by the party, with no room for outsiders. Accordingly, the party incorporated elements of political polling as a key part of the candidacy process. The new approach in the candidacy process is as outlined in Table 2.

Table 2 shows that polling is an essential factor in deciding which candidates the party will support. To gain the optimum outcome, the party also requires two other qualities of its candidates—namely, integrity and capacity—as part of its final decision. Yet, “electability” is most important among the candidacy criteria.24) Regarding this new approach, Viva Yoga Muladi, the former deputy secretary-general of the PAN, highlighted that the new system was designed mainly to foster party modernization and to make the party more rational and inclusive.25) Most important, implementing polls-based candidacy was intended to prevent the political tendency of using the party as merely a “rental” political vehicle in elections. Moreover, the inclusion of polling in the nomination phase has allowed anybody, whether a party’s cadre or an outsider, to gain the support of the party based on his or her potential to win the election.

The role of polling was strengthened after Drajat Wibowo, the academic wing of the party, and Aria Bima Sugiarto, the former executive director of the Jakarta-based pollster Charta-Politica, achieved the top-ranking positions of the DPP in the present era of the Hatta Rajasa administration. These two men are the figures behind the emerging role of polling in the party. To support the thorough modernization of PAN, party elites are in the process of creating internal pollsters as a strategic instrument to be wielded in both local and general elections.

Regarding the employment of polling in the party’s candidacy process, one of the main rationales was that until December 2005 the party was a notable loser in elections. The party failed to succeed, or to be part of the winning coalition, in 86 percent of elections up to 2005. After the implementation of the new procedure of Winning the Local Leader and Vice Leader Elections, PAN started to employ polling to help its candidacy. As a result, the party experienced a dramatic improvement in performance: it won individually, or as part of the winning coalition, in 32 percent of elections in 2006, 22 percent in 2007, and 23 percent in 2008.26) The contribution of the new procedure has been that polling outcomes, for instance, have guided the party to take the principal position in 64 winning coalitions in 273 elections from 2006 to 2008. In other words, the surveys have assisted the party in seeking opportunities and developing coalitions with other parties that carry electable candidates.

3. Democratic Party

Two years after the wave of local leader elections, the Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat, PD) issued an organization rule (Peraturan Organisasi) on February 9, 2007, that specifically regulated the implementation of the mechanism for choosing candidates for local leader elections. Under the new rule, the party decided to follow the path of polls-based candidacy prior to elections. Incorporating polling in a party’s decision-making process is seen as a realistic policy for the PD. As a relative newcomer compared to other major political parties, the PD has only a few grassroots support groups and does not possess many reliable and capable original cadres to boost its performance. Therefore, polling has become not only a device to ensure that the party supports the candidate with the greatest chance of winning, but also an instrument to seek potential political actors to be included in the party as part of local and national party development. Polling results are also designed to help the party make political alliances and coalitions at the local level with the most appropriate party, even with a party that it generally opposes.27) All these measures ensure that the party plays a part in running the local government.28)

The PD decided to adopt the new mechanism of polling under the rationale of improving political performance.29) The old system of selecting candidates for local leader elections was allegedly vulnerable to the abusive politics of “buying a boat” (literally membeli perahu, or “buying a political vehicle”); many such cases were internally detected.30) Therefore, under the new regulation number 02/2007, the function of Team 9 (three people from the DPP, three from the DPD, and three from the DPC to verify which candidates will run for elections) has been improved by incorporating polling in the process. As seen in Table 3, independent polling has assisted Team 9 in identifying potential candidates. The results are submitted to the DPP to be examined and approved.

Table 3 Candidacy Process of Democratic Party


Until December 2005 the PD had won only one election—in Toraja District, South Sulawesi—and shared in 8.2 percent of all coalitions of ruling parties in 2005. However, after the party implemented the polling mechanism in March 2007, its share increased to 13.64 percent of the winning coalition in 2007 and 16.23 percent in 2008. The winning rate after the introduction of polling was almost double (15.6 percent) compared to the rate in the first year of Pilkada in 2005 (8.02 percent). Considering that the PD is a novice in local political games, this achievement cannot be overlooked. Moreover, the party has been the backbone of two governors in politically strategic areas, namely, East Java and the capital, Jakarta.31) In short, the achievement suggests that polling is an effective compass for a party facing new dynamics in local elections.

4. Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle

In May 2010 the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) officially decided to include polling outcomes in the mechanism it used to select candidates, a decision that has provided new opportunities for electable candidates to gain approval whether or not they are proposed from the bottom. The PDIP is beginning to include the public’s voice in its centralized decision-making process,32) especially in nominations for local leader elections. Currently, the decision-making process of the PDIP for determining candidates to contest elections is centralized in the DPP. Although proposals of candidates could always come from below, from the Regional Assembly of Party Leaders (DPD), the final decision in determining candidates is taken at a meeting of the DPP. The DPP might accept the DPD’s proposal based on the decision taken at the special meeting of the assembly of local party leaders (Rapat Kerja Cabang Khusus, Rakercabsus). However, in practice, the DPP can decide to choose candidates different from those recommended by the Rakercabsus meeting. The DPP has the prerogative to make final decisions.

Regarding the use of polling, it should be noted that determining candidacy through polling mechanisms improves the system in that it reduces the contraction of the party due to losses in elections. Moreover, polling has brought a novel atmosphere into the party’s decision-making process because it has, to some extent, balanced the prerogative powers of the general chairperson, Megawati Sukarnoputri.33)

The party’s candidacy process is shown in Table 4.

For the PDIP, polling is as an essential factor in determining candidacy. Although the party’s final decisions on candidacy have relied totally on the prerogative of the DPP so far, polling has enabled the PDIP to have more choices in making rational and objective decisions. Polling is now inevitably utilized in the current political ambience, and the PDIP has taken this as a party adjustment to handle direct elections. Accordingly, ­Ganjar Pranowo, a senior PDIP politician, highlights the necessity of the party to consider polling: “The PDIP cannot ignore polling as it is inevitable in the current political dynamics. In particular, if the party is not ready to face the new realities and does not make adequate improvements and adjustments in political recruitment, polling firms can help it not only to be superior in political recruitment but also to pose a significant threat to its political rivals.”34)

The aforementioned suggests that the electoral system directly affects how political parties have begun to change the political epicenter from the elites to the public. The institutionalization of political polling seems to have improved the processes within parties, as the polling outcomes serve to guide the party’s decisions. However, the evidence also shows that the weight of public preference measured by polling is still used for the sake of winning elections, especially in the selection of prospective candidates and the creation of a winning strategy.

In a similar vein, the following discussion would seem to indicate how political actors also make use of polling in pragmatic ways. They are more interested in exploiting the polls as a political weapon for the sake of political victory rather than hearing the public’s sentiments.

Device for Obtaining a Political Vehicle

In the party-candidate relationship in Pilkada, it is clear that getting funds is a primary purpose behind the party’s choice of candidate (Buehler and Tan 2007, 41–69). Specifically, mahar politik works as the first element in the nomination process. However, direct elections have raised the hope that through Pilkada the conservative nomination process will fade away to some extent. As major parties began applying polling as part of their political recruitment process, the desire to push the candidate closer to public preferences was obvious. The closer the candidate was to the public’s approval, the greater the opportunity to be the winner—this is the new idiom in Indonesian local direct elections.

Polling results have become one of the candidate’s important instruments in dealing with political parties.35) Parties are more welcoming of candidates who are likely to win, and they are willing to offer them a political vehicle. This was illustrated in the 2010 mayoral election of Sibolga city, North Sumatra, where one of the candidates used polling results to solicit the support of political parties and was able to obtain a political vehicle; he received the majority support of 18 political parties without having to spend a significant sum of money.36) Sarfi Hutauruk was formerly a Golkar Party cadre and was involved in the party’s nomination process, a prerequisite for being a Golkar candidate for the mayoral election of Sibolga city. However, in the selection process Hutauruk was not nominated as a Golkar candidate as the party’s polling results indicated that his electability was lagging behind that of his rival, Afifi Lubis. Consequently, the party nominated Afifi Lubis as its candidate in the mayoral election.

His failure to garner the Golkar Party nomination led Hutauruk to consider the support of other parties. Before applying for other parties’ nominations, he hired a Medan-based local pollster for the purpose of testing the waters and measuring his electability. He found that in four months, based on two polls, his electability rate increased and approached Afifi Lubis’s. In the last poll, three months before the KPU registration deadline, the results showed that Hutauruk’s electability was higher than Afifi Lubis’s: 43 percent versus 41 percent. Armed with this electability rate, Hutauruk applied to several political parties in Sibolga to get a political vehicle; he did not apply to the Golkar Party, which was being used by Afifi Lubis. Utilizing the polling “card,” he convinced political party leaders to back him in his run for mayor. He not only got the support of 18 political parties but won the Pilkada held on May 12, 2010, in one round. Hutauruk gained 45 percent of the votes; Afifi Lubis won 40 percent.

Another substantial change following the implementation of polling has been the minimization of party pressure on candidates. It has traditionally been common for political parties to view candidates who are seeking a political vehicle as an ATM.37) However, when polls show that a certain candidate is a likely winner, that reduces the tendency of political parties to charge the candidate large sums of money—or to treat the candidate as an ATM—to get a political vehicle and political support. The cost becomes negotiable and flexible, depending on the candidate’s electability. Although the so-called mahar politik is not completely absent, as it still functions as a lubricant in the nomination process, the change is in the amount and the time frame. Thus, for candidates who have an excellent chance of winning as indicated by polling results, money is still a concern but is not first on the agenda.38) The amount of pressure political parties place on candidates decreases in line with the candidates’ possibility of winning. The local branch leader of a leading political party in a district of South Sulawesi Province noted that for the “convincing candidate,” the amount of mahar was no more than roughly the amount needed for campaign logistics.39) On the other hand, in the case of the PD, for example, more than 75 percent of the money paid by the approved candidate was returned to be used for campaign logistics.40) Furthermore, a candidate who is the most likely to win actually has better bargaining power in terms of choosing a political vehicle. Such a candidate has the opportunity to obtain the approval of a party without spending too much “lubricant.”41) A successful local leader in Sulawesi, for instance, suggested that the position of a prospective candidate was robust in dealing with local political parties.42) A prospective leader does not only avoid being exploited as an ATM; to some extent, he or she may have the opportunity to select a party or parties as a political vehicle, not vice versa.

Nonetheless, as factors such as popularity, acceptability, and electability become vital in the nomination process, many candidates conduct their own polls and some manipulate the results. Since polling outcomes can help boost the relationship between candidates and political parties, some candidates request polling merely to gain a political vehicle. A fraction of candidates hire a credible pollster to truly test the waters. Other candidates, to obtain the leading percentage of polling results, commission pre-­nomination “tricky polls” to place themselves in an advantageous position.43) In this sense, these candidates do not overtly manipulate the results of the polling but they do set its parameters to, for example, limit the number of candidates and select the names included in the list so as not to endanger themselves in the final results.44) Simply put, to obtain an advantage from polling results, certain candidates pay unreliable pollsters, reduce the number of candidates tested, and exclude potential rivals from the polls.45) Through various means, candidates create polls to suit their purposes and use the results of such polls as a valuable bargaining tool to obtain a political vehicle in local leader elections.

Bribery Map

Local leader elections are sometimes marked by bribes to influence voters or community leaders to give support to and vote for certain candidates. Such bribery, commonly known as serangan fajar (literary “sunshine attack”), refers to money or goods that are usually distributed among voters early in the morning of the day of local leader elections.

One surprising use of polling is to create a map to plan for a sunshine attack. Political polling is normally considered to be an instrument for calculating a candidate’s level of support and for gauging a community’s desires. Nevertheless, with a simple one-step modification, polling can provide information to a candidate regarding the potential for vote buying and the particular areas in which such expenditures are necessary or useful.46) In special circumstances, polling identifies the area to target and the amount of money needed, as well as the way in which best to distribute the money.47) This method also identifies other factors that could sway votes and determines whether money affects voters’ choices. Simply put, the survey creates a map that describes areas that can be “bought” and areas that should be “neglected.”48)

Some candidates have become aware of the ability of polling to provide information useful for creating a bribery map. Although not all pollsters, particularly not academic and idealistic pollsters, agree to conduct surveys that include questions to identify a sunshine attack area, there are other pollsters that, without a doubt, offer to supply candidates with information relevant to such money politics.49) With a bribery map, candidates are able to identify how they can win the election not by gaining an absolute majority but by obtaining a mere simple majority. The map makes preparing a sunshine attack more efficient, because the amount that needs to be paid can be accurately calculated and its disbursement can be well organized, so that candidates can then “buy” only areas that are required to be bought.

According to a successful local leader candidate in East Java, a well-known pollster in the region has helped candidates understand in which area a sum of money should be distributed, how much on average, and by which means.50) A bupati (district leader) in South Sulawesi was tremendously impressed with the capacity of polling to generate recommendations for the effective use and efficient distribution of capital, thereby allowing money to be spent on the correct targets. The bupati even stated that polling had guided the delivery of bribes to precise targets. Assisted by polling results, a vice bupati was surprised to find that in his district there were certain areas where only the “Sarung and Mukena” (praying outfit), not money, was an effective buy-off for a sunshine attack.51) In addition, a party leader in East Java noted that polling provided a comprehensive map for both a “sunshine attack and an anti-sunshine attack.” The polling indicated which areas were controlled by a candidate or party and were their occupied “territory.” Using information provided by the map, political parties could decide which areas needed to be “guarded” and which needed to be “attacked.” Accordingly, the candidates’ success team deployed militant followers to keep their “territory” safe from the possibility of a sunshine attack by other candidates.52) In short, the creation of a polls-based bribery map can help a candidate to implement “modern” vote buying.

Voter Mobilization Map

Since the implementation of direct elections, there have been high expectations that voters with complete “autonomy” would determine the candidate most worthy of election. In fact, the current system of direct election still leaves room for the application of voter mobilization in some other ways. Voter mobilization is usually conducted by political actors utilizing parties’ militant followers, mass organizations, and even preman (thugs) to ensure that voters come to the polling station to vote. Voter mobilization is done directly and indirectly. Direct voter mobilization is when voters are visited and persuaded to take part in a ballot for preferred candidates. Indirect voter mobilization is when attempts are made to influence voters’ point of view with information so that their political decisions are in line with the interests of the political party concerned.

Until the end of 2005, elites’ guidance for voter mobilization came mostly from local networks, political party assessment, elites’ intuition, and information from the grassroots.53) However, along with the presence of polling in the Pilkada, political actors saw the opportunity to exploit polling to gain data for making an accurate map to guide voter mobilization. Some local politicians named this a “mobilization map.” Besides figuring out the possibility and the factors for swinging votes in a community, an overall map shows the areas that have been occupied, areas that are dominated by opponents, and areas that are still contested, as well as (most important) the extent of possible voter participation.54) This polls-based voter mobilization map is used as a guide for carrying out mobilization. It helps the candidate in protecting occupied areas and penetrating opponents’ areas. In the area that the preferred candidate has an advantage according to the map, voters are encouraged to come to polling stations and vote for the candidate. However, in areas controlled by opponents, the success team hires sukarelawan (volunteers)—and sometimes even utilizes local preman—to discourage and even intimidate voters from going to the polling stations. Discouragement is accomplished by de-­legitimatizing the opponent with various political issues linked to a negative campaign.55) Thus, the indicator of success in discouragement is that the fewer the voters who come to the polling stations, the more successful the voter mobilization.56)

Besides the aforementioned ways of voter mobilization, information is spread in a tactic known as serangan udara (air attack) through local mass media, banners, and pamphlets. Candidates use the map for “push polling” in areas controlled by their opponents. Push polling represents an underhanded attempt to use the credibility of polling to spread rumors repeatedly via SMS (short message service) blasts, telephone calls, and door-to-door fake interviews.57) Compared to the period before polling came to the fore, this map does help political actors to identify the local political structure and voter dynamics. In short, polling results have provided political actors with valuable advice and information for mapping voter mobilization in local contests.

Inviting Indirect Bandwagon Effect

One impact of the dissemination of political polling outcomes is the so-called bandwagon effect. In academic discussions there are two types of bandwagon effect: direct and indirect. The former is a situation in which the polling outcome positively influences voters’ tendencies to support the candidate who, according to the polling, has the greatest chance of winning. The indirect bandwagon effect is when a candidate who has an excellent chance of winning gains even greater support from third parties, usually such elites as members of the mass media and businessmen. Both effects increase the advantage of the apparent future winner of the election (Young 1992, 20–21). Simply put, the first effect is support from voters in the form of electing the candidate in polling stations; the second effect is support from the elites that comes in the form of mass media coverage, financial support, and political collaboration.

Because the publication of polling results in local leader elections is usually limited and exclusively for candidates and inner circles, the indirect bandwagon effect is more likely to occur than the direct. For the former, the most likely subjects of bandwagoning are businessmen and members of the local mass media. Businessmen tend to get close to power to maintain their business opportunities and to sustain their business careers in a particular area. Accordingly, businessmen usually endeavor to support candidates in elections. The mass media, on the other hand, give more attention and coverage to possible winning candidates than to possible losers.

At least until the end of 2005, local elites, mass media, and businessmen provided support to a candidate after the candidate convincingly proved backup from mass organi­zations (Organisasi Massa, Ormas), had guarantees from the military, and had the backing of a reliable political party machine.58) At the time, businessmen and the mass media had difficulty knowing where support could be focused on. Prior to polling, businessmen, media, and local elites had no clear picture of which potential candidate would succeed. Therefore, taking sides with a particular candidate posed a dilemma. To cover all bases, businessmen, for instance, usually provided the same level of financial support to all candidates. The reasoning was that whoever won, they would be friendly with the businessmen.59) However, this traditional tactic was expensive. Businessmen who employed this method were also alleged to be playing “a set of cards” that was unsafe as it was associated with pragmatism and a lack of loyalty. However, supporting only one candidate carried a tremendous risk.

Polling in Pilkada has opened up new opportunities and has become a point of reference in garnering elites’ support. Polling outcome is evolving as an effective medium to guide the elites in providing support to certain candidates. There are at least two ways in which political actors use polling to solicit the indirect bandwagon effect in Pilkada. The first is that after the pre-election polling results are published, candidates or the success team actively deliver all beneficial information to businessmen and the mass media by elaborating on the polling outcome and explaining the best-case scenario regarding the potential winner. By doing so, the candidates and their team invite the so-called indirect bandwagon effect through which the candidates gain support and sponsorship from businessmen, news coverage from the mass media, and political endorsement from political parties’ elites.

This method is actually in line with current trends, where businessmen are no longer convinced simply by candidates’ old ways of showing support from mass organizations and political party machine networks.60) Mass organizations and party networks are less relevant in Pilkada, which rely mostly on individual voters. The connection with mass organizations is delicate, as such organizations cannot self-mobilize—they need a “locomotive” to work. They are also expensive, as the “fuel” of mobilization depends primarily on the power of money.61) Therefore, polling outcome is evolving into a new card for candidates to obtain backing, and it has been exploited to invite an indirect bandwagon effect. Although polling is not the only way to obtain support, the influence of polls’ outcome is inevitable and has always been part of the political persuasion. In other words, to obtain support from businessmen and mass media, candidates use their probability of winning the election, as shown by the polling outcome, to attract the indirect bandwagon effect.62) Thus, polling has changed the method by which businessmen take decisions on supporting political candidates.

The second way in which political actors use polling to attract the indirect bandwagon effect is that support (services and even financial) can come also from pollsters. Although this is not general pollster behavior, some pollsters have enthusiastically gone on to become political advisers after their surveys correctly indicated a potential winner. In polling players’ vocabulary, providing backup to the candidate most likely to win is known as bermain di atas gelombang (surfing on the wave). Some pollsters are even keen to help fund a candidate who has the potential to win an election.63) This is about more than fame; pollsters are more interested in the winning candidates’ investment in post-election projects. This trend has become a sort of business approach adopted by several pollsters in local and general elections. This is the other side of the workings of the indirect bandwagon effect in local leader elections.


Democratization at the local level has enabled political parties to use polling as a new instrument in local leader elections. Although the importance of polling in the dynamics of local politics, particularly in Pilkada, is quite new, polling has challenged the traditional approach toward party candidacy by pushing political parties to be more open to selecting popular and electable candidates.

A number of findings provide evidence of an unintended transformation in that polling has been used beyond capturing the voice of the people. Although tracking the people’s voice is generally a part of all polling activities, it seems that many political actors do not make maximum use of the polls to gauge the pulse of the public. Instead, political actors in local elections have been more interested in the short-term exploitation of polling solely to win elections.

Not surprisingly, current politics at the local level appears to be more complex in its internal configuration than is usually depicted. It appears that we need to provide more space for the discussion of polling in Indonesia’s local politics. There is also room for further discussion on the use of political polling in other developing democracies.


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my academic supervisors, Professor Jun Honna and Professor Kenki Adachi; Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Jember University and the Directorate General of Higher Education of the Republic of Indonesia for my doctoral scholarship; and the Ritsumeikan University Office of Graduate Studies for a grant that enabled me to do fieldworks. I have greatly benefited from Dr. Marcus Mietzner’s insightful suggestions during a conversation in Freiburg, as well as comments and questions from the audience at the parallel session on “Elections” at the international conference on “Decentralization and Democratization in Southeast Asia: With a Special Section on 10 Years of Decentralization in Indonesia,” June, 15–17 2011, in Freiburg, where I delivered a previous version of this paper: “A Two-Edged Sword: The Emerging Role of Public Opinion Polling in the Local Politics of Post Suharto Indonesia.” I also thank my two anonymous reviewers. I am solely responsible for the contents of the paper.

Accepted: March 8, 2013


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1) In academic discussions, the terms “polling” (polls) and “survey” are interchangeable and similar. The distinction between polls and surveys is not about the methodology, but merely the number of issues in the excavation process of public opinion. Polling usually deals with a single issue, while surveys deal with multiple issues (Norrander and Wilcox 1997).

2) In Indonesia, pollsters and polls-based political consultants are two similar entities with different duties. Most polls-based political consultants are polling agencies or pollsters. Yet not all pollsters are polls-based political consultants. Polling is the primary tool used by both pollsters and polls-based political consultants in their work. However, pollsters only conduct and publish the results of polls or surveys. Political consultants go farther by utilizing the results of polls or surveys to help their clients in the election. Obvious examples of pollsters are the polling agency Indonesian Survey Institute (Lembaga Survei Indonesia, LSI) and the Jakarta-based Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education, and Information (Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Sosial, LP3ES), which only carry out polls or surveys. In contrast, political consultants mainly, but not exclusively, carry out three major tasks: (1) vote mapping through conducting polls and surveys, focus group discussions, interviews with elites, and content analyses of local media; (2) vote influencing through ad design and production, campaign attribute design and production, and voter mobilization (door-to-door campaigns) as well as push polling; (3) vote maintenance through campaigner training, election witness training, and doing quick counts. Besides national political consultants, according to Irman Yasin Limpo (2010, 22–24), there are also many local political consultants.

3) Simply put, because of that review, the candidacy process can also be carried out individually. More specifically, the changes in Law Number 32 Year 2004, namely, Law Number 12 Year 2008, article 2, state that prospective local candidates can also be nominated by individuals with support from a set number of people. Independent candidates can run for election if a pair has support from 3 percent to 6.5 percent of the population in the region, depending on its size. That support, verified by copies of the supporters’ identity cards (Kartu Tanda Penduduk, KTP), must come from more than half of the sub-units of the particular region.

4) In practice, even though nominating through independent pathways is open and available for candidates, it cannot be said that independent pathways are easier than going through political parties because the process of collecting so many citizen ID cards (Kartu Tanda Penduduk, KTP) is not only intricate but also expensive. Interview with Yos Rizal Anwar, former bupati candidate of Lima Puluh Kota District, Jakarta, June 7, 2009.

5) Interview with Akbar Tanjung, chairman of the Trustees Board of the Golkar Party, Jakarta, June 15, 2010.

6) Interview with Heri Akhmadi, senior politician of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, Jakarta, May 31, 2010.

7) Interview with Akhmad Mubarok, chairman of the National Assembly of Party Leaders of the Democratic Party, Jakarta, June 14, 2010.

8) Interview with Kuskridho Ambardi, Jakarta, June 11, 2010.

9) Some examples are the Indonesian Survey Circle (Lingkaran Survei Indonesia, PT. LSI), National Survey Institute (Lembaga Survei Nasional, LSN), Survey and Research Institute of Nusantara (Lembaga Survei dan Kajian Nusantara, Laksnu), Indonesian Research Development Institute (IRDI), Center for Policy Studies and Strategic Development (Pusat Kajian Kebijakan dan Pembangunan Strategis, Puskaptis), Indonesian Social Survey Institute (Lembaga Survey Sosial Indonesia), Indo-Barometer, Indonesian Institute for Survey and Public Management (Lembaga Survey dan Manajemen Publik Indonesia), Indonesian Public Policy Information Center (Sentra Informasi ­Kebijakan Publik Indonesia), and Centre for the Study of Development and Democracy (CESDA).

10) Interview with Sunny Tanuwidjaya, researcher at the CSIS, Jakarta, February 28, 2009.

11) Interview with Saiful Mujani, senior expert on public opinion polling in Indonesia, and owner (among others) of Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, Jakarta, December 19, 2011.

12) Interview with Rulli Azwar, the former vice secretary general of the Golkar Party’s Winning Election Body (Badan Pemenangan Pemilu, Bappilu), Jakarta, June 3, 2010.

13) Interview with Saiful Mujani, Jakarta, December 19, 2011.

14) Interview with Burhanuddin Muhtadi, senior researcher of the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), Jakarta, August 25, 2010; and interview with Iman Yasin Limpo, the owner of the Makassar-based local political consultant Adhyaksa Supporting House, Makassar, February 21, 2012.

15) Pollsters in Indonesia mostly belong to one of two associations: the Indonesian Association for Public Opinion Research (AROPI) and the Indonesian Association of Public Opinion Survey (PERSEPI). Members of those two associations include more than 60 pollsters. However, there are also pollsters, mostly local pollsters, that are not association members, i.e., they are not registered with either association.

16) Interview with Iman Yasin Limpo, February 21, 2011.

17) Interview with Andrinof Chaniago, chairman of the PERSEPI, Jakarta, September 1, 2009.

18) The average costs for political consultation are as follows: (1) bupati or mayor: IDR 1 billion to IDR 5 billion; (2) governor: IDR 3 billion to IDR 15 billion depending on the size of the population and the degree of candidate popularity. The costs for surveys are: governor (three surveys) approximately IDR 1 billion; district leader and mayor (three surveys) IDR 300 million to IDR 500 million. Interview with Umar Bakry, secretary general of the AROPI and also head of the National Survey Institute, Jakarta, June 4, 2010.

19) Some pollsters, particularly those who provide political consultancy services, also request in addition to consulting fees a project agreement on behalf of “the sustainability of cooperation” to aid candidates in the running of their administrations. In some cases, such pollsters request a “success fee” from their client. Interview with Rully Azwar, Jakarta, June 15, 2010.

20) JICA provided financial assistance to the LSI amounting to IDR 3 billion from 2003 to 2005. Interview with Irman Suhirman, former operational director of the LSI, Jakarta, August 31, 2009.

21) Among the 212 local elections held in 2005, the Golkar Party won 58, shared in 15 winning national coalitions, and lost 139. See Dewan Pimpinan Pusat Partai Golkar (2009b).

22) In 2006, the PDIP began unofficially using polling as a type of second opinion to balance the prerogatives of chairwomen.

23) Dewan Pimpinan Pusat Partai Golkar (2009b).

24) Interview with Bima Arya Sugiarto, chairman of the Assembly of Party Leaders of the PAN, Jakarta, June 11, 2010.

25) Interview with Viva Yoga Muladi, Jakarta, September 2, 2009.

26) Dewan Pimpinan Pusat Partai Golkar (2009b).

27) It was rare for the PD to enter into a coalition with the PDIP; however, because of the polling results, the two parties finally entered into a coalition for the local election in Tomohon, North Sulawesi, involving the pair Linneke Syennie Watulangkong and Jimmy Wewengkang (Manado Pos, May 27, 2010).

28) Interview with Marzuki Alie, member of the board of trustees of the PD, Jakarta, June 17, 2010. He is now also a speaker of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia.

29) Interview with Akhmad Mubarok, Jakarta, June 14, 2010.

30) Interview with Akhmad Mubarok, Jakarta, June 14, 2010.

31) Dewan Pimpinan Pusat Partai Golkar (2009b).

32) The centralism of the decision-making process means providing room for “special situations” that allow for the chairperson’s intervention. Interview with Pramono Anung, senior politician of the PDIP, Jakarta, May 31, 2010. He is now a vice speaker of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia.

33) Interview with Heri Akhmadi, Jakarta, May 31, 2010.

34) Interview with Ganjar Pranowo, senior politician of the PDIP, Jakarta, December 23, 2011.

35) Interview with Rully Azwar, Jakarta, June 3, 2010.

36) The candidate received support from 18 political parties. Hutauruk stated, “How should I pay 18 parties? What a lot of money I need to buy 18 political parties! The truth was I came to these parties one by one; I brought the hope to win because I convinced the parties’ bosses with polling results.” Interview with Sarfi Hutauruk, the elected mayor of Sibolga city, February 15, 2010.

37) Interview with anonymous district leader, February 21, 2011. He further said: “We cannot say there was no money in the nomination. There was. However, the candidate who had the highest chance of victory would be treated well. In each nomination there was a registration fee as a normal procedure, a somewhat inevitable situation. We have to pay all costs for the campaign and other ‘operations’ needed in the area of contestation. The amount comes mainly from the candidates. Nevertheless, once the parties began treating us as merely an ATM [automated teller machine], we would look for another party or run through the independent path.”

38) Buying the boat still remains a practice in Pilkada. However, due to polling the party already has an idea of whom to support. Thus, the foremost question is “Who will win?” Next is the question of “How much?” Interview with anonymous, February 14, 2011.

39) Interview with anonymous district leader, February 20, 2011.

40) Interview with Akhmad Mubarok, Jakarta, June 14, 2010.

41) Interview with Rully Azwar, Jakarta, June 3, 2010.

42) Interview with anonymous district leader, February 20, 2011.

43) Interview with anonymous local pollster owner, August 18, 2009.

44) Interview with anonymous local pollster head, September 18, 2011.

45) Because the survey results in the nomination are so valuable, certain local surveyors are intimidated by candidates or their supporters to favor certain candidates. Initially, intimidation is carried out by bribery; and if that is not successful then the candidate resorts to preman (thugs). Interview with Dedy Setyawan and Mohammad Muchlisin, field enumerators of the LSI, East Java area, Jember, August 19, 2010.

46) Interview with anonymous national pollster head, August 17, 2010.

47) Not all polling is conducted to garner such specific information regarding vote buying. However, in situations of extremely tough competition (for instance, in the second round of the election), especially in areas identified as contested and crucial, polling is used to create a strategy for vote buying, based on the requests of candidates and their success team. Such polling is intensive but utilizes limited questions, around 4 to 10. The questions are about vote-buying methods: in what way, how much on average, and when it is most appropriate to apply. The results of the polls are essential to assist in vote buying. For example, this type of poll was undertaken in only two areas in Madura Island and some parts of Eastern Surabaya. Those areas were considered highly crucial in winning very tight competitions in the elections in East Java Province. Interview with a pollster leader, June 15, 2010; this information was confirmed by a regional party leader of the East Java Province executive board of a leading political party. Interview with anonymous party leader of East Java Province, February 24, 2011.

48) In the long and exhausting East Java gubernatorial election of 2009, a senior researcher at a leading pollster told the author that a certain candidate and his success team had requested his pollster for a polls-based political bribery map to “buy” the critical area in Madura Island with a sunshine attack. Interview with anonymous, Jakarta, August 12, 2010.

49) Interview with anonymous provincial political party leader, February 24, 2011.

50) Interview with anonymous, August 17, 2010. He further stated: “With the help of polling, I knew the vulnerable and the potential area for vote buying. I managed to lead a sunshine war to attack and to make a counterattack in the election.”

51) Interview with anonymous vice bupati, February 17, 2011.

52) Interview with anonymous party leader of East Java Province, February 24, 2011.

53) Interview with anonymous provincial political party leader, February 24, 2011.

54) Interview with anonymous provincial political party leader, February 24, 2011.

55) The simplest approach is to discourage people from coming to the polling stations by spreading the idea that it is both useless and a waste of time.

56) Interview with anonymous retired political consultant, Freiburg, Germany, June 17, 2011. This was in line with the statement by Denny JA, the owner of the Indonesian Survey Circle, that voter mobilization was taken over by political consultants by door-to-door mobilization. See the interview with Denny JA by Najwa Shihab in Mata Najwa, episode titled “Solek Politik” (The primping politics), Metro TV, June 9, 2010. For details, see Mata Najwa (2010).

57) Voter mobilization and push polls are employed one month, several months, or even six months before local elections. Candidates who have large sources of financial support, particularly in strategic and economically rich areas, engage in voter mobilization six months before the election. Candidates even hire pollsters and experts to continuously or periodically monitor the ups and downs of political support and the dynamics of voters in the area.

58) Interview with Taufik Hidayat, senior politician of the Golkar Party, Jakarta. See also Irman Yasin Limpo (2010, xii–xiii).

59) Interview with anonymous local businessman, February 12, 2011.

60) Relying on backup from mass organizations and highlighting the magnitude of the political party machinery is no longer adequate to gain support from the elites: “They always ask me how the polling outcome is and how high I can go.” Interview with anonymous mayor, February 21, 2011.

61) Interview with anonymous local businessman, February 14, 2011.

62) Interview with two national businessmen of the Indonesian Businessmen Association (Asosiasi Pengusaha Indonesia), Jakarta, August 28, 2009.

63) For instance, the owner of a leading pollster and political consultant admitted that he had lent big money to fund the campaigns of gubernatorial candidates in South Sulawesi and East Java. Interview with anonymous, October 9, 2011.


Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 151-182
©Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

Vol. 3, No. 1, Kanamaru Tomoaki

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 1

How Universal is the Commodity Market? A Reflection on a Market Penetration and Local Responses in Timor-Leste

Kanamaru Tomoaki**

* 金丸智昭, Indonesia Research Institute Japan, 1-21-8 Crystal House 5F, Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0053, Japan

e-mail: tom_kanamaru[at]hotmail.com

This article analyzes the situation of coffee production in present-day Timor-Leste, in which productivity-oriented recommendations for coffee plantation management and site-specific cultural logic coexist. In effect, this situation can be connected to the problem of the lack of agency in local farmers’ reactions to market penetration. A site-specific cultural dimension seems to illustrate agency on the rural farmers’ side. However, the agency located only within local mediation is insufficient because the very function of mediating markets must be achieved primarily unintentionally under the logic of market penetration. In my opinion, this clearly suggests that local cultural values and economic rationality are interdependently constituted as guiding principles of composition elements of the situation set by the categorization of local institutional mediation of market penetration. It is therefore critically important to recognize that the categorization of social action such as “local mediation” at the base of a discursive space for political maneuvers constitutes the gap between “local” institutions and generalizable economic activities, and not the other way round. Thus understood, a comparative perspective on the commoditization process may direct our attention to the potential plurality in accomplishing the interde­pendent constitution of universal market and local institutions, suggesting that market penetration and local institutions should be treated as essentially interlaced social phenomena.

Keywords: Timor-Leste, market penetration, local mediation, commoditization, situational setting

I Introduction

Following the wave of globalization, agro-commodity markets in association with state-centered developmentalism have established their overwhelming salience in many rural mountainous areas of Southeast Asia over the last two decades.1) In present-day Timor-Leste, for example, agrarian commoditization has substantially formulated core components of policy recommendations for rural development in general and high-profile leases of state land for large-scale agribusiness operations in particular.2) Indeed, highly influential market penetration has recently drawn academic attention to many Southeast Asian countries, as had the process of state formation previously. “Commodity markets affect upland livelihoods, social relations, and landscapes just as state policies and projects do. We therefore surmise that research on upland transformations in Southeast Asia needs to look at markets and their effects in ways similar to research on state interventions” (Sikor and Vi 2005, 406). In formulating the precautions to be taken when studying “markets and their effects” in contemporary contexts, Sikor and Vi refer to two closely related points. The first is concerned with the imagery of market penetration, which downgrades upland farmers to mere recipients of commodity markets, or powerless victims of market penetration. The second is related to social access to commodity markets, which, similar to social access to state resources, differentiates “the uplands from the lowlands and social groups within the uplands” (ibid., 425). In other words, these points indicate that to restore the agency of upland farmers to form commodity markets, we must pay careful attention to farmers’ deliberate initiatives against new opportunities and the various boundaries both within and outside their communities. These boundaries are variably interlaced with access to commodity markets, state resources, or a combination of both.3) In this context, Sikor and Vi highlight the agency of rural farmers in accepting and negotiating the formation of commodity markets. In fact, many scholars have seriously considered this problem of the lack of agency in the study of market penetration (for example, Li 2002; Fadzilah 2002; 2006). Consequently, the process of market formation is now seen as a heterogeneous process that combines local reactions with external stimuli (cf. Sikor and Vi 2005, 409). In their argument, however, the restoration of agency resides chiefly in the re-evaluated local reactions. Sikor and Vi chronologically describe Vietnamese farmers’ changing involvement in the process of market formation, as they react to changing economic environments. For example, owing mainly to newly developed road networks, rural farmers in the late 1980s began to build a variety of connections with lowland traders who had begun to arrive in their villages:

Private traders started to arrive in the village from the lowlands in 1987, buying large amounts of soybeans and corn to satisfy lowland demands for animal feed. In response, villagers began to purchase agricultural products in neighbouring Thai villages and sell them to the truckers with a significant mark-up. A few also began to buy up vegetables from fellow villagers to sell on the district market. In addition, rising living standards also created opportunities for villagers to make money from processing agricultural products. (ibid., 412–413)

Although overall processes can be characterized as market penetration, the “real markets” involve very dynamic forms that may be called market creation or market expansion, reflecting rural farmers’ diverse practices and strategies. At the same time, it is important to note that all these dynamic forms are categorized as reactions to “new opportunities arising from external stimuli” (ibid., 424). Accordingly, the cumulative results of farmers’ practices and strategies unintentionally connected them with larger economic forces that are basically outside the purview of the farmers’ agency. These larger economic forces may, however, condition people’s practices and strategies. Here, the explanatory logic seems to emerge clearly: the unintended results of the farmers’ practices and strategies eventually function as a structural constraint, and the farmers’ agency, therefore, culminates in self-marginalization, through which they are securely captured by the relentless or benevolent global market, the nature of which is outside the purview of their agency. The logic may further suggest that insofar as the market belongs to a social order that is different from the local institutions, such market penetration finally destroys those local institutions that initially mediated the market penetration. However, this line of argument appears contrary to Sikor and Vi’s conclusion. After highlighting “the need to open up commodity markets,” they stated, “Markets can provide opportunities in support of local subsistence, preventing the emergence of further and enduring social differentiation” (ibid., 425). In short, within the scope of their argument, “farmers’ practices” and “larger economic forces” can be combined in a mutually beneficial manner. Clearly, whether the market penetration eventually destroys local institutions or not is outside the scope of their argument. On the other hand, in many arguments, the destructive tendency of market penetration constitutes a significant im­petus to lead the whole discussion. Of particular relevance here is the analysis that centers on the new forms of vertical coordination in agro-food supply chains: the so-called “global commodity chain analysis.” This analysis, focusing on newly emerging “buyer-drivenness” in international trade, has described the transformation of old trade linkages into “decentralized but privately controlled production networks” (Daviron and Gibbon 2002, 138). In their formulations, local horizontal coordinations, or local institutions, have largely been dismantled or ignored through the establishment of vertically organized supply chains:

Some farmers, processors, distributors and retailers are incorporated into production contracts within transnational supply chains; others are marginalized; none can rely on stability in a context where supermarkets bring farmers from across the world into competition for contracts—even to supply nearby customers. (Friedmann and McNair 2008, 408–409)

These contrasting arguments do not, however, fundamentally contradict each other. In effect, both arguments correspond to the same explanatory logic: the farmers’ agency culminates in their self-marginalization. On the basis of this logic, while Sikor and Vi’s argument emphasizes the farmers’ agency, the global commodity chain analysis stresses the aspect of self-marginalization. Is it an inevitable consequence of the efforts to restore agency? In my opinion, if one assumes a dichotomy between rural farmers’ practices and larger economic forces and then assumes that agency can be allocated only to the side of rural farmers’ practices, the so-called self-destruction thesis of market society (Hirschman 1986, 109), along with the model of self-marginalization, is inevitably infiltrated. Indeed, a fundamental error lies precisely in the allocation of agency solely to the side of local reactions. In this article, I argue that discrediting the image of market penetration should also lead to discrediting the concept of local reaction in the sense that market penetration and local mediation should not be treated as analytically separable processes. If we accept the idea that market-based relationships are interdependent with the formation of a discursive space, it is imperative to analyze economic processes such as market penetration as a descriptive category of social relations similar to religion or civil associations. This further suggests that the very notion of market penetration, under the dichotomy between universal market and local institutions, constitutes the space for political maneuvers. In the following analysis of coffee production in Timor-Leste, I argue that the exploitation of the notion of market penetration, functioning as a situational setting, constitutes the gap between local institutions and generalizable economic activities, and not the other way round. Thus, the process of accepting these gaps should be examined and the very recognizability of these gaps should be questioned. Further, the concept of market penetration, behind which the self-marginalization thesis is inserted, is in concert with the relative autonomy of the cultural dimension in constituting the acceptable disjunction between formal economic rationality-centered activities and local cultural values. This relative autonomy specifically attracts the concept of local agency. Throughout this article, I emphasize that local cultural values and economic rationality are interdepend­ently constituted as guiding principles of composition elements of the situation, set by the notion of local institutional mediation of market penetration.

II Opening a Demonstration Plot for Pruning4)

Since its independence, rural development in Timor-Leste has been largely “hindered” by the subsistence nature of its rural economies. The development of the coffee-related industry is no exception. Coffee plantation management in the country has long been characterized as being extremely poor. Grievances about current conditions are found in numerous reports and policy documents related to the agricultural sector:

Coffee production in Timor-Leste is based on relatively unmanaged plantations, with bean-­gathering and processing by villagers, and scant attention paid to cleaning/weeding, pruning, pest and disease management or planting of new trees. (Timor-Leste, Directorate of Agribusiness of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery 2009, 5)

Most areas are covered by old coffee trees, and productivity remains low with current minimal management. The following steps are proposed for improvement: (1) Development and establishment of high-yielding varieties of Arabica coffee where suitable; (2) Replanting of plantations with new trees; (3) Development and promotion of better technology for planting, pruning, fertilising, pest control, harvesting, drying, sorting and handling. (da Costa et al. 2003, 24–25)

Such a comprehensive proposal for improving the coffee production system clearly suggests that quality-oriented initiatives in the coffee sector, including the sub-field of plantation management, have not been seriously attempted.

As mentioned, one essential technique related to plantation management is pruning. The core objectives of pruning include crop, pest, and disease control, and harvest facilitation. First, pruning aims to concentrate “the vigour of the tree in those parts which will produce the most crop over a number of seasons” by cutting the other parts (Wrigley 1988, 230). Moreover, the concept of coffee crop control has been overshadowed by its tendency for biennial bearing:

Coffee is very prone to biennial bearing, which can only be reduced by careful pruning. In a high-yielding year the tree sacrifices the production of next year’s bearing wood for the demands of the developing crop, so that the next year’s crop is small. The next year, as the tree is producing a small crop it concentrates on vegetative growth, which produces another good crop the following year. Thus the rhythm of biennial bearing is established. It is therefore important to maintain the balance between cropping and vegetative growth, but to do this a considerable amount of cropping wood must be pruned away, particularly at the beginning of a good year. This maintains a suitable ratio of leaf to crop and reduces the risk of die-back of both primaries and roots. (ibid.)5)

As is widely recognized by coffee experts, when a poor harvest season has passed and a rich harvest is expected, demanding that coffee growers cut off the bearing branches is an extremely daunting task. This is particularly true if the majority of coffee growers fail to understand coffee trees’ tendency to biennial bearing.6) Second, pruning protects the trees from pests and diseases. Pruning opens the center and canopy of the tree and allows better ventilation, which helps prevent certain pests and diseases. Third, the task of harvesting coffee is exceedingly time-consuming, and unpruned tall trees are more difficult to harvest. Moreover, as widely observed in Timor-Leste, many coffee trees are damaged when they are pulled down during the harvest. Thus, the background philosophy of pruning is rooted in the concept of productivity, or more precisely, controllable productivity. Is it tenable, then, that the lack of plantation management in Timor-Leste reflects a lack of understanding about productivity among Timorese peasants? To explore the answer to this question, let me discuss an episode related to a demonstration plot for pruning.

In early June 2011, a manager of a Dili-based coffee export company asked one of the field staff to open up a plot of coffee trees for the demonstration of pruning practices. After numerous discussions with several coffee farmers located near the company’s branch in this district, the field staff finally found someone who agreed to rent out a portion of his land to the company. According to the field staff, the farmer’s main reason for doing so was the ageing trees in this plot, a problem so severe that few coffee cherries had been harvested here for the past several years.

The area rented was approximately 36 m wide east to west and 32 m long north to south. Since the slope was less steep than at other parts of the farm, it appeared relatively easy to implement a radical version of pruning here: stumping old stems down to 30–50 cm above the soil. A memorandum of agreement was prepared and signed by the farmer and the company. However, three more people were invited to sign in order to consummate the agreement: the leader of the coffee growers’ group in that sub-village, a seasonal employee of the company who lived in the vicinity, and a son of the landowner.

The next morning, 11 men (including the three witnesses to the agreement) and 2 women from a neighboring community gathered around the holy place in the farm. A coffee tree was chosen and after most of its branches had been cut off, a brief prayer was conducted under it by the priest (catequista) of that sub-village and a dog was sacrificed. Manual stumping of other coffee trees in the plot was then performed. The sacrificial meat was cooked and served to all involved, and the dog’s lower jaw was placed on an altar. Following the rituals, the stumping of more than 200 coffee trees was completed.

From the botanical viewpoint, as long as pruning is conducted and productivity is enhanced, the sacrificial ritual is tolerable, no matter how unusual it may appear. However, the commensality may be anchored in a broader concept of ritualized productiveness, which is far from being identical to the productivity that results from pruning. If so, a significant gap may exist between the aims and procedure of establishing a demonstration plot. While investigating this gap, two closely related questions must be addressed: (1) Why were three additional witnesses required for the memorandum of agreement when only the lessor and lessee are necessary to conclude the document? (2) What was the meaning of pairing the collective stumping with commensality, a meal in which the three witnesses also partook? Indeed, these questions can be answered only in the context of the ritual-obligations network and its inner workings. In order to understand the contradiction (or non-contradiction) in the epistemological setting between the productivity-oriented and ritualized-productiveness-based views, the social contexts in which the collective stumping practice was conducted must be clarified. For this purpose, it is essential to look at the system of ritual exchanges, at least briefly.

III Logic of Ritual Exchange: Complementarity between Death and Life

Most of the western mountainous regions in Timor-Leste are chiefly inhabited by the Mambai people. Letefoho, a sub-district of the Ermera district where I worked, is also predominantly Mambai, as are Aileu, Ainaro, Manufahi, and the mountainous parts of Liquica. All these areas are major coffee production centers. An estimated 40,000 households in the western mountainous districts grow coffee, and the size of their cash income from it varies. Coffee-producing areas span approximately 50,000 hectares, most of which are cultivated by smallholders of 1–2 ha (Nevins 2003, 695). A significant proportion of the households in this region relies heavily on coffee production for cash income, a condition that has attracted the attention of certain quarters in the international aid community (cf. Oxfam 2004). Nonetheless, the discussion here focuses on the role of culture in mediating coffee-related market penetration rather than the role of coffee in poverty reduction.

Mambai people seem to spontaneously organize events, especially those requiring collective labor, such as rituals with commensality. The analysis of the symbolic structure of Mambai ritualistic events should therefore begin with the unit of social grouping and the relationships between these groupings. In Mambai society, as with other Austro­nesian societies in eastern Indonesia, ritual obligations are essentially rooted in affinal relationships, wherein women as well as certain goods are expected to circulate in specific directions. It is, therefore, this circulation that fundamentally prescribes the unit of social grouping, as Traube described it:

Every named ego-group recognizes three mutually exclusive categories of persons: kaka nor ali, “elder and younger brothers,” including groups claiming agnatic relations and those sharing an affinal link with ego; umaena, “wife-givers,” including all groups from which ego has received women; maen heua, “wife-takers,” including all groups to which ego has given women. Thus any descent group may be defined as a male-ordered unit embedded in a wider social universe through the movements of women. (Traube 1980a, 95)

It is this descent group, conceived of as a “cult house” (pada lisa or uma lisan),7) which comprises the basic unit of social grouping.8) The obligation of social exchange is presumed to be fulfilled by this unit. As a first step in answering the questions raised above, it can be said that all three witnesses who signed the agreement belong to the same cult house.

To pursue this line of investigation, the role of the cult house will be explored. The relationships between cult houses are developed through marriage alliances, and certain goods and services are expected to circulate in opposite directions. The umaena (wife-givers) provide pigs, textiles, and cooked food, while maen heua (wife-takers) supply cattle, money, and weapons such as swords. It is apparent that more costly “male items” such as cattle and money are offered by wife-takers to wife-givers in exchange for women and other “female items.”9)

All Mambai rituals, like those of other ethnic groups in Timor-Leste, can be classified into two overarching categories: one related to death (lia mate) and the other to life (lia moris). As described by Traube, death-related rituals, also referred to as black rituals, “chart the several stages attributed to the afterlife,” and life-related rituals, or white rituals, regulate agricultural activities (ibid., 91). Within this binary opposition, the stumping of coffee trees and the accompanying commensality can be regarded as a white ritual.10) However, simply identifying this ritual as a white ritual provides no comprehensive answer to the questions raised previously. To understand the very meaning of the white ritual, the complementarity between the two types of rituals must be further explained.

In a purely schematic sense, both black and white rituals deal with ancestral spirits; however, their pathways are laid in inverse directions. A black ritual provides the living with an occasion to offer gifts to the dead and send them off on a voyage to the mountain and, finally, the sea. In contrast, a white ritual deals with life and fertility. The souls of the dead are supposed to return from the sea to bring wealth, luck, and fertility to the living. However, according to Traube (1980b, 300), this static understanding of the dichotomy between black and white is not sufficient for understanding Mambai symbolism as a whole. In fact, the complementarity between black and white can be interpreted as two aspects of the Earth Mother.11) The duality of the Earth Mother is supposedly encapsulated in the grand narrative of their creation myth.12) The structure of this myth is relatively simple:

1. Our Mother, in the inner night/inner black, gave birth to Nama Rau, the sacred mountain, and seven smaller earth mounds surrounding Nama Rau. Outside this circle of peaks, everything remained under seawater.

2. When Our Mother descended from the northern slope to Ur Bou/Ai Datu, she fell ill and died. Her corpse continued to speak and instructed Heaven (her husband) and her children in the forms of black ritual. “Then seven of the first earth mounds come and cover her body. She lays down her head to the south, stretches her legs to the north and spreads her arms out to the east and west. Her subterranean movements spread out (loer) the narrow ball of earth in all four directions, pushing back the primordial waters a short distance” (Traube 1986, 38). After seven days and seven nights, her body was not rotten. It remained whole and then arose.

3. Our Mother, Our Father, and their children made a slow northward journey. The burial was repeated and the mass of earth grew wider.

4. Before arriving at the place known as Raimaus, the first maggot hatched in the still whole flesh. In Raimaus, laying down her body once more, Our Mother finished making the land, up to the extremities of the island, and made Raimaus her final resting place, or the “navel of the earth,” where the roots of Tai Talo, the sacred banyan tree, grow. Here in Raimaus, Our Mother’s flesh finally decomposed but not completely. Her outer or upper half was rotten, but her inner or lower half remained untouched and became the source of the pure white water of the underground, the milk into which all things anchor their roots to nurse. The decayed outer half became one with the black earth, from which all the cultivated plants acquire their “food.”

It is through this creation myth that the duality of the Earth Mother, as the double character of black and white, is clearly illustrated. In each action of Our Mother, the double character is readily apparent.13) Thus, since black and white, or death and life, have the same root, these two realms cannot be completely separated. However, this story alone does not fully explain the complementarity between the black and white or the nature of this complementarity. Throughout the creation myth, the sexuality or femaleness of Our Mother is not highlighted. In this respect, although the fertility of Our Mother is the principle focus of the story, the complementarity between female and male, as a shadow image of the complementarity between black and white, cannot be sufficiently clarified by the myth alone. It is rather in the symbolic return to the origin as a unifying moment for agnatic ties that the pathway from death to life is constituted. On the basis of this nature of complementarity, with its emphasis on the agnatic ties, the collective stumping described above can be considered a white ritual.

The collective stumping began with two deaths: the symbolic death of an old tree and the sacrificial killing of the dog. These deaths refer to invisible spiritual beings, particularly the one related to the place in question. These invisible beings are often, if not always, associated with the ancestors who initially cultivated that land. Communications with invisible beings are conducted at an altar composed of a holy stone surrounded by flat stones.14) After the coffee trees in the compound were stumped down, this “white ritual” was concluded by a meal in which participants consumed the cooked sacrificial meat (the head), while the lower jaw of the sacrificial animal was placed on the holy stone and liquor, which had been prepared as a part of the offering, was poured over it. The act of pouring is supposed to cool the altar. In Mambai symbolism, “coolness” is associated with fertility. Further, while flesh (female goods) was consumed, the bone (lower jaw, male goods) was placed on the holy stone as a symbol of agnatic ties. According to the Mambai cultural metaphor, bone and flesh are derived from paternal semen and maternal blood respectively. This logic is the basis of the distinction between the agnatic and affinal ties dichotomy, and the male and female dichotomy.15)

While the enduring nature of agnatic ties is emphasized, it should be apparent that agnation could not be sustained without “soft” connections through the marriage alliance. By the same token, just as durability depends on perishability, death attracts life and fertility as complements.16) As seen above, three types of dichotomy—cool versus hot, female versus male, and affinal versus agnatic—are overlaid in closing the ritual, suggesting that together, albeit in a somewhat chaotic way, these dense symbolisms indicate a direction toward the fertility, or “productiveness” and eternity of agnatic ties. Thus, it can be asserted that the unit of agnatic ties, or the cult house, is identified as the recipient of “productiveness” through the conclusion of the ritual. The paradigm of complementarity is so deeply rooted in all ordinary practices that the totality is always conceived of as exchanges between complements such as death and life.

The questions raised in the previous section can be answered here on the basis of the logic of ritual exchanges. All three witnesses and the landlord were members of the same cult house. Two of them, one being the landlord, were from the generation currently responsible for the cult house—the so-called elders. The other two belonged to the generation next in line. This suggests that people in the area recognize that the contract for renting land should be handled by the cult house and not just an individual.17) Further, these people also envisage that a potentially long-term contract or agreement should be witnessed by the younger generation, which explains why three additional witnesses were required. Insofar as the cult house is responsible for handling the land issue and commensality supports the eternity of agnatic ties as a responsible unit of ritual exchange, it is reasonable that members of the cult house participate in the collective stumping. Thus, the unity and importance of the cult house has been ritualistically reaffirmed in a manner that refers to the complementarity between life and death. At the same time, pruning practices and related expenses in the demonstration plot are economically justified by the coffee exporter by the logic of better plantation management.

The background logic of productiveness through ritual exchange is enshrined in the creation myth in a relatively pure form. It indicates the nature of the rights and obligations related to the logic of productiveness in general. Following this logic, any gain or acquisition as a consequence of productiveness may be understood as a mode of complementarity and exchange.18) Indeed, this logic seems to be in stark contrast to that of the productivity-oriented view, which holds that the productivity of coffee plants can be objectively determined by a series of causal mechanisms, no more and no less. This view, however, offers no suggestion regarding how to organize the laborious processes of pruning, for instance. Organizing the physical tasks of pruning is distinct from observing the effect of pruning, which is seen as a consequence of objective botanical mechanisms initiated by pruning. The logic of productivity is seen to be based completely on the separation of the objective world from human organizations in the social worlds, including the organization of labor processes. However, if we live in a social environment where no free labor force is available and chainsaws are not allowed in laborious tasks such as pruning, we first need to consider the means to organize and conduct them.19) In this sense, the teachings of the productivity-oriented view, such as deliberate pruning, methodologically ignore the labor process and assume many underlying ideologies that presuppose the individuation and commoditization of labor. It is therefore based on a practical arrangement that the logic of “productiveness” through ritual exchange may coexist with the productivity-oriented view without any conspicuous inconsistency.

Presently, Timor-Leste is witnessing economic amelioration, which is represented by the increasing importance of cash income and migration to urban centers. At the same time, site-specific cultural values or local scripts, such as the background narrative of productiveness, may continue to influence many aspects of Mambai social life in that they enable people to coordinate laborious tasks and their meaning. Those cultural values can even be reconsolidated by assuming new roles in the process of commoditization. This is one of the many contexts wherein what McWilliam (2009) called “spiritual commons” persists. Therefore, it should be reaffirmed that spiritual commons, mainly embedded in various ceremonial forms, “should not be seen as something that contradicts or elides the market economy in which all of the societies of Indonesia (for this article, Timor-Leste) are deeply engaged” (ibid., 173–174). Nevertheless, McWilliam failed to explain directly why and how spiritual commons does not actually contradict the market economy. The situation might rather raise questions of who takes initiatives to analytically distinguish the community economy from other aspects of social life and how this analytical distinction eventually reconciles market-orientedness and community principles. It should be emphasized that a juxtaposition of local scripts adjacent to the market principle may simply require further explanation. Indeed, this issue can be connected with that of social relations along which both commoditized and non-commoditized resources are distributed, which has long been argued through the commoditization debate and is still worth pursuing.20) In the next section, the conceptual relevance of local institutional mediation as a descriptive category is examined with a reference to labor arrangements for coffee harvest in this region.

IV Market Penetration as a Situational Setting

As Hefner (1990, 234) notes, “a history that seeks to understand the dynamics of economic change . . . must attend to more than the logic of the market place or the interests of capital.” This viewpoint can be encapsulated in the concept of the social embeddedness of the economy, as seen in Polanyi’s pioneering work (Polanyi, 1944). One important implication is that the standard model of an economic actor should be one who is inevitably implicated in identity building with some commitments—usually political—rather than one who pursues optimality on the basis of clearly defined preference.21) If we accept the idea that knowledge invariably derives from social processes and preference is necessarily interlinked with personal knowledge, then preference cannot be treated as a mere exogenous factor in explaining economic action. In other words, the knowledge-production process is an endogenous process in the categorization and contextualization of economic actions such as plantation management or ritual unification. It may further suggest that the categorization of social action operates as a core component of the symbolic production of reality rather than as a neutral device to describe social life. In this respect, the notion of market penetration is a particular case in point.

Generally, a major condition under which one can examine whether two propositions contradict each other is that the two are comparable, or at least can somehow enter the realm of constructive dialogue. However, as seen above, the productivity principle and the broad concept of ritualized productiveness in the Mambai context are derived from two descriptions of reality, namely, trunk-pruning for the purpose of plantation management and ritual unification of the agnatic tie, which seem to be unsuitable for direct comparison. It is in this context that one might reasonably ask in what sense the gap between the productivity-oriented and ritualized-productiveness-based views is rendered understandable as a gap.

In a sense, the issue involved here seems to simply reflect the fact that any social action can, at least potentially, be described in various ways: The action-sequence of the collective stumping is interpreted as trunk pruning for plantation management by the coffee exporter; at the same time, it is presented as a ritual for the cult house members, which is based on a site-specific logic of productiveness. It might be argued that each description is a type of rhetoric by which multiple aspects of the “same” action-sequence can be highlighted. How can we, then, recognize the gap or disjunction between these multiple descriptions? Unless we can reconfigure these multiple descriptions against a common yardstick for the purpose of establishing an ordering principle to characterize the whole situation, it is extremely difficult to understand why we persistently perceive these heterogeneous practices as “local institutional mediation of market penetration.” Perhaps the proposition that sounds particularly reasonable is that although no “natural” description exists beyond a culturally specific one, political struggles enable one to choose a description as authentic. In modern capitalist societies, a sponsor may play the typical role of the decision-maker. Then, since the tree-pruning event was made possible under the auspices of the coffee exporter, should we conclude that framing the event as the pruning of coffee trees for better plantation management is more fundamental than any other description? However, this line of reasoning may not distinguish a more fundamental layer of fact in cases where the position of the sponsor is not clear. More fundamentally, sponsorship does not necessarily constitute the most fundamental layer of the event in question. In this connection, the concept of market culture may be introduced in order to suggest that it is this culture that renders market relations universally applicable and economically rational. Thus, according to this thesis, it is market culture rather than political struggles that renders the description of market penetration more rational and, as a consequence, the gap between market relations and other culture-based relations can be perceived.

However, similar to the concept of social embeddedness, the concept of market culture is extremely elusive. How can we distinguish market culture from other cultures? Or how can originally non-market-based local cultures start functioning as market cultures? If we accept the idea that any cultural form that contributes to the functioning of markets can be categorized as market culture, it seems that no boundary can be set between market culture and other cultures. In this line of argument, the definition of market culture fully depends on the concept of market, whose functioning, in turn, depends on market culture. Here, it may be useful to postulate that the core function of market culture is to be understood as a perceptive mode whereby the boundary is introduced between market- and culture-based relations.22) Thus, market culture is supposed to circumscribe culture-based relations, but it does not belong to the culture-based realm in this distinction. If this perceptive mode resides primarily in the categorization of social action, such as local mediation of market penetration, through which the naturalization of market-based relations is permeated and culture-based relations are characterized as being unrelated to self-interests, our inquiry should then turn to the endogenous process of knowledge production in which the situational setting utilizing a notion such as market penetration naturalizes or reifies the notion itself. To recapitulate, the gap between market principles and spiritual commons can be perceived if the notion of local institutional mediation of market penetration characterizes the situation as a whole, infiltrating the comparability between the elements comprising the situation. In the remainder of this section, I argue that through an additional case analysis of labor arrangements during the coffee harvest, a critical reflection on a situational setting may shed some lights on the process in which the notion of market penetration produces cultural dimensions with relative autonomy and not the other way round.

Coffee production in Timor-Leste involves varied laborious tasks, and because of the absence of a labor market in the region, all these tasks are currently conducted through non-market arrangements, basically the kinship network. The coffee harvest, sometimes involving more than 20 people in a single plot, is a laborious task commonly performed in the region throughout the coffee season (normally from May to September). As noted, since most coffee farms are left unpruned, the task of harvesting coffee is not only extremely time-consuming but even dangerous in some cases, with the coffee trees having grown exceptionally tall on strikingly steep slopes. In this sense, the task of harvesting is even more labor-intensive in Timor-Leste than in other coffee-producing countries. In the areas where I have worked, the harvesters usually receive one of the three types of “rewards” in return for their labor. In 2011, I interviewed 135 coffee growers on this issue, and they provided the following overview of the harvest:

• A total of 54 growers (40 percent of interviewees) stated that the coffee harvest was basically conducted by family members, meaning that no monetary compensa­tion was paid to the harvesters. In these cases, the landowner is obliged to return his/her own labor to the harvesters’ coffee farms.

• Another 51 (38 percent) said that roughly half of the harvested cherries were given to the harvesters as compensation.

• 30 farmers (22 percent) answered that the harvesters received cash, based on their work volume; one sack of Arabica cherries pays $3 and Robusta pays $2.23)

If an additional survey were to be conducted in the same region some years later and should the results show an increased ratio of monetary compensation, would it really signify that the commoditization process is proceeding smoothly? The issue I wish to address here is not the credibility or accuracy of such interviews but the very concepts or idioms for situational settings involved in such an inquiry.

Clearly, some precautions are in order. First, many interviewees added that the amount taken by the harvesters often depends on the situation and what they want to take. If we consider this additional comment seriously, their previous answers cannot be accepted at face value. Second, the question actually asked was “when other people helped you harvest coffee cherries, were those people rewarded by money or red cherries?” In fact, most interviewees could not immediately understand the meaning of this question and I had to contextualize the question further by helping interviewees “remember” those familiar situations where the task of harvesting coffee occurs as a labor process.24) However, if we consider the non-neutrality of descriptive idioms, my “help” may have significantly distorted their understanding and further induced them to frame the situation in accordance with specific economic terms. For example, the interviewees were actually invited to choose their answer from three alternatives: equal labor exchange, in-kind payment, and cash payment. These alternatives are parallel in an economic space, and hence the act of choosing one of them is identified with the act of making an economic decision, even though some additional alternatives, such as ritualistic events, may also belong to a non-market-based economic space. Apparently, equal labor exchange is considered a non-commoditized form and cash payment a typically commoditized form of mobilizing laborers; in-kind payment is located somewhere in between. In actuality, however, these alternatives may coexist in a single coffee plot on the same day. For instance, the following arrangement can be observed: out of 10 people joining in the task of harvesting on one particular coffee farm, 4 people receive nothing because of their kinship-based relationship with the landowner, 4 receive half or a certain amount of the harvested cherries, and 2 receive cash upon their request (perhaps due to imminent necessity of cash, such as for school fees or ritual-based obligations). Furthermore, in one and the same coffee plot, the ratio between these alternatives may fluctuate over time, not necessarily in the direction of commoditization. For instance, as many as 21 farmers among the 54 growers who chose the alternative of labor exchange specifically mentioned that they used to pay cash to harvesters until recently but began the labor exchange as a new arrangement.25) From this vantage point, it looks as if the traditional kinship network has absorbed the already-commoditized wage relations. To understand this expansion of kinship network, it is necessary to review the character of cash income in the regional context.

In present-day Letefoho sub-district, three types of commonly accessible coffee buyers are present: (1) major coffee exporters (more than 1,000 tons per year), who typically collect red cherries at collection points along the road and conduct processing at their own facilities; (2) small- and medium-sized exporters (supplying the neighboring Indonesian market), who are mainly Chinese-Timorese merchants and typically buy red cherries or dried parchment26) from intermediaries; and (3) small-sized exporters, who are typically supported by foreign NGOs or civil society organizations and characteristically emphasize social values such as organic certification and fair-trade practices, and who buy dried parchment processed by smallholders’ groups. The first two types of buyers weigh red cherries at the collection points along the major roads and pay primarily in cash. In most cases, the amount each coffee grower receives each day would be relatively small, ranging from $5 to $50. People usually say that when they receive such a small amount of cash, it goes directly to daily consumption goods such as rice, instant noodles, soap, and detergent. It is important to note that people never calculate the total amount they receive from these buyers. In contrast to this pattern of income and consumption, the third type of buyers, in combination with a micro-credit program or advance payment scheme, typically adopt a payment method in which the total amount of yearly income is paid at once with a notification form in which all production records for the year are noted. Although most elder farmers are illiterate, some of their family members can read, and therefore written records are considered important. Some farmers choose the third type of buyer simply because they want to know how much they produce and how much they get paid in a year. If they are exceptionally productive, the amount they receive on payday may reach $5,000 or more, although less productive farmers receive much less. When they receive aggregated money, the expenditure plan is drastically different from the daily goods plan. That money can be purposively allocated to fulfil ritual-related expenses, typically contributing to the construction of a cult house, harvest rituals, and life-cycle rituals. Of course, those involved in coffee harvest in the form of labor exchange, even though they may be distant in terms of kinship relations, will be invited and expected to play a certain role in these ritualistic occasions. One may then surmise that farmers who re-introduced labor exchange for the task of coffee harvest must have received their coffee income in aggregate. In recognition of this, some villagers stated clearly to other villagers that receiving their coffee income on a daily basis actually amounts to nothing but in aggregate, it certainly amounts to something.

It is in this context that cash has a compartmented nature in accordance with its aggregated status and should not be universally treated as a general exchangeability. In this regional context, cash largely has specifically allocated purposes.27) Thus understood, this evolutionary model is an ordering principle for those three alternative labor arrangements and relies on the abstract nature of money, namely, its general exchangeability. The ratio between these alternatives, even if smoothly proceeding in the direction of increasing monetary exchange, does not prove any universally applicable tendency towards a cash nexus. At this stage of the argument, it should be obvious that a significant gap can be perceived between these alternative labor arrangements if they are specifically categorized as an economic means to conduct the coffee harvest. However, if one alternative is specifically connected with a network of ritual obligations, its comparability with the others becomes less clear.

Indeed, a fundamental problem involved here is that the hierarchical model along which each alternative is aligned, namely, the idea that the commoditization process gradually proceeds away from kinship-based labor exchange toward wage-based relations, is entirely based on a specific perceptive mode in which the dichotomy between dynamic and static, or new and old, is introduced. However, the relevance of the mode is examined against the background of the situational setting that is, in fact, rendered understandable only through the insertion of the mode itself. In effect, the coffee harvest practices that could be incorporated into the network of ritual obligations and the purely market-based relations that represent the triumph of the cash nexus are, similar to the juxtaposition of ritual unification and trunk-pruning, too heterogeneous to be simply compared. In this situation, a common yardstick must be developed, typically an evolutionary model in which the dichotomy between new and old, or dynamic and static, may play the role of the ordering principle. When a particular categorization of social action retains, at least potentially, the direction of the evolutionary model, as seen in the notion of local institutional mediation of market penetration, it serves to domesticate the heterogeneity. Heterogeneity, which should not be identified with something directly observable, can be recognized only through a juxtaposition of deviating logics, as was done in the case of ritual unification and trunk-pruning.

V Conclusion

The current discussion can be inter-linked with many arguments in which the disjunction between formal institutions and cultural practices may play a key role in representing changes. It is crucial to recognize that the categorization of social action at the base of a discursive space for political maneuver constitutes the gap between local institutions and generalizable economic activities and not the other way round. Further, the notion of market penetration, behind which the self-marginalization thesis is infiltrated, goes hand in hand with the relative autonomy of cultural dimension in formulating the idiom of local institutional mediation through which the rural farmers’ agency can be restored. It should be obvious now that this manner of restoration of the agency on the side of rural farmers is simply a mirror image of eliminating their agency from the process of market penetration.

In this article, I argue that the exploitation of the notion of “local institutional mediation of market penetration” constitutes the gap between local institutions and generalizable economic activities. Thus, if we observe the situation in which local institutions such as kinship networks compensate for the absence of a labor market, we must first question the condition for compensability. This also questions the relevance of func­tionalist exposition whereby the logic of market penetration may persist regardless of farmers’ practices. For example, in the case of trunk pruning as a method of plantation management, the labor process was organized as a ritual unification of the agnatic tie, which appeared to be local. In this context, it seems reasonable to argue that the function of the labor market is taken over by a local institution, namely, the kinship network. This functionalist explanation can be easily incorporated into the logic referenced at the beginning of this article. The ritual was conducted by the members of a cult house, who intentionally performed a white ritual in order to avoid the malevolence of the spiritual being there, and the function of labor market was also fulfilled through this performance. This fulfilment was unintentionally mediated and will continue to mediate market penetration and, in the end, will open up a path to a market economy. The series of events may be characterized as corresponding to the idea that the farmers’ agency culminates in their unintentional self-marginalization. However, the purported agency that is located within local mediation is actually eliminated in the description because the very function of mediating market penetration must be unintentionally achieved. It is a structural problem in the categorization of market penetration rather than a rhetorical problem in the following two senses. First, the logic of productiveness is too heterogeneous to compensate directly for the lack of labor market or, stated another way, the problem of the lack of labor market is visible only if the situation as a whole is characterized as market penetration. Second, insofar as markets penetrate regardless of the farmers’ agency, the results of the local mediation, if it is really mediated, must be outside the purview of the local agency. Therefore, unless local institutional mediation and market mechanism are only functionally equivalent, it makes no sense for local institutions to unintentionally take over the task of a market mechanism.

It is now obvious that the concept of local institutional mediation provides a self-distortion in describing the social practice concerned. The concept of “local” institutional mediation necessarily assumes that those institutions existed prior to the arrival of the “external” market. However, it should be clarified that increasing the formalization of the organizing principles of economic activities dissociates the economic activity in question from the specifications of time and space. Therefore, in this particular social context, the cognitive aspects of market principles inevitably marginalize the site-specific arrangements. Thus, local institutions should be viewed as being localized in the process of universalizing market principles. To recapitulate, the process of reconfiguring the local inevitably postulates the insertion of universality in the epistemological field, whereby locally meaningful places are transformed into spaces for universally applicable social engineering. In this context, it should be emphasized that the insertion of universality, insofar as it is merely a cultural construct, may be substantiated in various manners. Accordingly, a comparative perspective on the commoditization process may direct our attention to the potential plurality in accomplishing the interdependent constitution of market penetration and local institutions. For Timor-Leste, particularly in the context of the increasing emphasis on rural development, the multi-dimensional articulation of various action-models in a certain situational setting might be—or should be—an open question to be pursued.

Accepted: December 4, 2012


I would like to thank Shinichi Kohsaki for his helpful comments on an earlier version of the article. Anonymous reviewers provided insightful suggestions that have significantly improved the structure of the argument presented. The usual disclaimer applies.


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1) For a review of agrarian transformation in Southeast Asian uplands, primarily as a result of both commoditization and developmental state, refer to Hefner (1990), Li (1999), Sikor and Vi (2005), and Cramb (2007, Ch. 1).

2) For an analysis of these high-profile leases of state land in Timor-Leste, see Kanamaru (2012).

3) Although agrarian differentiation is not a main thread of the argument in this article, it can be noted here that the recognition of peasants’ initiatives as a type of negotiability specifically mediated by “local” institutions presupposes the Leninist interpretation that market penetration ordinarily induces pervasive proletarianization as a consequence of agrarian differentiation. Results other than proletarianization are therefore to be explained by vernacular mechanisms unless we adopt a Chayanovian essentialism regarding the resilience of the peasant form of production. This Leninist interpretation is incorrect: there would be no “ordinary” track of proletarianization because agrarian differentiation must be viewed as the “culturally-mediated product of human actions, situated in time and space,” rather than an “automatic outcome of ‘capitalism’” (Li 2002, 430).

4) The material directly related to this section was collected from the Mambai people in Timor-Leste where I worked as an independent coffee consultant to a Dili-based coffee export company, Café Brisa Serena, from August 2010 to December 2011. I would like to express my gratitude to all my colleagues in the company and the coffee producers with whom I communicated.

5) While the rhythm of biennial bearing of a single coffee tree is explained here as relevant, the scope of this explanation falls short of illuminating the synchronized rhythm of biennial bearing across a larger producing region. Interestingly, most centers of Arabica coffee production in Timor-Leste have long exhibited synchronized biennial bearing.

6) Most coffee growers in the Letefoho sub-district of Ermera, a production center in Timor-Leste, attribute a good harvest to good rainfall. I interviewed 35 coffee growers during the relatively good harvest season of 2010. When I asked them about the reason for a good harvest, all interviewees cited good rainfall, especially its timing and volume.

7) For clarity and ease of reference, words derived from the indigenous Mambai language are italicized, while those from Tetun language, the lingua franca of Timor-Leste, are in boldface and italicized. As noted by Traube, the Mambai language in Letefoho differs slightly from that in the Aileu region, where her fieldwork was conducted. While the in-house language in Letefoho is still overwhelmingly Mambai, Tetun is becoming increasingly prevalent in daily conversation, particularly on such occasions as official or semi-official gatherings, considering the possible presence of non-Mambai participants.

8) This unit can be considered as the focal point with which numerous cultural objects are associated. “These include a physical structure, where rites are performed; a name that denotes both the physical house and the affiliated group, and that often alludes to an incident in the house’s history; a succession of male names, beginning with the house’s founder, that is recited on formal occasions; a collection of heirlooms, including weapons and ornaments, that are represented as acquisitions of the house-founder and are stored in the recesses of the house; a set of cult practices known as lisa, comprising dietary restrictions and other observances inherited from the house ancestors” (Traube 1986, 70).

9) Interestingly, marriage is a relatively minor occasion during which goods are exchanged. The fulfilment of the exchange obligation at marriage is supposed to be postponed until the days of mortuary rituals. “Typically, the initial marital payments are materially abbreviated and linguistically de-valued. At most, wife-takers may provide a goat or a horse, referred to as a ‘papaya leaf’ (kaidil-noran), in return for a simple meal of cooked rice and pork described as ‘bitter coffee’ (kefe felun). The costlier transactions are those associated with mortuary ritual” (Traube 1980a, 96). “Time” is conceived of as being maintained by postponed ritual obligations and reactivated through ritual exchanges.

10) The stumping of coffee trees is an act of agricultural production rather than a typical ritual act. However, since this agricultural labor was clearly marked by a dog sacrifice at the beginning and the commensality of the cooked sacrificial meat at the end, it can be considered a type of ritual.

11) In contrast with the sacred house (uma lulik), which should not be touched by the stench of death and decay, each cult house may have a “house of the black,” which is characterized as a “female house” where humans and animals are bred and, at the same time, corpses are laid down. As such, both death and birth are paradoxically associated with the “house of the black.” In present-day Timor-Leste, though, this “female house” rarely exists as a separate physical structure.

12) Traube clearly stated that the totality of the “creation myth” is rather imaginary: “It was not lying about, waiting to be scooped up in the ethnographer’s net as one picture of ethnographic ‘discovery’ would have it. Instead, I freely admit that I contributed to the production of a narrative, by participating in a lengthy process of listening and speaking, a long, twisting, and occasionally painful conversation, repeatedly interrupted by meaningful silences” (Traube 1986, 34). I would like to use Traube’s precious “contribution” as a heuristic device, rather than as “collected evidence.” The summary of the creation myth presented here is based on this reconstructive contribution (ibid., 36–45).

13) Our Mother gave birth (white character) to the sacred mountain in the inner black. She died, but her body was not decomposed. She was buried again and again, and kept traveling. Her body was finally decomposed in Raimaus, but only half of it. It is from Our Mother herself that both “white milk” and “black earth” originate.

14) The stones can also be considered as an umbilical cord because communication with the invisible is likened to a return to Our Mother’s womb. The umbilical cord image is expressed by hanging the small intestine of the sacrificial dog beside the holy stone. Further, the dog must be killed by clubbing in order to avoid cutting the communication route, which is itself seen as a sort of umbilical cord.

15) Mambai people associate paternal transmission with bone and maternal transmission with flesh and blood. This metaphorical association clearly shows the shared cultural opposition between “hard” agnatic ties and “soft” affinal relationships (cf. Traube 1980a, 98).

16) Mortuary rituals can be an ideal occasion to see through the interdependence between the perishable (mortal human body) and the durable (immortal spirit). It might be easy to understand why affinal kin groups are obliged to support, in fact, to substantially preside over, the mortuary ritual of their wife-givers if we recognize that the immutability of an agnatic tie can be achieved only by assistance from their affinal kin groups representing mortality.

17) This does not necessarily mean that land ownership is basically obtained by cult houses. In fact, Letefoho residents have reported that all coffee plantations are owned by individuals.

18) It might be important to note that as the land rent of the demonstration plot was received by the landlord as an individual, it cannot be incorporated into the logic of productiveness.

19) In fact, most educated groups in present-day Timor-Leste are likely to be the first to promote the productivity-oriented view. Moreover, since their education is nothing but a consequence of the relatively higher status of their cult house, they may be interested in the continuous institutionalization of the cult house through, for instance, the mobilization of labor for the purpose of productivity.

20) In this connection, a new problem has been raised recently in light of the effect of agro-food stan­dards in re-commoditization (Daviron and Vagneron 2011). For a review of the commoditization debate, refer to Bernstein (1988) and Long (2001).

21) Significant elaboration has been made on this concept over the last two-and-a-half decades, although in economic sociology, it was rather disconnected in some junctures from Polanyi’s usage (cf. Granovetter 1985; Zelizer 1988; Beckert 1996; 2003; 2007; Fligstein 1996; Hollingsworth and Boyer 1997; Krippner 2001). These efforts can be linked to some pioneering attempts in economics to recognize the fact that economic actions are rooted in social processes, emphasizing commitments to the moral sense of self (cf. Sen 1977; Bowles 1998). In fact, “new” economic sociology can be interpreted as a reaction to the “expansion of the economic rational choice approach into substantial fields that were hitherto domains of sociology” in the 1970s (Beckert 2007, 6). Fundamentally, the most important insights from the “new” economic sociology are articulated with the viewpoint that identities and preferences are inter-reflexively constituted. This view may resonate with an understanding of representation in its double sense: struggles over the power to label social relations are crucial for comparative and historical analysis and should be related to representations of self and interests (cf. Jenson 1990, 662–663).

22) Apparently, this proposal does not solve the problem of circularity. It simply claims that the boundary between market- and culture-based relations precedes any theoretical construction of the concept of market.

23) Please note that since its independence in 2002 Timor-Leste has used the US dollar as the national currency. Furthermore, interestingly enough, the size of the sack used in the harvesting could vary, although people commonly reuse rice bags (38 kg of rice) or plastic bags distributed by major coffee exporters (20–25 kg of red cherries). It may suggest that rigorous measurement is not practical in their day-to-day practices and people do not judge things against the yardstick of the ideal situation of rigorous measurement.

24) Typically, in order to draw out their answers, I added the following questions: When did you harvest last week? When you harvested, how many people came to your coffee forest to join in the harvesting? Did you pay them money or did they bring some bags of cherries home?

25) In addition, as noted above, because of the proclivity to biennial bearing, the required amount of harvesting labor may also fluctuate every other year. As a result, if we study the type of labor arrangements in the year of poor harvest, the ratio of family-based labor may significantly increase due to the low level of labor demand.

26) When red cherries are de-pulped and dried, it is recommended that the beans be dried until the moisture content is reduced to 10–12 percent. These beans, actually coffee seeds, with thin white skins, are called dried parchment. Please note that there are many ways to process coffee—converting red cherries to green beans—in the form of which coffee is exported.

27) It should be noted that the compartmented nature of money is not confined within this regional context. Zelizer (1994) vividly elucidated historical transformations in spending money, particularly in earmarking and differentiating monies, in the United States between the 1870s and 1930s. Her argument clarifies that when the households’ involvement in differentiating expenditures are increased, people’s identities and personal competences, redefining the notion of social control, become increasingly reconfigured through the way of spending monies. It is in this sense that the definition of money as general exchangeability is merely a cultural construct, specifically characterizing the non-general type of exchange as “cultural.”


Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 183-206
©Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

Vol. 3, No. 1, Ramon Guillermo

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 1

Themes of Invention, Help, and Will: Joachim Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere in Tagalog and Bahasa Melayu Translations

Ramon Guillermo*

* Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City 1101 Metro Manila, Philippines

e-mail: bomen.guillermo[at]gmail.com

Joachim Heinrich Campe’s pedagogical work Robinson der Jüngere (1779/1780) represents one of the most important and popular educational works of the European Enlightenment. It is not widely known that this work was translated into Malay as Hikayat Robinson Crusoë (1875) and into Tagalog as Ang Bagong Robinson (1879) in the late nineteenth century. This paper attempts a preliminary comparative analysis of these translations with a particular focus on the problem of translating concepts from political economy into Tagalog and Malay.

Keywords: political economy, Joachim Heinrich Campe, Adam Smith, Malay translations, Tagalog translations, Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, translation studies


This paper presents a preliminary comparative analysis of the translations of Joachim Heinrich Campe’s pedagogical work Robinson der Jüngere (RDJ) into Malay—Hikayat Robinson Crusoë (HRC)—and Tagalog—Ang Bagong Robinson (ABR). Given the strong economic themes present in these works, and in Robinsonades in general, the analysis shall be done from the point of view of the translation of political-economic concepts. Doris Jedamski explains why these types of translation analyses have not until recently been given the attention they deserve, despite their obvious advantages:

. . . indigenous translations and adaptations of Western novels and their impact in colonial societies have so far found little scholarly attention. A possible explanation for this negligence is the general misapprehension that translations and adaptations are no more than the reproduction of European cultural products in indigenous languages, without the insights into cultural transformation that are present in “original” novels by colonial subjects. (Jedamski 2002, 45)

Since this study is partly intended to provide “insights into cultural transformations” by means of translation analysis, it does not aim to assess or measure fidelity or translational accuracy. Rather, it seeks to compare the conceptual systems and discursive elements informing the three texts in question. Its aim is to make use of the contrastive resources that the techniques of translation analysis bring in order to probe into the specificity of discursive elements and conceptual histories in the respective texts being analyzed. Given this objective, the fact that HRC and ABR are “relay translations” of the original German text, from Dutch and Spanish respectively, can be considered a secondary problem in the context of the overall study. The translations will be read on their own terms with respect to their distinctive discursive characteristics. It is undeniable that as far as the receptor cultures and reading publics who are without access to the original language of the source text are concerned, these translations are, for all intents and purposes, stand-alone works. However, as much as possible some of the mediating translations will be consulted in order to refine the analysis and establish the origin of some major textual differences. It should be emphasized in advance that this paper is not a study in linguistics but rather an exercise in attempting to combine what has been called “discourse analysis” and “conceptual history.”

Text 1: Robinson der Jüngere

Daniel Defoe’s (1660–1731) novel with the full title The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pirates. Written by Himself, otherwise more briefly known as The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe or even just Robinson Crusoe, was first published in 1719 and is considered to be the first English novel. Due to its great success among the reading publics of Europe, it also became one of the most well-known and widely translated works in world literature.

The mythos of Crusoe attained such a degree of popularity in eighteenth-century Germany that the term “Robinsonade,” referring to a distinct literary genre, was coined by the writer Johann Gottfried Schnabel (1692–1758) as early as 1731 to refer to works sharing similar themes and premises (Schnabel 1994). An enormous amount of critical and scholarly material on German literary Robinsonades accumulated up to the end of the twentieth century (Wegehaupt 1991; Stach 1996). Among the eighteenth-century German Robinsonades, the most popular and most successful on a Europe-wide scale was a two-volume educational work by the Enlightenment pedagogue Joachim Heinrich Campe (1746–1818) titled Robinson der Jüngere: Zur angenehmen und nützlichen Unterhaltung für Kinder (The new Robinson: Agreeable and useful entertainment for children, 1779–80) (see Fig. 1). The title alone indicates a new attitude to the pedagogical practice of the time, which considered “useful” and “entertaining” as irreconcilable opposites.


Fig. 1 Title Page of Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere (28th Edition, 1837)

Campe was one of the most prominent figures in the German Enlightenment and was well known throughout Europe in the nineteenth century for his innovative edu­cational and linguistic theories. He began his career as the tutor of the future naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) and his brother, Wilhelm von ­Humboldt (1767–1835), who would become an important founder of historical linguistics, a philosopher, and a politician. (Interestingly enough for the present study, the latter would end up writing some of the most important and pioneering early European studies on Malay and Tagalog.) Campe was part of an eminent group of educators that included Johann Bernhard Basedow (1724–90) and Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1744–1811) and was heavily influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s educational novel Émile, ou De l’éducation (1762). The group were known as the “Philanthropen” (those who love humanity), and their educational approach was called “Philanthropismus.” They frowned upon rote learning and corporal punishment, criticized the authoritarianism of adults in the learning process, and rejected the treatment of children as “small grown-ups.” Campe was also a well-known and effective advocate of what is today disparagingly called ­“linguistic purism” (Sprachreinigung). His reasons for advocating the above position on language use were consistent with his Enlightenment beliefs in human emancipation, democratization, and pedagogical effectivity. One of the representative philosophical works defining Campe’s educational outlook in the context of his time was the short study Von der nöthigen Sorge für die Erhaltung des Gleichgewichts unter den menschlichen Kräften (On the necessary concern for the preservation of balance among the human powers, 1785). It was during the 1770s, when he ran a school in Hamburg along “philan­thropist” lines, that he produced his free “Rousseauist” version of Robinson Crusoe, titled ­Robinson der Jüngere, considered the first work of German literature intended for ­children. Rousseau had famously written that the first book the student Émile would read would be Robinson Crusoe, a book that according to him was the best treatise on “natural education” (Rousseau 1882, 131–132). Campe’s adaptation of Defoe’s plot is supplied with a frame story of a father telling the story to his children, his wife, and some of their friends. As a literary work for children, Campe’s rendition emphasizes a more explicitly didactic and moral function. Looked at from the practical side, the story is divided into 45 parts, each of which is short enough for evening reading sessions with children.

Campe’s 17-year-old hero from the German city of Hamburg, named “Krusoe” (rather than Robinson), is the last surviving son of his parents after one brother died in a war and another of disease. Against the wishes of his parents, who spoil him due to their fondness for him, he decides to set out to sea in order to seek his fortune. Various untoward incidents intervene, purportedly to teach him a lesson for disobeying his ­parents, until he finds himself the lone survivor of a shipwreck on a remote island in the Caribbean. David Blamires, who finds that Campe succeeded in crafting a “miniature history of human development,” divides Campe’s novel into three periods as follows:

In the first, he is alone and has to make shift with just his head and his hands. In the second he gains a companion, Friday, and learns to value human society. Finally, in the third the wreck of a European ship provides him with tools and other things that make for a more civilized life and eventually permit him to return first to England and then to Hamburg, where he is reconciled with his father and finds that his mother has died. (Blamires 2009, 30)

The central, and in Campe’s view quite crucial, distinction between his and Defoe’s works is that where Defoe’s Robinson has at least a gun, some tools, food, and drink to get him started, Campe’s has nothing but the clothes on his back and some songs he has learned by heart. Indeed, some readers better acquainted with this type of environment would find it quite strange how easily Campe’s Robinson is able to satisfy his ravenous hunger after washing up on the island without any tools to help him open oyster shells. He also seems to have plucked and eaten coconuts just like apples from a tree.

Though Robinson der Jüngere was soon eclipsed in the English-speaking world by Johann David Wyss’s (1743–1818) phenomenally successful Der Schweizerische Robinson (1812–13), more famously known under the title Swiss Family Robinson (ibid., 79ff), Campe’s novel would be read and translated into innumerable languages, including Malay and Tagalog, throughout the nineteenth century. Data gathered from Hermann Ullrich’s (1898) bibliography of Robinson Crusoe and various other Robinsonades spanning the period 1770–1870 (not including the Tagalog and Malay translations) shows that RDJ was translated into at least 12 languages during that period, most often into French (with 14 translations), Danish (7), and English (5). Relevant to the present study are the two translations into Dutch and one translation into Spanish. Ullrich estimates that 117 German editions of RDJ were printed until 1894, but he unfortunately does not include data on the many abridgments of Campe’s Robinsonade upon which the Malay translation may have been based (see Figs. 2 and 3). Although this is beyond the scope of this study, it might be interesting to note that for the period 1900–90, Reinhard Stach (1996) was able to identify at least 111 editions, adaptations, and abridgments of Campe’s work (with available years of publication). Of this total, 93 appeared between the end of the first decade of the twentieth century and the 1940s, after which there was a sharp decline.


Fig. 2 Number of Translations of Robinson der Jüngere and Number of Languages Translated into per Decade from 1770 to 1870


Fig. 3 Number of Translations of Robinson der Jüngere per Language from 1770 to 1870

Source: Ullrich (1898)

Text 2: Hikayat Robinson Crusoë

In 1875, Joachim Heinrich Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere was translated from Dutch into Bahasa Melayu as Hikayat Robinson Crusoë by the “Indo” (Eurasian) Adolf Friedrich von Dewall (or Von de Wall). He was born in Cirebon on April 28, 1834, and died in Jakarta (formerly Batavia) on July 6, 1909. His father, Hermann, was a German (which explains the “von” in his name instead of the Dutch “van”) employed as a government official in West Borneo, where the young Adolf grew up, it is said, “almost like a native” among the locals. When Adolf entered government service, his mastery of Melayu and sufficient grasp of both Sundanese and Javanese led him to be assigned to work as an official translator of adventure stories and popular scientific works intended for educational purposes (Molhuysen and Blok 1930, 386).

Being a translation probably intended to be used for teaching “proper” or “high” Malay, HRC was most likely used as a school textbook and would be reprinted by the Government Printing Office (Pertjetakan Goewernemen) eight times by 1910 (Jedamski 2002) (see Fig. 4). Previous studies by Jedamski (ibid.; 2009) and Waruno Mahdi (n.d.) have been helpful in situating HRC within the field of Malay language and literature. Jedamski’s pioneering research on HRC was probably the first to stress its importance for Malay and Indonesian literary historiography. Although Jedamski considered this translation to be the first literary work to successfully introduce the novel form to a Malay audience, she justifiably entertained doubts regarding the efficacy of HRC with respect to its Malay readership due to the great difficulties that she observed regarding the transmission of “alien” European concepts such as that of “individualism” to a very different religious and sociocultural context. She also observed the difficulties in actually measuring the impact of this work on the development of Indonesian literature as a whole:

Von de Wall’s Crusoë was printed with government support and, as in the case of all succeeding Indonesian versions of Robinson Crusoe, it was used for educational purposes (that is, within the Dutch-controlled education system). As such, it seems safe to assume that the dissemination of the Crusoe story was primarily undertaken as an educational measure. Statistics on distribution figures or records on readers’ reactions to the book are, of course, almost non-existent. It is therefore almost impossible to make reliable statements with regard to the reception of this novel in colonial Indonesia. (Jedamski 2002, 29)


Fig. 4 Cover of Von Dewall’s Hikayat Robinson Crusoë (8th printing, 1910)

The language of HRC appears to follow closely the linguistic conventions of “hikayats” or Malay sagas of the same period. One indicator of its closeness to conventional literary patterns is the fact that out of approximately 1,047 sentences, 58 percent start with the word maka (hence), 4.5 percent with sjahdan (so it happened/and then), and 4 percent with hatta (then/thereupon). This means that around 70 percent of the sentences begin in a formulaic way, akin to oral performance. Waruno Mahdi makes the following observation:

The language is a remarkably good example of classical “High” Malay, and the only points of criticism regard the vocalization that is inevitable when mastery of the language tradition is based exclusively on acquaintance with Jawi script written sources. (Waruno Mahdi n.d., 25)

Second, it turns out that one of the most pressing problems in analyzing HRC as a relay translation is in establishing its immediate Dutch language source text. The title page of HRC only indicates the source language to be Dutch but does not specify the title of the Dutch edition that served as the main source text. This is a more pressing issue with respect to HRC than ABR because the Malay version represents a significant abridgment of RDJ along with several, not insignificant, textual revisions. HRC has no chapters and is one long text. The framing story of RDJ has been removed, chapters and other divisions have been eliminated, the long subplot about Friday’s father has been deleted, and almost every aspect of the text has been simplified or made more compact. Chapters 20, 25, 27, and 28 are completely omitted from HRC. The Malay text perhaps adds up to only one-fourth or even less than the original length of RDJ. A sentence-by-sentence comparison shows that only an average of 38.45 percent of content per chapter has been retained from each of the 30 chapters of RDJ (see Fig. 5).


Fig. 5 Approximate Sentence-by-Sentence Matching of Robinson der Jüngere and Hikayat Robinson Crusoë by Chapter (1–30) in Percentages

Jedamski (2009, 199) has proposed the source text as being Gerard Keller’s trans­lation titled Geschiedenis van Robinson Crusoe verkort (The abridged story of Robinson Crusoe, 1869). An interesting sidelight to the history of HRC is that Von de Wall’s translation was considered attractive enough to be published twice without proper attribution by other people claiming to be its author in the daily Bintang Sorabaia (Star of Surabaya)—the first time in 1888–89 and the second, under the false title Hikayat Anoewari, anaknja saorang miskin (Story of Anoewari, son of a poor man), in 1901–2. Jedamski gives details on the reactions of some readers to these attempts at plagiarism (ibid., 177–179).

Text 3: Ang Bagong Robinson

Joaquin Tuason, the Tagalog translator of Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere (1879), was born on August 19, 1843, and died on September 27, 1908. Despite his being one of the most prolific and well-known Tagalog writers of the nineteenth century, relatively little is known about him. Modern literary prejudices against “mere” translators and authors of religious works have ensured his slide into obscurity. He was the son of a landowner-merchant in Pateros and received schooling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila (Mojares 2006, 430). He worked as a translator of Spanish religious and moral treatises and also wrote poetry in his own right from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Among his works, Matuid na Landas Patungo sa Langit (Straight path to Heaven) was the most popular and was printed in 10 editions after its initial publication in 1869 (Quirino 1995). For a relatively complete bibliography of Tuason’s works, see Manuel (1955).

His translation of RDJ was titled Ang Bagong Robinson, historiang nagtuturo nang mabubuting caugalian, na guinauang tanungan nang icatuto at icalibang nang manga batang babayi,t lalaqui (The new Robinson, a story that teaches good conduct, that has been made into a question and answer form so that girls and boys can learn and be entertained) (see Fig. 6). Like the Malay version, Tuason’s translation was not translated directly from German but was a relay translation from Tomás de Iriarte’s (1750–91) El Nuevo Robinson, which was first published in 1789 and reprinted in 1804 and 1811 (Ullrich 1898). Iriarte’s translation is said to have been a popular textbook in Spanish schools long before Defoe’s original was finally translated into Spanish in 1835 (Pym 2010). In his “Translator’s Prologue,” Iriarte heartily recommends Campe’s version while praising the “justified banning” of Defoe’s Robinson by the Tribunal de la Fé in 1756 and inclusion in the Index librorum prohibitorum due to its abundance of “dangerous maxims” (peligrosos máximas) (Campe 1820, IX). He also informs the reader that he took the liberty of suppressing, adding to, or changing Campe’s text in not just a few places to correct some factual errors, clarify some ideas that seemed too difficult for children to grasp, and reduce the number of bothersome digressions and repetitions (ibid., XII). One of his interventions is to correct Campe’s description of llamas having “humps” (corcoba). He also adds a long, “more scientific” discussion about lightning (ibid., 125–127), to which Tuason in turn adds a footnote about lightning in the Philippines. Iriarte’s prologue (also partially translated by Tuason) ends with long quotations from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s (1539–1616) account of the life of Pedro Serrano, a Spaniard shipwrecked on a desert island, which is considered one of the many literary precursors of Robinson Crusoe. The differences between its presumed French source (by an anonymous translator) and ­Iriarte’s translation have been closely scrutinized by Marizzi (2008). He discovered that the originally informal modes of address used by the children to address their parents had become formal in Iriarte, and that the letters written by the children no longer used childish language as in the French and German versions but had become filled with “horrible formalisms.” Their speech had also departed from Campe’s deliberately simple language and were now replete with complex grammatical constructions. Contrary to Campe’s effort to use German terms that could be understood by ordinary people, ­Iriarte’s text is peppered throughout with “learned words” (cultismos). Marizzi’s opinion is that these changes reveal differences between the Spanish and German reception of Enlightenment ideals. Tuason’s Ang Bagong Robinson was the second work in novel form, after the Tagalog translation of Enrique Perez Escrich’s El Martir de Golgota in 1872, to be introduced to a Tagalog reading public. Significantly, the Tagalog translation was commissioned and published by the Dominican Colegio de Santo Tomas.


Fig. 6 Title Page of Tuason’s Ang Bagong Robinson (1st printing, 1879)

Though there were Spanish editions in several formats, including single-volume, two-volume, and three-volume ones, the edition upon which the Tagalog translation is based is probably the 1846 edition, because its first volume is made up of the first 13 chapters, unlike the original German version, where the first volume consists of only the first 11 chapters. The second volume of this Spanish edition contains chapters numbered 14 to 31.

The second volume of the German edition contains chapters 12 to 30. The reason there is one additional chapter in the Spanish edition is that the 17th chapter corresponding to the German edition has been broken into two chapters. Each chapter in the Spanish edition is titled “Tarde” (afternoon), which explains why the Tagalog translation has chapters titled “Afternoon” (hapon) rather than “Evening” (Abend) as in the German original. The Tagalog translation follows the 1846 Spanish edition closely with respect to the division of volumes and chapter numbering (as Elmer Nocheseda observed in an email dated June 23, 2010).

Tuason, like Iriarte, admitted to having made changes to the text: “In translating this work, I have removed what I deemed of no use to Tagalogs; in the same way, I added prayers to the benevolent Virgin whenever Robinson faces misfortune” (Sa pagtagalog nito,y, aquing linisan ang inaacalà cong uari hindi paquiquinabangan nang manga tagalog; gayon din naman aquing dinagdagan nang pagmamacaauà sa mapagpalang Virgen sa touînang daratnan si Robinson nang anomang casacunaan) (Campe 1879, 12).1) One example of such a change is the fate of Campe’s heavily modified version of the song “Morgengesang” (morning song) dating from 1757, written by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715–69) and with music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Instead of being a straightforward Spanish version, the verses included in Iriarte’s translation constitute a totally different work from Gellert’s original. For his part, Tuason explains in a footnote that aside from his translation of the relevant verses from Iriarte, he has appended eight additional strophes in his translation. In these strophes he mentions “Virgen Maria,” “Ester,” “Joséng Esposo ni Maria” (Jose, the husband of Maria), and the “daquilang Arcángel Rafael” (great Archangel Rafael). Tuason’s additional explanatory footnotes are also worth mentioning in this context. For example, he adds a note in the sixth chapter commenting on the rarity of anyone being struck by lightning in Europe as compared to the “archipelago” (sancapuluan), where there is news of at least one person being struck dead by lightning every year (ibid., 157). In the 10th chapter, he explains that during the winter season (panahon nang taglamig) leaves fall from the trees, and the plants, seemingly dead, do not bear fruit (ibid., 240). A note in the 14th chapter on the mention of the “abedul” (birch) tree says, “these trees cannot be found here in the Philip­pines” (Ang mana cahoy na ito,y, uala rito sa Filipinas) (Campe 1880, 5). There are even such slippages as when the father/narrator in the story compares a fruit on Robinson’s island to a “guava fruit as we have here in the Philippines” (bayabas natin dito sa Filipinas) (Campe 1879, 117) and says that a llama is for the island “what a deer would be here in the Philippines” (na siyang pinacausá cung baga dito sa Filipinas) (ibid., 141).

Iriarte uses the term “indio” to translate the German words “der Wilde” (the savage) seven times, “Freitag” (Friday) nine times, and “Indianer” (Indian) and “Amerikaner” (American) once each. Given the heavily loaded connotations of “indio” in the Philippine colonial context, where it referred to “pure natives,” it should be interesting to see how Tuason, who was himself a Chinese mestizo, reacted to it as a translator (this problem was posed by Elmer Nocheseda in an email dated August 4, 2010). He translates Iriarte’s usages of “indio” 11 times as “Domingo” (“Sunday,” Iriarte’s translation of the name “Friday”); 5 times as “tauong bundoc” (mountain people); and once each as “mabangis na tauo” (wild people), “manga caauauang tauo” (wretched people), and “indio.” (“Indio” appears in the Spanish text without a corresponding equivalent in the German original seven times, while it is left untranslated in the Tagalog text six times.) There is one instance where the text differentiates between Peruvian Indians, who are “civilized,” and the other “indios,” who are savages. Tuason is thus able to use the word in the sense of “civilized indios” in the sentence: “Isn’t it so that the Peruvians are not really savages like other indios?” (¿Cung sa bagay, ay ang manga perulero ay hindi totoong manga ­tauong damó na para nang ibang manga indio?) (ibid., 120). The Peruvians were indeed “indios,” but despite this they were not savages like “all the other” indios and instead were “truly civilized” (totoong mana sivilisado) (ibid., 121). In all other cases where “indio” refers unambiguously to savages, Tuason avoids translating the word or replaces it with “tauong bundoc” (mountain people) in five instances. The appellation “los indios bravos,” which was adopted by Jose Rizal and his friends, occurs once in Iriarte’s translation and is rendered as “mabangis na tauo” (savage people), which has the same meaning as the original term “die Wilde” (savages), which appeared in RDJ. “Salvage” (alternative spelling: “salvaje”) is translated into Tagalog as “tauong bundoc” 68 times, as “tauong damo” (grass people) 3 times, and as “tauong tampalasan” (vile people) in one instance. Quite puzzlingly, “tauong bundoc” and “tauong damo” do not actually fit into the island context but are rather pejorative terms for “uncivilized” people who have escaped from the Spanish colonizers by living in the mountains. Finally, Iriarte’s usage of “barbaro” (barbarian) is translated as “tauong bundoc” four times and as “tauong mababangis” (savage people), “manga tampalasan” (vile people), and “mga tauong tacsil” (traitorous people) once each (Fig. 7).


Fig. 7 Iriarte’s Use of “Indio” and Tuason’s Equivalents

Many interesting aspects of Tuason’s translation still have to be looked into, particularly in relation to Iriarte’s Spanish translation. Similar to Jedamski’s assessment of HRC, the literary historian Resil Mojares notes that the “bourgeois individualism” in Defoe’s original Robinson Crusoe appears to have been supplanted by religious virtues in Tuason’s rendition (Mojares 1998, 89).

Translation Analysis

Without a doubt, Defoe’s original novel has far outlasted Campe’s version, despite the latter’s countless editions, translations, and abridgments, both as a far more complex work of art and in terms of popularity. The temporary advantages that the banning by Catholic censors of Defoe’s “dangerous” novel offered over the other “safer” Robinsonades sanctioned by Church and state authorities have long since disappeared. UNESCO’s Index Translationum (accessed November 4, 2013) lists 224 new editions and translations of Defoe’s novel into various languages from 2000 to 2012. There were only two translations of Campe’s version in the same period, one in Japanese (2006) and the other in Danish (2005). For its time, Campe’s extraordinarily successful Robinsonade was perhaps just as much an effort at rendering a version of Robinson Crusoe that could be more safely digested by German-style Protestantism, as it was an attempt to produce something more in line with the Rousseauist pedagogical aims of the Philanthropists. Iriarte’s very “Catholic” translation of Campe’s work, despite the controversy surrounding ­Rousseau’s Émile, must be considered as part of the early Spanish reception, generally mediated through French translations, of the pedagogical ideas he inspired in the ­German-speaking world among thinkers such as Campe himself and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827). On the other hand, the reasons behind the translation of what appears to be a Christian treatise in a predominantly Islamic Dutch colony are perhaps murkier. (“Allah” is used consistently throughout the text to refer to “God”; “Tuhan” [Lord], on the other hand, is never used.) Doubtless, however, is the fact that both Von de Wall’s and Tuason’s translations must be understood, even with all their ideological distortions, deliberate omissions, and dubious additions, as further extensions overseas of the dissemination of German pedagogical Rousseauism, mainly through French translations.

Any finite translation analysis cannot deal with all aspects of the texts in question but has to discover a conceptual point of entry or fulcrum. Finding and selecting a central point upon which to anchor the translation analysis requires a period of reflection on the textual materials. The preliminary analysis indicates that a useful point of entry in the analysis would be the comparison of the respective languages of “political economy” in RDJ, HRC, and ABR. This may seem somewhat odd given that Campe’s text is ostensibly a moral-pedagogical treatise. However, one of the major preoccupations of RDJ is the problem of the pressing needs that Robinson has as he is stranded on the island and the means by which he succeeds in satisfying these needs. Melani Budianta’s (2002) excellent study of the concept of “money” in Aman Datoek Madjoindo’s novel Tjerita Boedjang Bingoeng (The story of Bujang Bingung, 1935) has already shown the potential of this kind of “political-economic” approach to literary material. RDJ may, in fact, be one of the first texts translated into Malay and Tagalog with significant discussions on modern European economic themes.

In his famous reference to Robinson Crusoe, Karl Marx writes:

Because political economy is fond of Robinsonades, Robinson appears at first on his island. Humble as he may be, he has nevertheless various needs (Bedürfnisse) to satisfy and must therefore perform different kinds of useful labor, make tools, fabricate furniture, tame llamas (Lama zähmen), fish, hunt etc. (Marx 1956, 90)2)

It can be noticed here that Marx mentions Robinson taming “llamas” rather than the “goats” that are more properly found in Defoe’s novel. This may lead one to suspect that Marx actually read Campe’s version, with its “humped llamas,” rather than Defoe’s version, with its hairy goats. It would, however, be rash to conclude this since Campe’s Robinson was a German from the city of Hamburg while Marx specifically refers to Robinson in the continuation of the passage above as being a “good Englishman” (güter Engländer). Robinson’s habit of keeping a journal, a fact that is central to Marx’s point, is also more pronounced in Defoe’s version. It may therefore be the case that Marx was familiar with both versions and his portrait of Robinson in Das Kapital is a kind of composite from Campe and Defoe. Ian Watt (1996, 178) even asserts that Marx poured his scorn on the economists who used Campe’s RDJ as an illustrative text and imagined it was the original version. Moore and Aveling’s (Marx 1961) English translation of Das Kapital supervised by Friedrich Engels replaced Marx’s reference to Campe’s llamas with Defoe’s goats. In Ben Fowkes’s (Marx 1976) translation, on the other hand, the goats are restored to llamas (see Fig. 8).


Fig. 8 Robinson Crusoe’s Llama (Frontispiece, Robinson der Jüngere)

Many readers of the above passage have found it difficult to accept Marx’s assertion that the relation between Robinson and the products of his labor on the island, in spite of the simplicity of Robinson’s situation, “contained all the essential determinants of value” (Und dennoch sind alle wesentlichen Bestimmungen des Werts enthalten). Michael Berger in his guidebook to Das Kapital dismisses this statement as being incoherent, since, according to him, “Robinson does not produce for exchange, his work is only concrete work, and therefore his products do not possess value. It is hardly evident that all essential determinations of value are contained in this example. . . . The text only says therefore that in precapitalist modes of productions, no social relations are hidden” (2003, 59). Michael Heinrich, on the contrary, emphasizes that Marx is referring to the existence of the “essential determinations of value” and not “value” per se as being present in the example: “Marx does not write that value relations would exist on Robinson’s island. Given the lack of exchange, this would be empty nonsense. What he writes is that the ‘essential determinants of value’ would exist” (2009, 194). Heinrich understands “essential determinants” in this passage to refer to “the proportional allo­cation of the total amount of labor” (die proportionelle Verteilung der Gesamtarbeit). Jacques Bidet (2007, 286), for his part, argues that the interpretation of “value” in this passage is not to be confused with that specific to capitalist social relations but is rather a general or transhistorical notion that the “time of labor” always remains the “measure of the cost of production.”3)

Marx offers a way of reading Robinson Crusoe as an economic parable that could profitably be taken up in this study. However, using his concepts to analyze Campe’s specifically economic discourse would probably lead to unwanted anachronisms. In light of the 100-year gap between RDJ and Das Kapital, it would be quite unlikely that they would be speaking the same economic idiom. Fortunately, the first foreign language into which Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (WN) was translated was German. It was translated in 1776, the same year its first edition was also published in English and three years before the first printing of RDJ (see Fig. 9). This translation was made by Johann Friedrich Schiller (1737–1814), a cousin of the famous poet and dramatist. Despite the fame of Smith’s earlier Theory of Moral Sentiments, which met with an immediate enthusiastic reception upon its translation into German in 1770, this translation of WN failed to find a substantial readership and did not apparently exert any influence at all on economic thinking in Germany at the time of its publication. Norbert Waszek (1993, 166), like many other historians, attributes this partly to the allegedly poor quality of Schiller’s translation, although Keith Tribe (2000, 128), who finds nothing substantially inferior about this translation, disagrees with the verdict. Tribe instead attributes the poor reception to the inability of German economists at that time to fully understand the novelty of Smith’s ideas beyond mercantilism and physiocracy. The next translation, by Christian Garve, the first volume of which came out in 1794, turned out to be much more successful. Waszek offers the following explanation:

While J. F. Schiller was simply a translator with no literary reputation, Garve was one of the most highly respected and influential German philosophers in the 1770s and 1780s. . . . The fact that a man of his standing undertook the new translation ensured a wider and more sympathetic audience for Adam Smith. (Waszek 1993, 167)


Fig. 9 Time Line of Relevant Works

Nevertheless, it would take a few more decades until Smithian economic ideas began to be genuinely understood and adopted in Germany, where cameralism still dominated the field of public administration, economic theory, and policy (Tribe 1995).

Given that the first German translations of WN and RDJ are almost contemporaneous, it might be possible to take up Marx’s insight on the economic content of the ­Robinsonade as a literary genre in general so that this can be applied to RDJ, while carefully avoiding anachronism by using WN and its early German translations as the main discursive reference points. Although there are indications that Campe had some awareness of the prevailing economic doctrines of his time, it is not actually necessary to assume that he had read WN either in English or in German translation in order to compare the implicit economic ideas in RDJ to their nineteenth-century translations in Malay and Tagalog. It is sufficient that he was evidently dealing in some economic terms and notions in RDJ that were in general usage in the late eighteenth century.

Table 1 shows selected lexical elements from RDJ related to the thematics of political economy. (The old spellings from the eighteenth-century German text and nineteenth-century Tagalog and Malay texts will be maintained when quoting from these in the course of the analysis.) Fig. 10 shows the “economic” terms selected from RDJ, HRC, and ABR in relation to some central concepts from WN and Das Kapital. The foregoing translation analysis will look into some salient economic notions as these were translated from RDJ to HRC and ABR. The most central of these notions (not all of them explicitly formulated in WN) are “exchange value,” “use value,” “division of labor,” “abstract labor,” “socially necessary labor time,” and “needs.”

Table 1 Selected “Economic” Terms from RDJ with Frequency of Appearance



Fig. 10 Selected “Economic” Terms from WN, RDJ, HRC, ABR, and Das Kapital

“Value in Exchange” and “Value in Use”

Smith defines “value” as follows:

The word value, it is to be observed, has two different meanings, and sometimes expresses the utility of some particular object, and sometimes the power of purchasing other goods which the possession of that object conveys. The one may be called “value in use”; the other, “value in exchange.” The things which have the greatest value in use have frequently little or no value in exchange; and, on the contrary, those which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no value in use. Nothing is more useful than water: but it will purchase scarce anything; scarce anything can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it. (Smith 1904, 30)

Smith’s distinction between “value in exchange” and “value in use” (see also Marx 1956, 50) is elaborated thematically in RDJ when Robinson discovers a clump of gold in his cave dwelling. Robinson estimates that it is large enough to mint 100,000 “Thaler” (a Swiss or German coin). In ABR, on the other hand, it is stated that “if it was made into money” (Tag: cung gagau-ing salapi) it would add up to the huge sum of “one hundred thousand pesos” (Tag: sandaang libong piso). RDJ notes that Robinson is now rich in gold, the universal medium of exchange, and capable of buying anything he wants. Unfortunately, “there was no one [on the island] that had anything to sell” (Ger: da war ja keiner, der was zu verkaufen hatte / Tag: ualà isa mang tauong magbili sa caniya nang anomang bagay). Robinson therefore has the occasion to reflect on the unexpected “uselessness” of the clump of gold. He asks aloud, “of what use are you to me?” (Ger: Was nüzest du mir? / Mal: apakah goenanja emas ini bagikoe / Tag: Anong mahihita co sa iyo?). He then kicks it aside while remarking that he would exchange it without hesitation for a handful of “nails” (Ger: Nägel / Mal: pakoe / Tag: paco) or any other “useful tool” (Ger: nüzliches Werkzeug / Mal: barang jang bergoena / Tag: casangcapang paquiquinabangan). Since the use-value of money is its ability to function as a universal equivalent for other commodities that can function as use-values for the buyer, money that cannot fulfill this function is divested of all value except that which is appropriate to its physical characteristics as a metal. In Robinson’s condition, where the exchange of commodities is impossible, only the use-value of objects finally matters and not their value in exchange. (This may be seen as the exact reverse of Marx’s discussion of the “metamorphosis” of money into capital in which use-value is abstracted out to leave pure exchange-value as the goal of an economic transaction.)

In another, earlier, scene RDJ dramatizes the notion of “exchange value” by discussing an example of commodity exchange. The term for “commodity” in German is “Ware,” and this is translated into the standard Malay and Tagalog terms in HRC (Mal: barang, barang dagangan) and ABR (Tag: bagay, calacal). According to the advice of the ship’s captain who agreed to take him on a voyage to Africa, Robinson should buy (Ger: einkaufen / Mal: beli / Tag: bili) useless and cheap objects that “give pleasure” (Ger: Vergnügen / Mal: disoekai / Tag: totoong naiibigan) to the Africans and exchange these with them for “gold” (Ger: Gold / Mal: ema s/ Tag: guinto), “ivory” (Ger: Elfenbein / Mal: gading / Tag: garing), and any other valuable items that they may possess. The captain convinces Robinson that these cheap wares can be sold at a price “one hundred times more . . . than they are worth” (Ger: hundertmal mehr . . . als sie werth sind / Mal: seratoes kali ganda harganya). Unlike RDJ and HRC, ABR says only that Robinson should buy “cheap” things for which he will “be paid at a really high price” (Tag: babayaran sa iyo nang totoong mahal) and explicitly mentions “profit” (Tag: tubo) in the phrase “make a great profit” (Tag: pagtutubuan nang malaqui). By “buying cheap and selling dear,” Robinson will become a “rich man” (Ger: ein reicher Man), “go home rich” (Mal: poelang-poelang kaya), or “make a great profit” (Tag: pagtutubuan nang malaqui) from the venture. The wealth of the merchant, as it is represented in RDJ, therefore comes from selling goods above their “real value” (Ger: Werth / Mal: harga). The category of “real value” in the exchange of commodities is explicit in RDJ (Ger: Werth) and HRC (Mal: harga) but only implicit in ABR, which speaks rather of “commodities” (Tag: calacal) as being “cheap” (Tag: mura) or “expensive (Tag: mahal). It is evident in RDJ that the “real value” of commodities is not simply identical with the rate at which they exchange with other goods; it may be lower (or higher) than the rate at which they are sold. But Campe does not give any further clue in RDJ as to how this “real” or maybe even “objective” value is determined.

Smith, on the other hand, speaks of the “real price” of commodities as follows: “Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price; money is their nominal price only” (1904, 35). In his translation, Garve renders “real price” as “the true price” (der wahre Preis) and Schiller as “the real price” (der reelle Preis) (Erämetsä 1961, 45). According to Smith, the reason more attention is paid to the “money price” of goods than to their real price is that actual profits can be made from such means as “buying cheap” and “selling dear.”4)

Although terms such as “use value” and “exchange value” do not directly appear in RDJ, the above examples clearly demonstrate the presence of these notions with reference to the “uselessness of gold” and the sense of the dubious origin of merchant profit, both of which are judged negatively by Campe from the religious and moral point of view of his time (Conze 1972, 166).

Abstract Labour and Division of Labor

Henryk Grossman, in his classic study titled “Die gesellschaftlichen Grundlagen der mechanistischen Philosophie und die Manufaktur” (The social basis of mechanistic philosophy and manufacture), posits the rise of the notion of “abstract homogeneous labor” (Grossman 1935, 190) in the eighteenth century during the development and spread of “organic manufacture” in Europe, which was characterized by the fact that the “work process is divided into the simplest, continually repeated and highly accomplished hand movements, where the result of the work of one worker is the starting point for the next one” (ibid., 184).5) Grossman’s opinion was that the most developed degree of division of labor represented by organic manufacture was the technological and social basis for the appearance of “abstract labour” as a concept in political economy (Marx 1956, 362ff).

It is well known that WN’s central concept is the “division of labor.” It famously begins as follows: “The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour” (Smith 1904, 1). Smith seems to have found it much easier to make the old concept (Sun 2004) of “division of labor” understood, even in the fundamentally reconceptualized form it took within his system, than the newer one of abstract labor. Commenting on the difficulty of explaining such a novel concept as labor in the abstract, Smith writes, “The greater part of people . . . understand better what is meant by a quantity of a particular commodity than by a quantity of labour. The one is a plain palpable object; the other an abstract notion, which, though it can be made sufficiently intelligible, is not altogether so natural and obvious” (1904, 34). Smith’s German translators apparently faced a similar problem interpreting this concept. Richard Biernacki notes:

[The first German translations of WN] showed some reluctance to conceive of labor as an abstract category. Where Smith referred to “the demand for labor,” his interpreters rendered it as “demand for laboring hands” or “demand for workers.” Smith endowed the category itself with life, whereas German expositors resisted the detachment of the category from concrete persons. These early exegetes, unaccustomed to the reified form of labor as a commodity, thought of labor only as visible work. (Biernacki 1995, 265)

However, the translational problem is apparently not as straightforward as Biernacki portrays it.

This matter can be investigated more closely by looking at all the translations into German of the phrase “demand for labour” in Chapter 8 of WN (titled “Of the Wages of Labour”). The earlier translation by Schiller uses “Verlangen nach Arbeit” (desire/demand for labor) consistently throughout to translate “demand for labour.” Schiller’s is quite a literal translation, but it did not enter into general usage. Garve’s translation, on the other hand, uses the phrase “Nachfrage nach Arbeit” (demand for labor; a phrase that would be absorbed into modern usage up to the present day) as well as “Nachfrage nach Arbeitern” (demand for workers) and “Nachfrage nach arbeitenden Händen” (demand for laboring hands). Furthermore, Schiller translates “division of labour” consistently as “Vertheilung der Arbeit” (division/distribution of labour), which emphasizes the abstract nature of the “labor” being divided up and is, according to Erik Erämetsä (1961, 39), the earliest translation of this concept in German. For his part, Garve translates it as “Theilung der Arbeiten” (division of employments) and “Vertheilung der ­Arbeiten” (distribution/division of employments), which fail to render the abstract nature of labor. (Marx uses the modern word “Arbeitsteilung” aside from “Teilung der Arbeit” in his own economic writings.) These examples demonstrate that Garve’s more popular translation is in fact worse afflicted with the problem of interpreting “abstract labor” than Schiller’s.

The most relevant and extended passage on the social division of labor in RDJ unfortunately does not appear in HRC, because it is part of the framing story that has been deleted in the Malay translation (and presumably in the intervening Dutch trans­lation). In this passage, RDJ and ABR expound on the “benefits” (Ger: Vortheile / Tag: capaquinabangan) of “social life” (Ger: das gesellige Leben / Tag: paquiquisama) and the “great difficulty” (Ger: unendlich schwer / Tag: laquing cahirapan) that “a single individual” (Ger: jeden einzelnen Menschen / Tag: isang tauo) would face if he “lived alone” (Ger: allein leben / Tag: mabuhay nang nagiisa) and had to “provide for all his needs on his own” (Ger: für alle seine Bedürfnisse selbst zu sorgen / Tag: matacpang magisa ang lahat nang cailangan) without the “help of other people” (Ger: Hülfe seiner Nebenmenschen / Tag: tulong na maaasahan sa ibang capoua tauo). It goes on to assert that “a thousand hands” (Ger: Tausend Hände / Tag: sanglibong camay) would not be enough to prepare what “each of us needs every day” (Ger: was ein Einziger unter uns an jedem Tage braucht / Tag: nang quinacailangan nang baua,t isa sa arao arao). (According to Erämetsä [ibid., 92], “Hände” [hands] acquired an additional meaning as “worker” due to the influence of the German translation of WN.) Campe uses the example of a “mattress” (Ger: Madrazen), the production of which requires stuffing, linen covering, glue, cloth, yarn, thread, flax, etc., in order to illustrate the point that an almost endless number of “hands” working in various specialized occupations are needed for the production of a simple object for a single child to sleep on. In addition to these, the “various kinds of labor” (Ger: vielerlei Arbeit / Tag: ang sarisaring paggaua) required in the production of the tools of the various occupations involved in making the mattress must also be taken into account. The benefits of a “social existence” are contrasted with the difficulties of Robinson, who must provide for his own needs “without any other hand except his own” (Ger: keine einzige andere Hand, ausser den Seinigen / Tag: ualang ibang camay na macatulong sa caniya) and with “not a single tool” (Ger: kein einziges von allen den Werkzeugen) to aid him.

RDJ’s discourse on the “division of labor” is evidently a transitional one and has a lot in common with Garve’s translation of WN. The references to “a thousand hands” and to “various kinds of labor” (vielerlei Arbeit) similarly grapple with the problem of expressing the abstract notion of labor. Campe’s example seems to be a direct reference to Smith’s elaborations of the benefits of the “division” of labor in WN. The illustration used by Campe, “Madrazen,” actually seems to take its cue from Smith’s example regarding “the bed which [the workman] lies on, and all the different parts which compose it” and the tools used to make it. Smith writes about “the different hands employed” to provide the workman with food and ends the relevant passage in the same way Campe ends his:

If we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that, without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilised country could not be provided, even according to what we very falsely imagine the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated. (Smith 1904, 13–14)

Two other passages refer more to the benefits of “cooperation” rather than division of labor per se, but it would not be completely out of place to discuss them here. In the first one, when Robinson cannot start a fire without the help of another person, he begins to feel “the helplessness of a lonely life and the great advantages provided by the companionship of other people” (Ger: die Hülflosigkeit des einsamen Lebens und die grossen Vortheile, die uns die Geselschaft anderer Menschen gewährt), “the difficulties of a person without a friend/companion” (Mal: kesoesahan orang jang tiada berkawan), “the real lack of a person who is alone and what benefits are derived from our companionship with other people” (Tag: totoong casalatan nang tauong nacaisa isa, at cung gaanong cagalingan ang quinacamtan natin sa paquiquisama sa ibang manga tauo). Another short passage on the benefits of cooperation is left out in HRC. It deals with the arrival of Friday and the fact that through their “common industry” (Ger: gemeinschaftlichen Fleiß / Tag: pagtutulungan) Friday and Robinson are now together capable of accomplishing tasks that “would have been impossible had [Robinson] been alone” (Ger: wenn er sich ganz allein befunden hätte, würde unmöglich gewesen sein / Tag: nacagaua sila nang maraming bagay na di sucat magaua cung nagiisa ang sinoman sa canila). By working together, Robinson and Friday realize how good it is that people stay together through “sociability” (Ger: Geselligkeit / Tag: paquiquisama sa canilang capoua) and “friendship” (Ger: Freundschaft / Tag: pagibig), “unlike animals who roam the earth alone” (Ger: nicht, wie die wilden Thiere, einzeln auf dem Erdboden herumschwärmen / Tag: magisa na para nang manga hayop). Campe therefore gives greater importance to somewhat idealized notions of conviviality, friendship, and altruistic behavior in these passages than does Smith, who, for his part, emphasizes the virtues of self-interested behavior. It seems that nothing could be further from Campe’s worldview than Smith’s famous words:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. (ibid., 16)

Necessary Labor Time

One of the well-known theses of WN is the notion that the division of labor is constrained by the extent of the market. Smith explains this as follows:

As it is the power of exchanging that gives occasion to the division of labour, so the extent of this division must always be limited by the extent of that power, or, in other words, by the extent of the market. When the market is very small, no person can have any encouragement to dedicate himself entirely to one employment, for want of the power to exchange all that surplus part of the produce of his own labour, which is over and above his own consumption, for such parts of the produce of other men’s labour as he has occasion for. (Smith 1904, 19)

In a one-person economy in which exchange, and therefore a market, cannot exist, a division of labor among individuals is likewise ipso facto impossible. Robinson has to depend on himself alone to produce all the goods necessary for the satisfaction of his needs. Given this fact, the amount of time necessary for any additional work has to be carefully allocated with reference to all the necessary occupations within the “working day.” So when Robinson estimates that the “work” (Ger: Arbeit / Mal: pekerdjaan / Tag: paggaua) necessary for carving out a boat from a tree trunk with his primitive tools would take many years, he decides to consciously partition his time so that he has a particular task allotted for every hour of each day. In RDJ he devises “an orderly partitioning of the daily work hours” (Ger: eine ordentliche Eintheilung seiner Tageszeit) because he has learned by experience that “nothing advances and lightens our industry more than order and the regular partitioning of the hours of the day” (Ger: nichts mehr unsern Fleiß befördert und erleichtert, als Ordnung und regelmäßige Eintheilung der Tagesstunden). This is more or less reflected in ABR with the phrases “an orderly partitioning of his tasks” (Tag: maayos na pagcacabahabahagui nang caniyang manga gagau-in), because “nothing makes tasks easier . . . than a correct allotment of time” (Tag: ualang totoong nacadadali sa pagganap nang manga catungculan . . . para nang uastong pagbabahagui nang panahon). HRC makes this point implicit by stating only that Robinson decides to work “not more than two or three hours a day” on carving the trunk (Mal: ditentoekanlah dalam sehari tiada lebih dari pada doea atau tiga djam mengapak batang kajoe itoe) so that his “other tasks would not go to waste” (Mal: maka soepaja pekerdjaannja jang lain djangan tersia-sia).

Marx (1956, 90) writes about Robinson keeping a record of “the amount of time each of these various products costs him on the average to produce” ([die] Arbeitszeit, die ihm bestimmte Quanta dieser verschiednen Produkte im Durchschnitt kosten). ­Robinson therefore has a notion of the necessary labor time required for him as an individual to produce each particular object useful to him. In effect, Robinson attempts to map the social division of labor onto the limited hours of the working day available to him as a single individual. (“Necessity itself forced him to divide his time precisely between different occupations” [ibid., 91].) The proportion allotted to each task is pegged on Robinson’s estimates regarding the techniques and tools available to him and his level of skill. Thus, more difficult tasks that require more time to accomplish than easier ones are probably allotted more time in the working day.6) Naturally, the notion of a regulative “socially necessary labor time” (gesellschaftlich notwendige Arbeitszeit) (ibid., 53) cannot exist as such for Robinson’s production for each of his personal needs since his labor is, disregarding his memories of social life and production, completely that of an isolated individual. With the arrival of Friday, Robinson’s productive labor loses its purely individual character and a notion approaching “socially necessary labor time” enters into the picture. When Robinson tells Friday how much time it took him to carve out a small part of the trunk to fashion a small boat, Friday shakes his head and smiles and says “that he didn’t need to have done all that work” (Ger: daß es all’ der Arbeit nicht bedurft hätte) and that it could be “better and more quickly accomplished using fire to hollow out the log” (Ger: man könte einen solchen Blok viel besser und zwar in kurzer Zeit durch Feuer aushöhlen). In ABR, Friday remarks that Robinson “had wasted a lot of time and effort” (Tag: totoong maraming panahon at pagod ang caniyang sinayang) and that the job could have been done “in only a few days” (Tag: manga ilang arao lamang). In HRC, Friday observes that Robinson “spent too much time working on it” (Mal: terlaloe amat lama bekerdja) and persevered with “an unnecessary degree of difficulty” (Mal: dengan soesah jang boekan-boekan patoet) because a boat could have been “made by himself and his countrymen” (Mal: diboeat oleh Djoem’at dan bangsanja) with much better quality in just a few days (Mal: sedikit hari dan lebih baik). This passage from HRC, by bringing in Friday’s notion of the average amount of time and effort needed for himself and his countrymen (Mal: bangsanja) to make such a boat (as expressed in his smile), seems to make the notion of socially necessary labor time clearer than does either RDJ or ABR, where it remains implicit in Robinson’s and Friday’s differing estimates of the time necessary to produce a boat of a particular quality. From the point of view of Friday’s society, Robinson is a very unskilled boatbuilder; but alone on his island and without Friday, Robinson has no measure to gauge his own productivity or skill and in fact has no need to do so.7)


The German concept of “Bedürfnis” (need) in the quote from RDJ is said to have undergone a fundamental transformation in the eighteenth century. According to Johann ­Müller:

Up to the last decade of the eighteenth century, the word “Bedürfnis” was used quite rarely; the frequency of usage increased from around 1740–60, and from around 1770 onward it entered into general usage. The spectrum of meanings which it shows in the last decades of the eighteenth century is no longer substantially different from that of today. (Müller 1973, 442)8)

It was formerly used as a synonym for “Nothdurft” (call of nature) or “Armut” (poverty), and “Bedarf” originally referred to basic necessities. However, during the European Enlightenment “Bedürfnis” began to be used more frequently in its plural form—“Bedürfnisse”—to refer more and more to “needs” corresponding, on the one hand, to changing cultural and economic living standards and, on the other hand, to particular individualized needs or preferences. An “escalation of needs” (Bedürfnissteigerung) accompanied by the “dissolution of its limits” (Bedürfnisentgrenzung) came to the fore. But this could have become possible only with the simultaneous transformation of the notion of “labor” (Arbeit) itself:

The highest value was the striving for happiness in the material and moral sense. This could however only be attained by means of satisfying “needs.” These needs in turn called for labor and awakened the drive to reasonable industriousness, meaning the continuous increase of productivity through better technology, organization, and morale. (Conze 1972, 176)9)

According to Werner Conze, John Locke’s writings heralded a new era for the understanding of “labor” as a concept:

With [Locke] begins the history of the modern concept of labor, liberated from the lowest level in the scale of human activities no longer in the old Christian sense, its lifting to a specifically human potency and finally, its separation from human beings and its elevation to an abstract active Subject (labour makes . . .). Everything in the world, according to D. Hume, is purchased by labour, and our passions are the only causes of labour. Inasmuch as bourgeois society no longer portrays itself as before in the representative actions of the ruling estates, rather, labor receives a valuable social function as the confrontation of human beings with nature, the process began in which the concept became self-evident: it separated itself from its entanglement with poverty . . .; it began to free itself from the connections with “effort” and “burden.” Technology (artes) should lead to the alleviation of labor. (ibid., 168; italics in the original)10)

The analysis of the translation of “Bedürfnis” can usefully begin with a selected quote from RDJ and its translation in HRC (see Table 2). The quote from RDJ may be read as a capsule narrative of the development of the concept of Bedürfnis. Starting with the concept of “Noth” (hardship/necessity), which may be read as pertaining to the most basic needs, it moves to the concept of “Bedürfnisse” (needs), which possesses the broader and more modern definition. The quote from RDJ shows how the effort of human beings to satisfy their needs through “labor” (Arbeit) gives rise to the process of develop­ment of human knowledge about “nature” or the “Earth” (Erde) and the “invention” (Erfindung) of various tools (Werkzeuge) and machines that would facilitate the satis­faction of these needs. According to John Bellamy Foster (2000), Marx used a term borrowed from the German chemist Justus von Liebig’s (1803–73) usage, “metabolic interaction” (Stoffwechsel), to characterize the human labor process in general. Marx writes:

Labour is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs [Bedürfnisse]. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature. . . . It [the labor process] is the universal condition for the metabolic interaction [Stoffwechsel] between man and nature, the everlasting nature-imposed condition of human existence. (cited in Foster 2000, 157)

Table 2HRC and RDJ


Granted that such an account of the human labor process may reasonably claim a trans­historical interpretation, Marx’s representation of it in these particular terms certainly could not have been conceived outside of the context of industrial society and the corresponding terminologies that grew out of it. If the relevant passage from RDJ is understood as an illustration of human “metabolic interaction” (Stoffwechsel) with “nature” or the “Earth” (Erde), then it could be seen as concentrating all the earlier economic themes into the structure of needs and productive labor as these developed in the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century in Germany and other parts of Europe. Labor as an abstract potentiality is here understood as the confrontation of human beings with nature in order to satisfy their mounting and increasingly complex needs, thus necessitating the development of technology, complex organization (such as the division of labor), the reduction of socially necessary labor time, and so on and so forth. It could therefore be argued that “Bedürfnis” can serve as a point of concentration that draws together all the threads of Campe’s economic discourse in RDJ.

The version presented in HRC of this passage is obviously quite different. “Hadjat” (desire/need) and “kesoesahan” appear in the corresponding translation as the equivalents for “Bedürfnis” and “kesoesahan” (difficulty/adversity) for “Noth.” Similar to the idea present in RDJ, “human beings” (Mal: manoesia) are said to be confronted with “kesoesahan” and imbued with various “hadjat,” which sharpens “thinking” (Mal: pikiran) and deepens “knowledge” (Mal: ilmoe). However, the HRC version does not translate “Erde” (“Earth,” or in this case “nature”) and “Erfindung” (invention). Because of these omissions, the macro-narrative of “mastery of nature” through human technology and “invention” does not seem to arise in HRC. The capacity for thought and intellection (Mal: pikiran), however, is developed to overcome all “difficulties” (Mal: kesoesahan), “reject” (Mal: menolak) all “danger,” (Mal: bahaja) and “to satisfy” (Mal: memenuhi) the various “needs” (Mal: hadjat). It seems that HRC refers to the sharpening of a skill rather than to the development of a technology in overcoming these difficulties and satisfying these desires. “Kesoesahan” and “bahaja” in HRC clearly refer to situations that, even though they may occur often enough, do not constitute the normal condition of things. “Hadjat,” on the other hand, may be interpreted to refer to a “longing” or “desire” beyond the more basic necessities of life (Wilkinson 1919). HRC therefore includes a qualifier of “hadjat” as having to be “decent/proper” (Mal: patoet). Although “hadjat” does also appear in such contexts as “to urinate” (Mal: membuang hajat kecil) or “to defecate” (Mal: membuat hajat besar), the use of this word in the language of the Malay hikayats in general seems to accord more with an elevated kind of “desire.” (Terms such as “longing” or “desire” can indeed be translated as “Bedürfnis” in German, but some other words such as “Begierde,” “Lust,” “Verlangen,” or “Begehren” have much closer connotations.) (The first translation of the first chapter of Marx’s Das Kapital in Indonesian [1933a; 1933b; 1933c], serialized in the newspaper Daulat Ra’jat, consistently uses “lack” [Mal: kekoerangan] as the equivalent of need; but toward the end of the first section, it suddenly becomes unsure and uses “lack/need” [Mal: kekoerangan (keboetoehan)]. The newest translation of the same work [Marx 2004; Guillermo 2013] uses “kebutuhan” throughout.) The quote from HRC therefore seems to refer to zones “below” (kesoesahan/bahaja) and “above” (hadjat jang patoet) the norms of everyday need; and being extraordinary experiences, these necessitate the development/advancement of thinking and of knowledge. On the other hand, the concept of Bedürfnisse in RDJ, whatever its subjectivization, refers neutrally to needs that presumably can be satisfied by the confident advance of human mastery over nature.

Further analysis of HRC would also show that beyond the development of skills for evading hardship, the most obvious “solution” to “kesoesahan” in HRC is “pertolongan” (“help,” whether from God or from other human beings). According to W. J. S. ­Poerwadarminta (1976), “pertolongan” means “perbuatan atau sesuatu yg dipakai untuk menolong” (an act or something used to help). An example is “mendapat pertolongan dari dr penduduk kampung” (to receive help from the doctor of the inhabitants of the village). Out of 21 usages of the word “kesoesahan,” eight collocate with “pertolongan” (see Tables 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3). There is apparently no surface collocational structure corre­sponding to this in RDJ. Though the social and religious themes of “help” are not completely excluded in RDJ, the tendency in HRC contrasts strongly with RDJ in its focus on ethical competence rather than the almost completely excluded notion of techno­logical competence in overcoming hardships, resolving the problem of lack of resources, or mastering nature. If the life situation is below the norm, then HRC points to “pertolongan” (help/aid) as the always-dependable solution for human beings.

Table 3.1 “Kesoesahan” and “Pertolongan” Collocations in HRC


Table 3.2 “Kesoesahan” (Adversity) HRC Concordance List


Table 3.3 “Pertolongan” (Help) HRC Concordance List


In contrast to HRC, it can be remarked that the translation in ABR closely mirrors the conceptual arrangement of RDJ in the text presented in Table 2. Unlike HRC, which does not translate “Erde” (Earth/nature) and “Erfindung” (invention), ABR does translate these words, albeit rather ambiguously, as “earth/land” (Tag: lupa) and “effective means” (Tag: mabubuting paraan). It should be noted that the latter translation of “various inventions” (Ger: allerlei Erfindungen) as “effective means/good way” (Tag: mabubuting paraan) is not sufficient in itself to generate the technological themes present in RDJ. The two ideas of Noth and Bedürfnisse are conflated in ABR (as they are in Iriarte’s translation of the term “necesidad”) as “need” (Tag: pagcacailangan). The key to discovering the discursive specificity of ABR therefore has to be sought elsewhere. The second example (see Table 4) may serve as a preliminary illustration. In RDJ, Robinson prays that he will be blessed with “Stärke zur Ertragung” (strength to withstand hardship) in going through or experiencing “Leiden” (suffering). (This passage demonstrates incidentally how closely RDJ reflects the strong connection between “Arbeit” [labor] and “Mühe” [effort]/“Last” [burden] derived originally from the Judeo-Christian worldview [Conze 1972, 165].)

Table 4 HRC, RDJ, and ABR


It can be noticed that the same sentence as translated in HRC once again contains a collocation of “kesoesahan” and “pertolongan.” Here, Robinson pleads for the “pertolongan” of God so that he can “suffer” (Mal: menderita) the extreme difficulties he faces (Mal: kesoesahan jang terlampau berat) “patiently” (Mal: sabar). On the other hand, the version in ABR uses two words to describe the attitude toward “suffering”/“hardship” (Tag: cahirapan), namely, “to bear” (Tag: pagtiis) and “to endure” (Tag: pagbata). However, “pagtiis” and “pagbata” do not exhaust this theme in ABR. In addition, a person needs “strength of the will” (Tag: catibayan nang loob) in order to be able to bear and endure for an extended period. “Catibayan nang loob” here does not necessarily pertain to an “active will” but leans more to a kind of “passive will” to “endure” everything for as long as necessary. It has been observed that HRC is unique in relation to ABR and RDJ in its emphasis on “pertolongan”; for its part, ABR seems to dwell on the notion of enduring suffering more than either RDJ or HRC. Given the wealth of its lexicalizations on this theme, ABR can be said to have an “elaborated code” on “suffering” as opposed to the relatively “restricted codes” of HRC and RDJ.

It is therefore not surprising that in his “Translator’s Preface” (Paounaua nang Tumagalog) Tuason writes the following:11)

I also added that in bearing [pagtiis] any suffering [cahirapan], or in the attainment of any comfort one should not only desire a good fate in this life, rather to become a means for serving God and the attainment of eternal bliss . . . like Robinson, who, despite being only an example or metaphor, can become an example for anyone in dire straits or danger, so that one’s will shall not weaken [humina, malupaypay ang loob] or reproach the Creator of the world, and instead shall bow to his will, have endless faith in his mercy, worship his unattainable knowledge that what we think to be a misfortune and hardship comes from his love that will be followed by eternal bliss. In other words, we should bear [matiis] and accept with tranquility [malumanay sa loob] and give thanks for whatever he bestows upon us, may it be comfort or hardship [cahirapan]. (Campe 1879, 13–14)12)

The previous observation can be made even more evident by studying the collocations of “difficulty” (Tag: hirap, cahirapan) in ABR (see Table 5.1). In contrast to the collocational structure formed in HRC by the pair “kesoesahan-pertolongan,” the ABR reveals a significant collocational structure formed by “difficulty”/“adversity”/“poverty” (Tag: hirap, cahirapan) and several phrases corresponding to the “strength” or “weakness” of the “will” (Tag: loob). These phrases pertaining to the state of the “will” are as follows: “catibayan nang loob” (strength of the will), “malulupaypay ang loob” (weakening of the will), “pahihinain ang loob” (the will shall be weakened), “humina ang loob” (to lose resolve), “di macapaghina nang loob” (shall not weaken the will). It can be seen that in ABR, the subject confronted by “cahirapan” vacillates between a strong and weak will. However, only a “strong will” or “catibayan nang loob” (steadfastness) can allow the subject to “bear” and “endure” suffering. A concordance listing of the polarity of “weak will” (Tag: mahinang loob) and “strong will” (Tag: malacas na loob) would show how powerfully this theme works within the total ideational structure of ABR. The phrases referring to a “strong loob” are the following: “catibayan nang loob” (resilience of the loob), “lacas nang loob” (strength of the loob), “capanatagan nang loob” (confidence of the loob), “di nasira ang loob” (unweakened loob), “hinapang nang loob” (strengthening of the loob). The phrases referring to a “weak loob” are the following: “mahina ang loob” (weak loob), “nasira ang loob” (crushed loob), “caligaligan nang loob” (restlessness of the loob), “malupaypay ang loob” (weak loob), “pagsaulan nang loob” (to console), ­“catacutan sa loob” (fear in the loob). (For the sake of comparability, only the sections in which HRC overlaps with ABR have been scanned for relevant collocations, see Tables 5.2 and 5.3.)

Table 5.1 “Cahirapan” and “Catibayan nang loob” Collocations in ABR


Table 5.2 “Catibayan nang loob” (Strong Will) and Variants, ABR Concordance List


Table 5.3 “Cahinaan nang loob” (Weak Will) and Variants, ABR Concordance List


A third example (see Table 6) may lend further insights into the discursive specificity of ABR. This section has not been translated in HRC since it is part of the discarded framing story of RDJ. However, this particular quotation is particularly important because it represents a short exposition of the basic core of Campe’s educational philosophy as embodied in the term “Selbstüberwindung” (self-overcoming). According to Campe, the development of the capacity to postpone satisfaction or deprive oneself voluntarily of immediate desires in an “overcoming” of the self can strengthen one’s personality so that every difficulty in the future can be faced with “gelassener Standhaftigkeit” (calm resolve). The term “Selbstüberwindung” is not translated directly in ABR but rather substituted with an explanatory translation as the condition of being “accustomed to the lack of whatever comfort even that which you most desire.” The phrase in RDJ “stark am Geist und Herzen” (strong in spirit and heart) is translated in ABR as “catibayan nang loob” (strength of the loob), and “gelassener Standhaftigkeit” (calm resolve) is translated as “matitiis na mapayapa” (can be endured calmly). While RDJ does not specify what shall or must be “endured in calm resolve,” ABR collocates “catibayan nang loob” here with “cahirapan” (difficulty) and “caralitaan” (poverty). It could be asserted that the main semantic polarity in ABR is “cahirapan” (difficulty/poverty) versus “catibayan nang loob” (strength of the will).

Table 6RDJ and ABR



The notion of Bedürfnisse and its connection to science and human invention is apparently discursively specific to RDJ with respect to HRC and ABR. The tendency in RDJ is to develop a discourse around the fulfillment of unlimited needs by increasingly developed (though still bounded) technological means. This conceptualization of needs and their fulfillment in RDJ is neutral in relation to the situation in which the subject finds herself/himself. On the other hand, HRC seems to posit an unstated norm of satisfaction of basic needs or, more controversially, of “original affluence” (Sahlins 1974). It is only when human beings (Mal: manoesia) are confronted with an exceptional situation below (or above) the norm, referred to as a state of “kesoesahan” (difficulties), that poverty or deprivation looms as a possibility for the human subject. However, instead of appealing to technological invention as a solution to this “difficulty,” the predominant tendency in HRC is to look toward social and ethical solutions to the problem of deprivation or lack. Evidence for this is provided by the strong collocational pair “kesoesahan”–“pertolongan.” In his classic study of the concept of gotong royong, which elaborates on its various types, Koentjaraningrat observes:

The activity which is most spontaneous in character is evidently gotong rojong of the tulung lajat variety; by “spontaneous” is meant here the voluntary nature of help, which is given without any expectations and without keeping count of contributed services and goods. No further elaboration of this point is needed, as we all know that in cases of death or great calamities, people the world over offer spontaneous help to the afflicted family. There are probably few exceptions to this universal phenomenon. (Koentjaraningrat [1961] 2009, 52–53)

The other categories of political economy (“exchange value,” “use value,” “division of labor,” “abstract labor,” “socially necessary labor time”), which so tightly cohere in RDJ as various aspects of human-nature metabolism, therefore seem to fall away in HRC.

ABR, on the other hand, seems to emphasize the normativity of suffering and deprivation. Indeed, Mojares’ pioneering commentary on ABR (1998, 87–89) compares it with a medieval exemplum and stresses the influence upon it of the generic conventions of Catholic pastoral texts in Tagalog in which the translator Tuason was deeply immersed. If the situation of Robinson stranded on an island is considered in HRC as an exceptional state of “kesoesahan” (difficulty) and “bahaja” (danger) requiring “pertolongan” (help), it is, on the contrary, deemed exemplary of the human condition in ABR. ABR almost seems to posit a situation of “ontological scarcity” (or, as Iriarte puts it, “la miseria y necesidades del hombre en este mundo”) and inescapable suffering with a very strong Catholic flavor perhaps reminiscent of the lives of saints, which Tuason also translated into Tagalog, in which individual human beings have to learn to bear the difficulties inherent in life itself. This interpretation rests on the strong collocational pair “cahirapan”–“catibayan nang loob” (difficulty–strength of the will). Similar to HRC, the languages of political economy in RDJ seem to fall away in ABR as being insignificant in relation to the central problem of “bearing suffering.”

The differences between RDJ, HRC, and ABR are schematically represented in Figs. 11 and 12. It is evident that ABR and HRC do not share the interpretative grid upon which RDJ rests, namely, that provided by the material development of industrial societies in the Europe of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Notions central to RDJ such as that of “unlimited” human needs, human-nature metabolism (Stoffwechsel), and scientific-­technological innovation therefore do not figure prominently—if at all—in HRC and ABR. But one should take note that these societies were not static at all. Waruno Mahdi points to the crucial changes occurring in Indonesian society at the time of HRC’s publication:

It was not until around the middle of the 19th century that relevant portions of the population experienced sufficient changes in their economic and social life to bring them into direct contact with features of European industrial-age culture, and create a noticeable interest and demand for corresponding items of vocabulary and other means or modes of expression. (Waruno Mahdi n.d., 5)


Fig. 11 Robinson’s Situation in RDJ (Norm Neutral), HRC (below and above the Norm), and ABR (within the Norm)


Fig. 12 Interconnection of Concepts: “Bedürfnis”–“Kesoesahan”–“Cahirapan”

HRC represents a position that depends upon ethical and social solutions to exceptional situations of scarcity, adversity, and deprivation. In a hypothetical situation of limited needs, where sufficient means exist to supply these needs for a community, this is perhaps not an unusual outlook. The explanation for the particular discursive elements in ABR may most likely reflect the fact that the delicate balance between the limited needs and sufficient means has been interrupted by the deprivation of these previously adequate means, for example, by extractive colonialism. The aim of ABR in Tagalog as an even more emphatically moral-religious treatise was, as with many deeply ideological works in the colonial religious canon, the preaching of endurance and suffering within the context of colonial exploitation. The experiences of “kesoesahan” and “cahirapan” in HRC and ABR are qualitatively different from the “relative impoverishment” occurring in societies of developed industrial production since the revolution of “needs” had not yet taken place within their material and discursive worlds. That is to say, the “deprivation of means” by means of “primitive accumulation” had taken place before the notion of “unlimited needs” corresponding to notions of “relative impoverishment” could arise. Indeed, one can speculate whether RDJ, ABR, and HRC could be read more broadly as articulations of various kinds of responses to “capitalist modernity.” Another textual exploration would be necessary to work it out, but following the philosopher Bolívar Echeverría’s (2000) characterization of the four ethe of modernity, RDJ could be said to fluctuate between the romantic and realist types while ABR represents more distinctly a classical ethic; finally, HRC very roughly corresponds, only by analogy, with the baroque ethic.

The solution in RDJ to fulfilling human needs is the development of adequate technical means and the attainment of efficient productive organization. In other words, the means by which societal prosperity is to be achieved is not through social struggle but through the struggle to dominate nature. In contrast to this, the solution to “kesoesahan” and “cahirapan” in the colonial contexts of HRC and ABR seems to be the continual development of various discourses of critique in combination with various kinds of oppositional practice. What if “pertolongan” was inflected to mean the collective action of the “rakjat” (people) against the colonial oppressor? What if “catibayan nang loob,” instead of being conceived as a passive acceptance of one’s fate, becomes understood as the strength of the will to overcome the “hardships” (cahirapan) of the struggle in pursuit of the “himagsikan” (revolution)? Some evidence has been shown elsewhere, at least for the Tagalog case, that these types of critique would eventually articulate with and form connections with the discourses specific to the nationalist struggle (Guillermo 2009b) and eventually also with notions of labor and production within the discourse of the early radical labor movements (Guillermo 2009a). In these early receptions, the discourses of political economy presented in RDJ would therefore not simply be abrogated or rejected but rather be reimagined and reconfigured discursively in a new constellation in which conceptions of exploitation and liberation would displace the centrality of ideas of technical progress and mastery over nature. Unfortunately, although the history of European political and economic concepts and categories has been well studied, there are as yet no comprehensive and encyclopedic studies on this theme with respect to Philippine and Indonesian languages. This paper may be regarded as a small contribution to this field.

In 1951, around 75 years after the publication of Hikayat Robinson Crusoe, Pramoedya Ananta Toer would write some reflections in his novella Bukan Pasar Malam (Not an all night’s market) on the promises of technology and progress and the problem of the unfulfilled “needs” of the people after the attainment of Indonesian independence and democratic rule. It might be fitting, therefore, to end this study with Pramoedya’s words:

In between the darkness and the light fading in the red West, I passed the small road in front of the palace on my bicycle. This palace is flooded with the light of electric lamps. Who knows how many watts? I don’t know. I estimate that the electricity in this palace would not be lower than 5 kilowatts. And around it is felt the lack of electricity, but the person in the palace would only have to lift the telephone to order an increase. The President really is a practical man—not like the people trying to make a living at the roadside every day. When you are not a President and also not a minister and you want to receive 30 or 50 watts more, you would have to pay 200 or 300 rupiah. Indeed, this is not practical. And when the person inside this palace wants to travel to A or B, everything is ready—airplane, car, cigarettes, and money. As for me, in order to go to Blora, I have to scour Jakarta to find money to borrow. Indeed, this kind of life is impractical. And when you become President, and your mother is sick or you want to visit your father or any close relative—tomorrow or the day after you can go there to visit. But if you are a lowly employee who earns only enough to breathe, just asking for leave is difficult, because these small bosses know that they can forbid their employees anything. All of these things bothered me. Democracy is indeed a wonderful system. You can become President. You can choose the employment you desire. You have rights like other people. Because of democracy you no longer need to show reverence or bow your head to the President or minister, or any other high personage. True—this is one triumph of democracy. And you can do anything you want within the limits of the law. But if you have no money, you will be crippled and cannot move. In democratic states you can buy whatever you want. But if you have no money, you can only look at the object of your desire. This too is a triumph of democracy. (Pramoedya [1951] 2009, 9–10)13)

Accepted: March 8, 2013


Grants from the Asian Public Intellectual Program and the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst, along with the support of the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, University of the ­Philippines–Diliman, allowed me to undertake this research. For their intellectual generosity and helpfulness, I would like to thank Melani Budianta and Syahrial from the Fakultas Ilmu Budaya, Universitas Indonesia, and Caroline Hau and Shimizu Hiromu from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. For sharing with me important materials, I am grateful to Elmer Nocheseda, Waruno Mahdi, and Cheng-Chung Lai.


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1) An example of this is the following: “Asking forgiveness from the beautiful and merciful Virgin that she should watch over him in that remote place, that no one should hurt him, he renewed his hope in the Mother of Mercy, who is the most powerful intermediary to her Son: since this blessed Virgin is his beloved Mother and support in all of his suffering when He was alive in this world. He also called upon his beloved Saints Joseph and Archangel Rafael” (Nagmamacaauà naman sa maalindog at mapagcalarang Virgen na siya,y, calingain sa iláng na yaon, na ualang sucat macasamang sinoman; pinagtibay niya ang pag-asa sa Ina nang auà, na siyang lalong malacas na taga pamamaguitan sa caniyang Anac: yayamang ang mapalad na Virgeng ito ang pinacaibig niyang Ina at caramaydamay sa madlang cahirapan nang siya,y, nabubuhay dito sa lupà. Nanauagan naman sa maloualhating cay S. José at sa Arcangel S. Rafael na caniyang manga pintacasi) (Campe 1879, 91).

2) “Da die politische Ökonomie Robinsonaden liebt, erscheine zuerst Robinson auf seiner Insel. Bescheiden, wie er von Haus aus ist, hat er doch verschiedenartige Bedürfnisse zu befriedigen und muß daher nützliche Arbeiten verschiedner Art verrichten, Werkzeuge machen, Möbel fabrizieren, Lama zähmen, fischen, jagen usw.”

3) Bidet writes: “Marx ascribes [the law of value] to Robinson Crusoe as a generic figure of labouring society, and it is also that of the future communist society. Theories of Surplus-Value makes this particularly clear: ‘Time of labour, even if exchange-value is eliminated, always remains the creative substance of wealth and the measure of the cost of its production’. A ‘law’ of this kind is confined, as we shall see, to asserting the general relationship between the fact that labour is always ‘expended’, and the fact that as rational activity aiming at use-values it is important for it to be reduced to a minimum and divided in proportion to social needs. So this is in no way a ‘law’ in the sense that this term functions in ‘law of value’, that of a structure the existence of which is established by historical materialism for a determinate kind of society, and possesses, as a theoretical object, an explanatory value, because it denotes a particular system of compulsion to produce and interest in producing. It is, rather, a general matrix logically prior to the determinations specific to historical materialism as a theory of modes of production.”

4) “If a London merchant, however, can buy at Canton for half an ounce of silver, a commodity which he can afterwards sell at London for an ounce, he gains a hundred per cent by the bargain, just as much as if an ounce of silver was at London exactly of the same value as at Canton” (Smith 1904, 40).

5) “. . . welche den Arbeitsprozess in einfachste, sich stets wiederholende und mit Virtuosität vollzogene Griffe zerlegt, wobei das Arbeitsresultat des eines Teilarbeiters den Ausgangspunkt für die Arbeit des folgenden bildet.”

6) “Adversity forced him to precisely divide up his time among his different functions. The fact that one takes up a greater portion, and another less of his total work depends on the greater or lesser difficulty necessary to attain the desired effect” (Die Not selbst zwingt ihn, seine Zeit genau zwischen seinen verschiednen Funktionen zu verteilen. Ob die eine mehr, die andre weniger Raum in seiner Gesamttätigkeit einnimmt, hängt ab von der größeren oder geringeren Schwierigkeit, die zur Erzielung des bezweckten Nutzeffekts zu überwinden ist) (Marx 1956, 90–91).

7) Although Smith does not explicitly conceptualize “socially necessary labor,” it could be argued that he gives various inklings of it in WN.

8) “Bis in die ersten Jahrzente des 18. Jahrhunderts kommt ‘Bedürfnis’ selten vor, von etwa 1740–1760 nimmt es an Häufigkeit zu, von etwa 1770 an kann man es dem allgemeinen Sprachgebrauch zurechnen. Das Spektrum der Verwendungsmöglichkeiten, das es seit den letzten Jahrzehnten des 18. Jahrhunderts zeigt, ist vom heutigen nicht mehr wesentlich unterschieden.”

9) “Oberster Wert war das Streben nach Glück im materiellen und moralischen Sinne. Dies aber konnte nur durch Befriedigung der ‘Bedürfnisse’ erreicht werden. Die Bedürfnisse wiederum forderten Arbeit und weckten den Trieb zur vernünftigen Arbeitsamkeit, d.h. einer fortgesetzten Vervielfältigung der Arbeitsleistung durch verbesserte Technik, Organisation und Arbeitsmoral.”

10) “Damit beginnt die Geschichte des modernen Begriffs der Arbeit, ihre nicht mehr christlich begründete Emanzipation von der untersten Stufe der Rangordnung menschlicher Tätigkeiten, ihre Erhebung zu einer spezifisch menschlichen Potenz ja letzlich ihre Ablösung vom Menschen und ihre Erhöhung zum abstrakten wirkenden Subjekt (labour makes . . .). Everything in the world, hieß es bei D. HUME, is purchased by labour, and our passions are the only causes of labour. Indem die bürgerliche Gesellschaft sich nicht mehr, wie bisher, im repräsentativen Handeln der Herrschaftsstände darstellte, sondern Arbeit als Auseinandersetzung der Menschen mit der Natur einen gesellschaftlichen Funktionswert erhielt, setzte der Prozess der Verselbständigung des Begriffs ein: er löste sich aus der Verschränkung mit armut . . .; er begann sich auch von seiner Verbindung mit ‘Mühe’ und ‘Last’ zu lösen. Die Techniken (artes) sollten zur Arbeitserleichterung führen.”

11) This can be compared to Iriarte’s comment in his “Prologo”: “Nothing is more praiseworthy in this work than the healthy moral doctrine laid out in the whole of it. Inspire love, gratitude and respect to the supreme Creator and Father of human beings, enter with limitless faith into the adversities which he sends us, and an impervious humility which separates us from the temerity of wanting to understand and more or less judge, his inscrutable judgment: excellently portrays the misery and needs of human beings in this world . . .” (Nada hay tan loable en esta obra como la sana doctrina moral oportunamente sembrada en toda ella. Inspira amor, gratitud y respeto al supremo Criador y Padre de los hombres, suma confianza sin límite en las adversidades que nos envía, y una ciega humildad que nos aparte del temerario designio de querer penetrar y muchos ménos calificar, sus inscrutables juicios: pinta excelentemente la miseria y necesidades del hombre en este mundo . . .) (Campe 1820, VII).

12) “Idinagdag co rin naman dito na sa pagtitiis nang anomang cahirapan, ó pagcacamit nang anomang caguinhauahan ay hindi lamang ang dapat hangarin ay ang magandang capalaran sa buhay na ito, cundi lalonglalò na ang maguing daan nang ipaglilingcod sa Dios at ipagcacamit nang caloualhatiang ualang hangan . . . tulad cay Robinson, na baga ma,t, isang halimbauà ó talinhagà lamang, ay magagauang uliran nang sinomang na sa sa isang caguipitan at capanganiban, nang houag huminà, malupaypay at maghinampo ang loob sa Namamahalà nang sangdaigdigan, bagcus umayon sa caniyang calooban, manalig sa ualang hangan niyang caauaan, sambahin ang di malirip niyang carunungan, na ang inaacalà natin na isang casacunaan at cahirapan ay bunga nang caniyang pagibig na pagcacaraanan nang ualang hanga nating caloualhatian, cung baga,t, ating matiis, at tangapin nating malumanay sa loob at pasalamatan, maguing caguinhauahan at maguing cahirapan man, ang minamarapat niyang ipagcaloob sa atin.”

13) “Antara gelap dan lembayung sinar sekarat di barat yang merah, sepedaku meluncuri jalan kecil depan istana. Istana itu—mandi dalam cahaya lampu listrik. Entah beberapa puluh ratus watt. Aku tak tahu. Hanya perhitungan dalam persangkaanku mengatakan: listrik di istana itu paling sedikit lima kilowatt. Dan sekiranya ada dirasa kekurangan listrik, orang tinggal mengangkat tilpun dan istana mendapat tambahan. Presiden memang orang praktis—tidak seperti mereka yang memperjuangkan hidupnya di pinggir jalan berhari-harian. Kalau engkau bukan presiden, dan juga bukan menteri, dan engkau ingin mendapat tambahan listrik tigapuluh atau limapuluh watt, engkau harus berani menyogok dua atau tigaratus rupiah. Ini sungguh tidak praktis. Dan kalau isi istana itu mau berangkat ke A atau ke B, semua sudah sedia—pesawat udaranya, mobilnya, rokoknya, dan uangnya. Dan untuk ke Blora ini, aku harus pergi mengelilingi Jakarta dulu dan mendapatkan hutang. Sungguh tidak praktis kehidupan seperti itu. Dan kalau engkau jadi presiden, dan ibumu sakit atau ambillah bapakmu atau ambillah salah seorang dari keluargamu yang terdekat—besok atau lusa engkau sudah bisa datang menengok. Dan sekiranya engkau pegawai kecil yang bergaji cukup hanya untuk bernafas saja, minta perlop untuk pergi pun susah. Karena, sep-sep kecil itu merasa benar kalau dia bisa memberi larangan sesuatu pada pegawainya. Ini semua merupakan kekesalan hatiku semata. Demokrasi sungguh suatu sistem yang indah. Engkau boleh jadi presiden. Engkau boleh memilih pekerjaan yang engkau sukai. Engkau mempunyai hak sama dengan orang-orang lainnya. Dan demokrasi itu membuat aku tak perlu menyembah dan menundukkan kepala pada presiden atau menteri atau paduka-paduka lainnya. Sungguh—ini pun suatu kemenangan demokrasi. Dan engkau boleh berbuat sekehendak hatimu bila saja masih berada dalam lingkungan batas hukum. Tapi kalau engkau tak punya uang, engkau akan lumpuh tak bisa bergerak. Di negara demokrasi engkau boleh membeli barang yang engkau sukai. Tapi kalau engkau tak punya uang, engkau hanya boleh menonton barang yang engkau ingini itu. Ini juga semacam kemenangan demokrasi.”


Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 3-47
©Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

Vol. 3, No. 1, Agus Suwignyo

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 1

The Making of Politically Conscious Indonesian Teachers in Public Schools, 1930–42*

Agus Suwignyo**

* Part of this paper was originally the author’s dissertation “The Breach in the Dike: Regime change and the standardization of public primary-school teacher training in Indonesia, 1893–1969” (Leiden University 2012). The author would thank Prof. Leonard Blussé for his supervision.

** History Department, Faculty of Cultural Science, Gadjah Mada University, Jalan Nusantara 1 Bulaksumur, Yogyakarta 55281, Indonesia

e-mail: suwignyo_agus[at]ugm.ac.id

This paper deals with the emergence of political consciousness among Indonesian teachers and students in public Dutch-Indonesian teacher training schools (Hollands Inlandse Kweekschool, HIK) during the last colonial decade up to the beginning of the Japanese occupation in 1942. Most of the Indonesian teachers and students, who pursued careers and education respectively in government schools, had initially embarked from personal expectations of upward economic mobility. Yet, in the course of the 1930s, they grew in deliberate willingness and perception to engage in a wider scope of social dynamics without limiting themselves to the area of power politics. In this paper, the manner in which these students and teachers gave meaning to their daily lives inside and outside of school is identified and analyzed as the factor that critically contributed to the emergence of political consciousness among them. Although the transformation that the teachers underwent in their view of school education was a radical leap when seen from the perspective of the Indonesia-centric historiography of the 1930s, it did not actually show a process of transformative pedagogy. The sense of citizenship that the teachers shared in the 1930s, albeit a dramatic shift from the motivation that had originally propelled them, did not reflect the notion of public education as an independent practice of cultural upbringing irrelevant to the state and state-formation ideology.

Keywords: Indonesian teachers, the 1930s, Critical Pedagogy, political consciousness


Existing studies on the relationship between Western education and changes in Indonesian society in the early twentieth century feature the education of schoolteachers in the frame of the making of indigenous middle-class elites (see, for example, Sutherland 1979; Kahin 1980, 179–180). In such a frame, the taxonomic category of schoolteachers falls into what Robert van Niel (1960, republished 1984, 2) calls functional elite, namely, “leaders who served to keep a modernized state and society functioning” by joining no organi­zation, having no active political view, and engaging in no power politics. While such a frame of study affirms the analysis of colonial education as dominantly bearing the mission of economic reproduction (Furnivall 1939, 365–366), it misses the paradigm of education as a driving force in the process of social change (Giroux 1981; 2003). Furthermore, although a number of studies have examined the role of Western education in modernizing Indonesian society, they have hardly revealed the social orientation and political horizon of schoolteachers as critical agents in that process.

The aim of this paper is to outline the emergence of political consciousness among Indonesian teachers in public primary schools as well as students in public Dutch-­language teacher training schools for Indonesian children (Hollands Inlandse Kweekschool, HIK) from the 1930s to the beginning of the Japanese occupation in 1942. “Political consciousness” refers to the deliberate willingness and perception of the students and teachers of HIK to get involved in a wider scope of the process of social change. The term has been derived from the concept of “engagement” in the Critical Pedagogy theory proposed by some thinkers, such as Paolo Freire (1970) and Henry Giroux (1981; 2003). According to the theory, as the political nature of teaching fundamentally changes across time, so also does “the importance of linking pedagogy to social change.” Schools have to connect “critical learning to the experiences and histories that students brought to the classroom, [and to] engage the space of schooling as a site of contestation, resistance, and possibility” (Giroux 2003, 6).

Niel (1984, 242) writes that in the context of the growing Indonesian nationalism of the early twentieth century, “being political” meant being involved in activities or organi­zations whose principal goal was to supersede the colonial power. Although in his study Niel does not go beyond the 1920s, his definition of “being political” or “being politically conscious” was still applicable to the education context of the 1930s but only with regard to students and teachers of unsubsidized private schools that the Netherlands Indies government categorized as “unofficial schools” (wilde scholen). This notion is well illustrated, for example, in the novel Buiten het Gareel: Een Indonesische Roman (Out of control: An Indonesian Roman) by Soewarsih Djojopoespito (1942, republished 1986).

For the many Indonesian students and teachers at government schools and sub­sidized private schools in the 1930s, most of whom had initially seen Western education as a personal ladder for upward economic mobility, becoming political or politically conscious in the context of the last colonial decade meant being aware of social roles and responsibilities that did not necessarily relate to the teaching profession for which they had been trained. For about three decades after 1900, Conservative supporters of the Ethical Policy had shaped Western education in the Netherlands Indies as adjuncts of the workplace. “Technocratic rationality upon the learning process” (Giroux 2003, 6) was imposed because there was a growing influx of indigenous children into Dutch-language schools (Veur 1969; Lelyveld 1992). The main motivation for such an influx was that Western education improved the employability, and hence the living standard and social status, of graduates (Verbondsbestuur PGHB 1930).

In the 1930s, such a right-wing construct and insight into schooling was dramatically altered. The changing economy and politics in the larger context of the Netherlands Indies stimulated a shift in the perception of Indonesian students and teachers about the education they had been enjoying and the roles they had to play in society. The Great Depression overthrew the dream these Indonesian generations had lived with, of the personal economic progress that their education would have promised them (Agus Suwignyo 2013). In addition, the radical movements of activists in wilde scholen provided them with an alternative perspective of what an education should mean for society at large, as the testimony of Djoko Sanjoto (1991), then an HIK student, reveals. Here, the Critical Pedagogy theory, in which school agents deployed an understanding of the structure of social relationships and responsibilities within society, applied. Through external and internal processes of learning, HIK students and Indonesian teachers at public schools began to deal with issues of class, race, and gender in order to “participate in the educational discourses, pedagogical practices, and institutional relations that shaped their everyday lives” (Giroux 2003, 6). Then, in the 1930s, politically conscious teachers did not limit their focus to such vertical-mobility issues as teaching professionalism and welfare, although these issues were still extremely important. Instead, they widened their worldview to include such “horizontal-mobility” issues as social and structural changes. Even though, for these students and teachers, being politically conscious did not necessarily mean being engaged in political activities or organizations, the shift in their political horizon and consciousness during the 1930s was a significant phase as it became the seedbed for a more radical sense of citizenship and a more active role in Indonesian nation-state building in the 1950s, in which many of them held key positions of decision making (Soegarda 1970). Unfortunately, the writing of Indonesian history has overlooked this critical phase of political shift and has not generally provided room for the roles that schoolteachers played.

The term “making,” in the title of this paper, stands for an “active process, which owes as much to agency as to conditioning” (Thompson 1963, 9). The process of emerging consciousness among Indonesian teachers, alumni, and students of HIK, although owing much to the period of Japanese occupation, was not confined to the period between 1942 and 1945. Shigeru Sato (2007, 159–189) has suggested that the wartime period in Indonesia should be looked into beyond the common time frame of the Japanese occupation. One of the implications of such a step is that, instead of being a prime cause, the Japanese occupation becomes a catalyst for the structural changes that occurred in Indonesian lives. This holds true if the school education situation is explored. For at least a decade before the Japanese military invasion of the Indonesian islands in 1942, the grip of the Western imperial ruler had been weakening in many respects; and therefore, in the field of school education and teacher training, the fall of the colonial state in Indo­nesia cannot be attributed to the Japanese occupation alone.

Toward the end of the 1930s, school education in Indonesia had been functioning more or less within the framework of a stabilizing economy, but in a destabilizing political milieu. The reopening of many schools in Java and Sumatra during the second half of the 1930s indicated a recovery from the enervating years of the Great Depression, as the Government Educational Report shows (Algemeen Verslag van het Onderwijs 1936/1937 1939). A reform of—and consequent progress in—education was in the offing, but the government “breakthrough educational reform” of 1939 (Wal 1963, 677) did not necessarily signal a reshuffle of the stratified school system, which had barred indigenous children from sharing equal access to different types of public schools.

At the end of the 1930s, teachers and teacher candidates at public schools remained only a thin intellectual layer in the indigenous community. Following the reform of the teacher training schools (kweekschool) in 1927, they had been exposed to an increasing degree of quality training that secured them a future status substantially different from the majority of the indigenous population (Advies van den Onderwijsraad [Kweekschoolplan] 1927). The social stratification based on education stood firm. It might even be said that the existing educational structure seemed to be moving toward a steady construction of a colonial Indische plural society, in which the various types of schooling would continue to reproduce members of the various ethnic communities with teachers as the role models.

Yet the Great Depression, followed by the changing political environment, began to rock the foundations of colonial society and upset the aspirations the students fostered for their future. Like an afternoon breeze in a humid tropical climate, the dream conception of “Indonesia” blended with heroic tales of the Japanese wars against Russia and China. News of German expansion plans and the Italian war in Ethiopia, as published in different volumes of Persatoean Goeroe, a teacher journal, also reached the classrooms and boarding houses of public schools such as the HIK. But it was not until the raids of the Japanese air force above Java in March 1942 that teachers and teacher candidates were convinced that the times were changing, as testified by R. Suroso (1992, 30–32), a first-year HIK student of 1942. In their privileged positions, government teaching personnel had never been totally immune to news and rumors about the macro-political situation. Some of their seniors, especially those who had dropped out of training and had not pursued a teaching career, plunged themselves into all kinds of organizations and local presses (Abdurrachman 2008, 131, 198). Exposure to mass media and increasing public rallies organized by youth organizations, contacts with colleagues from unofficial schools, and changes in domestic rules within the school all conspired to make HIK students gradually aware of the slackening grip of the colonial master. By the end of the 1930s, students and alumni of teacher training schools had begun to imagine a society beyond the colonial construct, as R. Darsoyono Poespitoatmodjo (1987, 49), a 1935 graduate of the Yogyakarta HIK, has testified. Among Indonesian teachers and students at government schools in particular, the 1930s were crucial to the development of a self-perception of their identity, position, and roles in the broader context of the Indonesian society, which was still in the making.

In this paper, I consider students of public HIK and Indonesian teachers in public primary schools of the 1930s as one cohort of eyewitnesses. Although spanning different age groups and pedagogical roles, they had some characteristics in common in terms of the steps toward becoming politically conscious. The majority of them came from socially lower-class families. Both students and teachers followed the training provided by the Netherlands Indies government. Most of those who graduated during the 1930s worked in the government service. They witnessed, and were part of, the changing Indonesian society during the period. Those who survived the Japanese occupation continued to serve as role models of intellectuals for an independent Indonesian society, either by teaching or by entering other professional fields. For these commonalities of characteristics, both teachers and students comprise one overall picture of an Indonesian generation of teaching personnel. The term “Indonesian teachers in public schools” in the title of this paper should therefore be defined as both Indonesian teachers who held teaching positions in public schools during the period under study, and Indonesian teacher candidates who were receiving training in public HIK during the same period.

In exploring the process of the emergence of political consciousness, my attempt is to take the perspective of the teachers and students themselves by examining daily events of their professional lives. For this purpose, direct quotes of the source texts are provided throughout this paper. The quotes, which are originally in the Indonesian/Malay language, are classified in groups on the basis of thematic similarity and are presented in English through my own translation. A short discussion follows each group of thematic quotes. Although an alteration in meaning might occur, the direct quote technique is considered to be the most feasible technique to obtain a “life” nuance of the teachers’ perspectives and the realm of their thoughts. In this paper, both teacher journals that were published during the period under study and those published in more recent times are used as sources. The former include Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe in West Sumatra, Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden in Yogyakarta and Surakarta, and Persatoean Goeroe. An example of the latter is the journal Gema, which was first published in 1978 by the Association of Alumni and Ex-students of the HIK of Yogyakarta.

The organization of this paper is as follows: Following the foregoing Introduction section, this paper discusses the socioeconomic background of teachers. Then it deals with the process of the changing political horizon of teachers, followed by students. Finally, the concluding remarks attempt to present an interpretive description aiming to bind the elaborated data into a theoretical discussion.

Socioeconomic Background

Against the backdrop of colonial circumstances, students at public HIK were trained in an academic atmosphere that isolated them from the idea of political and structural change. In some cases, exposure to social problems led them to undertake philan­thropically motivated actions. This was part of the indigenization exercise, as Yasuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya beautifully illustrates in the novel Balada Dara-Dara Mendut (A ballad of the girls of Mendut) (1993). This characteristic situation coalesced with the personal motivation of students. Many of those who attended teacher training schools had chosen to do so for socioeconomic reasons. Umi Kalsum, for example, went to the teacher training school in Yogyakarta in 1908 against her own wishes. She had dreamed of becoming a physician, but her father, who worked as a teacher in the government service, found it too expensive to send her to the medical school in Batavia. After graduating from her European primary school, Umi, whose mastery of Dutch was “above average” for the entrance qualification to general high school, was accepted straight away into the third year of the kweekschool at which her father worked (Soeprapto 1984, 46–48).

Some two or three decades after Umi’s experience, there had been hardly any changes in the students’ backgrounds or their motivation for attending teacher training school. In 1929, for example, Soeparmo entered the HIK in Yogyakarta because his parents were too poor to afford his education at other types of European schools. Soeparmo recalled:

I had actually wanted to become an engineer. For that, I had to go to the MULO [Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs, upper primary school], then to the AMS [Algemeen Middelbare School, high school], and finally to the Technische Hogeschool [Technical Institute] in Bandung. But I realized that my parents simply could not afford these long stints of schooling, which were all part of the European stream. So, after graduating from an HIS [Hollands Inlandse School, Dutch-language primary school for Indonesian children] in Salatiga, Central Java, I rather unwillingly accepted a recommendation (verklaring) from the HIS principal for a test-free entrance to the HIK in ­Yogyakarta. (Soeparmo 1987, 73–78)

By moving to the HIK, Soeparmo made a quantum leap forward. He had come from a village school and a second-class school in Banjarsari, near Boyolali in Central Java.

“I had always desired a Western education because it provided broader chances for a career [than indigenous schooling could have done]. But the only Western school available where I came from was the Hollands Javaansche School (HJS), a private school equivalent to public HIS,” he wrote in another testimony (Soeparmo 1988, 31–37). After graduating from the second-class school, he went to the HJS in Boyolali. “But I realized that it was difficult for someone from a private primary school to move on to a public secondary school,” he added. “At the end of sixth form at the HJS, I gathered up my courage to sit for a test to be able to transfer to seventh form of the HIS in Salatiga, and I passed the test. That was how I could finally make my way to the HIK” (ibid., 36–37). Soeparmo wrote further:

During my HIK years, my parents’ financial situation did not improve. Sometimes, for a few consecutive months they could not send me Fl. 5 for school fees and Fl. 3.5 for books and school facilities. As I performed well academically, I was granted “gratis leerling status” [tuition waiver] when I was in second year, thus I no longer had to pay those fees. In spite of my academic per­formance at the HIK, I still did not want to become a teacher. By the time I was in third year, I managed to switch to the AMS, but this attempt failed totally. In the end I accepted that it was my “destiny” to be a teacher. (Soeparmo 1987, 73–78)

Another testimony comes from Burhanuddin Nasution (1987, 79–87). Born in ­Kotanopan, in the subdistrict area of Tapanuli, North Sumatra, Burhanuddin identified himself as “a country boy.” Most of his classmates from the HIS went on to the MULO in Padangsidempuan or to the public Hogere Burger School in Medan for secondary education. “Given the financial situation of my parents, I personally had only two options: to give up schooling or to go to a public HIK. I chose the second,” he wrote. After graduating from the HIS in Tapanuli in 1936, Burhanuddin received a test-free recommendation to continue at the HIK in Yogyakarta. He does not seem to have experienced the same dramatic financial problems as Soeparmo. Nevertheless, it was not until his father’s death, while he was in the second year of the HIK, that he began to think seriously about a teaching profession.

Asvismarmo entered the HIK, also in Yogyakarta, in 1939. In an interview in his home in the neighborhood of Cipete in South Jakarta on October 4, 2006, he said: “I actually wanted to go to the Prinses Juliana School (PJS), a vocational engineering school, which was located just opposite the HIK. But the PJS was too expensive for my parents. At the HIK, I paid Fl. 7.5 per month, all inclusive.”

Samsuri went to the HIK because his father was a village school teacher. “I grew up in a teacher’s family; that was why I wanted to be a teacher,” he said during an interview in his home in the city of Malang, East Java, on November 3, 2006. As a child who came from a lower social-class rural family, he had to take a roundabout schooling path before he could apply to the HIK: six years in the indigenous line of education—in volks­school and vervolgschool, then two years in schakelschool, which bridged him to the European line of education. Unlike others, Samsuri’s motivation for going to the HIK might be considered primary in the sense that, inspired by his father, he did want to become a teacher.

These testimonies provide a brief illustration of the fact that as far as life histories can be traced, the socioeconomic situation of parents was as much a push factor as a pull factor in making the decision to attend public HIK. Students were pushed to go to teacher training schools because their parents could not afford to send them to other types of European schools. According to Imam Sajono, who enrolled in the HIK in Yogyakarta in 1939, he and most of his colleagues at the HIK realized that teaching, although in their opinions less prestigious than working as an engineer or a medical doctor, could still offer the promise of a socioeconomic position much better than that provided by other jobs in the indigenous sphere (Imam, interview, Jakarta, September 6, 2006). This “better-than-nothing” perception of the prospect of teaching drew them to achieve successes throughout and right up to the top of the training phases. The students’ focus on vertical-mobility issues during the school years is understandable considering their socioeconomic backgrounds. Qualified as their training had designed them to be, these students were mostly engaged in professional issues. They were trained to be teachers to serve, and not to oppose, the late-colonial state.

How different was the situation of activists in private unsubsidized schools, which the Netherlands Indies government called wilde scholen (unofficial schools) in 1932! Ki Hadjar Dewantara (R. M. Soewardi Soerjaningrat), the founder of the Taman Siswa schools in 1922, was a member of the Paku Alam royal family in Yogyakarta. In 1909 he quit medical school in Batavia and became politically active, which led to his being exiled to the Netherlands in 1913 (Abdurrachman 2008, 96–97). Soewarsih Djojopoespito, a teacher at the Taman Siswa school (first in Surabaya, then in Bandung), was from a Sundanese royal family in Cirebon. She had enjoyed a European primary education in Bogor and had then attended the European kweekschool in Surabaya before graduating in 1931 (Termorshuizen 1986, 220–224). More examples can be highlighted to prove the more privileged backgrounds of nationalist activists. For these people, becoming actively engaged in nationalist activities and organizations—becoming political—was a conscious choice. They deliberately left the socially and economically established lives they had led, for an ideal that they considered higher. In contrast, many HIK students had come from nonestablished families. They went to the HIK to pursue a place in the establishment via the teaching profession. Again, in interviews (September 6 and October 12, 2006), Imam said:

[Being] a schoolteacher was a step to material and social welfare (welvaart). Being a schoolteacher was all lower-middle-class families like mine could imagine. Many of my friends did so, but only a few could make it because of the strict entrance selection. When you finally achieved the teaching position and received your salary as an HIK graduate, you had achieved a very high status in society. If you were still single, many parents wanted to marry their daughters to you.

For HIK students, becoming political in the same sense as their counterparts in unofficial schools had been was not a matter of choice. It was an inescapable condition, especially in the wake of the Japanese arrival. Therefore, in their case, the meaning of “being political” should not be understood primarily as an involvement in nationalist activities or organizations. It embraced a widening horizon; it was a process of rebuilding self-perception, individual identity, and social roles and relationships.

The Seeds and the Seeding Ground: Teachers

Various teachers’ journals (bulletins, newspapers, magazines) disclose that in the first half of the 1930s, an atmosphere of change was already reshaping the public school lives of teachers. In many cases, they were exposed to the concept of unity—not necessarily the nationalists’ pursuit of independence, but a dream of a new era for Indonesian society. The following quote, from the December 1930 issue of Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe, a journal published in Bukittinggi by the West Coast of Sumatra Association of Indonesian Teachers, well illustrates the changing atmosphere:

Advance Indonesia! Unite! Let us work together to achieve Greater Indonesia! Look at the Japanese! . . . Take them as a role model! (Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe 12, Year 10, December 1930)

In June 1931, Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe republished an article from Indonesia Moeda titled “Semangat Baroe Menoedjoe Indonesia Raja” (New spirit toward Greater Indonesia) in which “the renaissance of Indonesia” was explored. “Our people begin to become aware and hence capable of differentiating between the darkness and the light, between the colored and the white. The crow of a rooster is a sign of dawn!” the article reads (Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe 6, Year 11, June 1931, 106–109). In August 1931, the editors of the journal cited an article from S[oeara] Mardéka titled “Oedjian bagi Ra’jat Indonesia tentang Persatoean dan Politiek” (Test on unity and politics for Indonesian people). The article discusses a railway strike in Semarang, stressing the importance of national unity (Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe 8, Year 11, August 1931, 154–157).

In October 1931, Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe sent out an explicit call:

Day by day, our national movement is growing. Every Indonesian boy and girl has to be responsible for the advancement of our nation. We teachers should not be left behind in this glorious work! Let us educate our children in the Indonesian way, in the spirit of being Indonesian, for they have to be Indonesian people in the fullest sense. Now, our schools are in the hands of foreigners. But we Indonesian teachers have to convince ourselves that we are more capable [than those foreigners] of educating our children, for we understand our children better [than they do]. Let us educate our children in the spirit of Indonesia. Let us teach them the refinement of our arts and literature, and the glory of our heroes such as Diponegoro and Teuku Oemar. Let us teach our children the lyrics of the beauty of our land! (Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe 10, Year 11, October 1931, 209–211)

In the newspaper Persatoean Goeroe, which was published in Surakarta by the Federation of Indonesian Teachers’ Associations (Perserikatan Guru Hindia Belanda, PGHB), the idea of unity was mostly dealt with as an attempt to tackle the status of teachers as individual members of the federation (Awas 1930). To get a perspective of how extensive the impact of such a call for unity in Persatoean Goeroe was, it is relevant to mention that in 1930 the newspaper was read by some 12,000 individual members of the PGHB spread in 102 branches. These members were teachers who joined various associations under the PGHB, including the Village Teacher Association (Persatuan Guru Desa), the Normal School Association (Persatuan Normaal School, PNS), the Teacher School Association (Kweekschool Bond), and the Higher Teacher School Association (Hogere Kweekschool Bond, HKS Bond) (Persatoean Goeroe 5–6, March 1930).

It was pointed out that professionally and socially individual teachers were ranked according to the segregated system of training they had followed; unity meant a convergence into one professional category. The magazine Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden, published by the Association of Teachers of the Principalities (Yogyakarta and Surakarta), made the need for unity among teachers explicit: “Because of our diverse educational backgrounds, we [teachers] must unite! We have to strengthen our sense of brotherhood” (Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden 3, September 1, 1933).

Initially, this concept of unity gained in relevance for a practical purpose. As the editors of Persatoean Goeroe put it, if individual PGHB members were to improve their living standards, “we [the members] need to be firmly bound together so that others respect us and our profession, and pay us accordingly” (Persatoean Goeroe 16, August 15, 1930). An elaborate statement of the purpose of unity appeared in an article by Moeh Saleh, a teacher: “Now we [teachers] are aware that it is through unity that we can ­pursue our rights . . . and so hone our professional skills so as to attain our destiny. We have to understand the value of working shoulder to shoulder” (Moeh 1930).

“My brothers,” urged Moeh, “our silence, our weaknesses, hesitations, and disagreements about taking an active part in the Federation give others courage and judgment to undermine our position and to take strong measures that demean our rights and degrade our dignity as teachers! We have the obligation to struggle for a better destiny. Do not give up!” (ibid.). The tone of Moeh’s writing sounds slightly florid, but it con­tinued to resound in the discussion about unification as a professional category.

Soon, the striving for unity expanded to include ideological matters. One of these concerned language. With diverse backgrounds in training, only a limited number of PGHB members understood Dutch. “Times have changed, and it is now a must that we become united in a true sense as a nation,” wrote C. A. Awas, a PGHB member. “From now on, Persatoean Goeroe should publish articles in the universal language only, namely Indonesian, because this is the language which all of us [PGHB members] understand well” (Awas 1930).

The journal editors did not endorse Awas’s proposal: “We do our best to accommodate our members [readers]. Articles in Dutch are relevant not only to our colleagues from the kweekschool and Hogere Kweekschool but also to outsiders. We have to take our influence on the outsiders into account!” (Persatoean Goeroe 19, September 15, 1930). The editors did not specify what they meant by “outsiders,” which is emphasized in its original source text by italicization. All that can be assumed is that they were non-PGHB members. However, considering that the topic of the debate was the use of either Indonesian or Dutch, the term “outsiders” possibly implied Dutch readers of Persatoean Goeroe. Hence, in this context, unity meant the choice between uniformity and recognition of plurality.

The concept of unity was also germane to the teachers’ pedagogical role. Teachers had to unite because it was their responsibility to develop a sense of unity among their students. At the 19th congress of the PGHB in Surakarta on February 18, 1930, the chairman of the federation, L. L. Kartasoebrata, stressed this point: “My fellow teachers, it is our responsibility to increase unity among our students, Indonesian boys and girls.” He went on to say, “However, we cannot do this simply by uttering fine phrases. Unless we are united in body and soul, we cannot expect our students to have a strong sense of unity!” Unity, Kartasoebrata stated, had to be part and parcel of the personality that should characterize Indonesian teachers. “Take a look at our fellow teachers in Asia and around the world. They are all growing in unity. We, too, are growing in unity, but we still have to strengthen it” (Persatoean Goeroe 5–6, March 1930). Kartasoebrata articulated a politically crucial way of thinking. He began by stressing on why individual teachers had to internalize the value of unity. He ended by formulating a sort of comparative status of equality, if unity were achieved, between Indonesian teachers and their fellow teachers worldwide. Into both aspects, within the persona and without, the quality of self-respect was sought to be inculcated as another strand in the growing consciousness of teachers.

As with the concept of unity, the concept of self-respect was also nurtured due to practical considerations. First of all, it was standard etiquette for teachers and low-ranking indigenous government officials to greet officials of higher rank with the sembah jongkok, paying homage by squatting (Patje 1930). Teachers, including school principals, had to pay homage to a school inspector by falling on their knees. Teachers considered such customs no longer an appropriate part of social relationships and urged that they be abolished. In a meeting of the West Java Chapter of the Normal School Association (Persatuan Normaal School, PNS) in Bandung on June 25, 1930, representatives of the Tasikmalaya branch tabled a motion for the removal of the sembah jongkok rule ­(Persatoean Goeroe 15, August 15, 1930). The editors of Persatoean Goeroe, citing the congress of the Association of Indigenous Government Officials (Persatuan Prijaji Bestuur Bumiputra) in Surabaya in July 1930, also urged that the sembah jongkok requirement be done away with (Persatoean Goeroe 19, September 15, 1930). In Persatoean Goeroe, an individual named Patje Mateng wrote that sembah jongkok prevented teachers from being free to express their opinions to higher-ranking officials. “Sembah jongkok does not tally with our zelfbewustheid [self-respect] or zelfvertrouwen [self-confidence],” Patje argued. “We, educators of our children, have to be conscious that our honor and dignity are borne of the sanctity of and the competence with which we perform our duties, not from paying sembah jongkok to higher-ranking officials!” (Patje 1930). The consciousness of self-respect showed a progressive leap toward a rational, instead of feudal, basis to social relations.

Many volumes of Persatoean Goeroe are liberally sprinkled with articles expressing concerns about how important it was for teachers to develop self-esteem and self-­confidence as prerequisites to gaining public recognition and appreciation. The articles suggest that self-confidence had so far been lacking among teachers and, as one article put it, this situation often hindered or even prevented teachers from taking an active social role (Persatoean Goeroe 14, August 30, 1934, 124–125). The editors of the journal reminded their readers about the following:

We [teachers] have to respect our name, corps, and unity, our profession and labor. We do not need to think that we are the most important group of people in the world, or that we are onmisbaar [indispensable]. But as long as we teachers do not appreciate our own profession and job, other parties will not respect us. If we are not consistent in what we say, others will not show us respect. (Persatoean Goeroe 16, August 15, 1930)

In developing self-esteem and confidence, the matter of salary could not be overlooked. “One day we went to a Japanese shop only to find out how expensive the goods it sold were,” the editors of Persatoean Goeroe wrote in an editorial. “The shop assistant surprisingly replied, ‘Yes, Sir, people always want high-quality goods at a low price’. We cannot forget what the Japanese shop assistant said to us. It happens everywhere, not exclusively in trade. Employers always want to recruit industrious, well-trained employees who allow themselves to be paid a pittance. Isn’t it also the case with teachers? We have been rated cheaply!” (Persatoean Goeroe 20, September 25, 1930).

An individual, whose name was shortened to Pr., pointed out some examples of how poorly teachers were paid by the government. Indonesian teachers, according to Pr., bore the responsibility for the success of all curriculum programs: trade schools, sports schools, and training schools. “The government even made use of Indonesian teachers to carry out the population census [of 1930?]. But are we paid the same as those who hold a European teaching certificate? No, not even half! Why is it? Because we Indonesian teachers acquiesce in being treated that way!” Pr. wrote (1930).

Arguably, the critical point here is that teachers began to understand the light in which they should view and appreciate themselves, and how they should expect others to see and appreciate their profession. Thus, the significance of the salary issue went beyond merely payment. It dealt with the question of personal and social perception, and the manner in which the esteem of the teaching corps should be built up; in other words, self-respect as a sense of pride, recognition, and appreciation.

The teachers’ newfound consciousness of the value of self-respect was inextricably linked to their growing understanding and expectations of the relationships between individuals and society. In November 1933, for example, the Association of Teachers in the Principalities (Perikatan Perkoempoelan Goeroe Vorstenlanden, PPGV) passed a motion demanding the official replacement of the term guru desa (village teacher) by guru rakyat (people’s teacher) and sekolah desa (village school) by sekolah rakyat (people’s school) (Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden 5, November 1, 1933). The argument was that sekolah rakyat and guru rakyat, rather than sekolah desa and guru desa, were the correct Indonesian translations of the Dutch terms volksschool and volksonderwijzer. They were therefore analogous with other terms such as volksraad (dewan rakyat, people’s council), volkslectuur (pustaka rakyat, public library), and volkslied (nyanyian rakyat, folk song). Above this linguistic reason lurked a sense of pride. Teachers objected to the label guru desa because it implied “a tone or sense of condescension derogatory not only to the teachers but also to pupils and the schools. . . . It is as if we [Indonesians] are being called ‘inlander’” (ibid.).

It was not long before the petition incited a debate. Several articles, which first appeared in Darma Kanda and were republished by Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden, critically questioned what the term rakyat meant. “Are children of asistent wedana and the auxiliary teachers also rakyat although they do not go to the volksschool? If they are rakyat, both teachers and schools should be provided for them and all the other children of our society” (Darma Kanda 257).

Those who demanded the introduction of the name guru rakyat, Darma Kanda said, exhibited a “new spirit for change.” The socioeconomic category of desa (countryside) was associated with rural backwardness, in contrast to the urban modernity expressed by the term kota (town/city). Guru desa conjured up a picture of a traditional teacher who, on account of his training, lagged behind modern teachers in knowledge and competence. Because many teachers working in village schools in the 1930s actually held a normaal school or even a kweekschool diploma, which was of much higher standing than the certificate of a village school teacher, the name guru desa was obsolete. However, Darma Kanda was convinced that the core problem lay in the teacher and the school itself. “Has the village school so far provided sufficient instruction to serve as a solid basis for the primary education of our people as the dorpschool does in the Netherlands? Have village school teachers performed well in accordance with the diploma they hold?” Darma Kanda insisted that unless there was a reorganization of the educational structure enabling the position of village schools and teachers to be made equivalent to other primary schools, the negative attitude toward village schools and teachers would persist (Darma Kanda 258).

An anonymous individual using the pseudonym “Bapa Tani,” indicating an archetypal male peasant, opposed the motion. He argued that the translation of volksschool as ­sekolah rakyat was linguistically correct but culturally wrong. Volksschool was a Dutch word. Its Indonesian counterpart (hence, not a mere translation) was indeed sekolah desa, and the teacher, guru desa. Bapa Tani said this was not only because the schools and the teachers were in the desa, but also because they were funded by village funds (kas desa). Bapa Tani stated that going beyond the matter of translation, the demand for a new name had been motivated by the teachers’ need for public recognition of their awareness of, and participation in, national movements. Bapa Tani suggested that these teachers take as their role models their compatriots from the Taman Siswa, who worked hard for national movements without bragging about their contributions. “If those [village school] teachers truly work for the rakyat, people will recognize them as guru rakyat even if they do not ask for it,” he wrote (Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden 1, January 1934, 4).

In response to Bapa Tani, the editors of Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden, citing Darma Kanda, again raised the question of rakyat. “Who are rakyat?” they asked. The desa people were indeed the rakyat, and the village funds belonged to them as they were collected from them. The editors believed that the names guru rakyat and sekolah rakyat would enhance the people’s sense of belonging to these teachers and schools. The editors also refuted Bapa Tani’s argument that a sekolah desa was always in a desa, as some of these schools were indeed located in towns (ibid.). A member of the PPGV urged teachers to wait for the government response to the issue because “the name guru desa had been coined by the government” (Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden 2, February 1934, 12). Another member, Moed, argued that many villagers could not afford to send their children to a school other than the village school. The term sekolah desa, Moed was convinced, had been mooted as a reaction to the existence of the upper-class schools, to which the villagers could not send their children (ibid., 13).

Commencing from the categorical polemic of the name, teachers began to question who the rakyat were and, accordingly, who they were themselves. They wanted to do away with the name desa, but not because they aimed to deny their background as desa people. They did, indeed, live in the countryside, and did not demand that the term guru desa be substituted by guru kota (Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden 6, December 1, 1933, 47). What they wanted was to use the name rakyat because desa implied a long-standing sense of being a defenseless object of exploitation (Boeke 1934). Rakyat provided them with a sense of dynamic status and created a nuance of active position in opposition to the non-rakyat, namely, the power structure of the society and the state; for more than being an issue about such superficial matters as the proper name and language, the teachers’ demand for the attributive name guru rakyat was a matter of political consciousness and modernity. Gradually, teachers were becoming aware of their identity and status of citizenship (burgerschap) and what it entailed.

“What is the value of teachers’ progress if it is of no use to the people?” another article in Persatoean Goeroe asked its readers. “Teachers, however high the diploma they have, cannot live outside a movement that originated among the people. Don’t let people think that we [teachers] work only for a living. Show them [the people] that we are a role model for them and their children and are willing to work for them!” (Persatoean Goeroe 13, August 15, 1934, 110–111).

The campaign for the title guru rakyat is the best illustration of the process in which public school teachers in the 1930s were becoming political by developing a sense of closeness to, and a relationship with, society at large. As a rule, because of their status as civil servants, public school teachers were not allowed to join political organizations or movements (Sinar Goeroe Vorstenlanden 6, June 1, 1933; 5, November 1, 1933, 45; Persatoean Goeroe 14, August 30, 1934). As they felt their way toward forming themselves into a corps, as well as being individuals, the teachers sought a new horizon of citizenship. They understood that they would demean themselves if they did not serve as mental/intellectual guides (geestelijk leiders) and continued to remain mere instructors (lesgevers) (Soetopo 1934a). They had to play an active role in the process of social change because the principal meaning of education was indeed cultuuroverdracht, the transfer of culture (Soetopo 1934b).

The teachers’ growing consciousness was reflected in their daily duties. It grew from deliberations about life in the small world of the classroom, where inspiration almost always came from outside. This realization implied giving a new meaning and recon­textualization to existing pedagogical practices. Using the new “knife” of analysis, teachers critically reconsidered the same schooling activities and questioned several elements of identity previously taken for granted. The debate about guru rakyat was a sample case.

In Sumatra teachers also sought new meanings, for example, by dealing with the sensitive issue of kemerdekaan, or independence. Instead of embracing the nationalist sense of political independence, which aimed to supersede the existing colonial power relations, the Sumatran teachers’ introduction of the concept of kemerdekaan began with a breaking away from the traditional mission of schooling as a means of reproduction of social class. Some flashbacks in time and space are essential to exploring this story.

In July 1929, Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe published an article on the Montessori method of teaching (Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe 7, Year 9, July 1929, 126–130). Unlike other afore-mentioned cases for which the source(s) of borrowed articles were explicitly mentioned, for this article the editors just wrote a “W.” Deducing from its content and language style, the article might have been penned by Ki Hadjar Dewantara, as a cross-check reveals an article with exactly the same title and content that appeared under his name in the Taman Siswa magazine Waskita in May 1929 (Waskita 1, 8, May 1929). The most significant fact about it is that in the last colonial decade, Indonesian teachers at public schools were covertly following the development of the thoughts of their fellow teachers in unofficial schools.

Maria Montessori, a prominent Italian educational reformist in the early twentieth century, founded the principle of individual autonomy in education. She thought that education was a natural process spontaneously embraced by the human individual, in which punishments and rewards were not an appropriate mechanism to encourage learning. (For information on Maria Montessori and her works, visit http://www.montessori.edu/maria.html.) In the article cited by Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe, the Dutch words zelfstandig and vrij were used as translations for Montessori’s “autonomous” and “spontaneous.” They were followed by Indonesian translations: mardéka and bebas, which are synonyms for “being independent and free.” When the concept was explored in more detail, the meanings of the terms in the Indonesian language were extended and strengthened. For example, while Montessori’s idea of abolishing rewards and punishments was aimed to stimulate the child’s inner motivation for learning, its purpose, as the writer of the article put it, was memardékakan anak, which, retranslated into English, means “to make children independent”—instead of “to establish the individual autonomy of children” (Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe 7, Year 9, July 1929, 127).

The Indonesian word for the Dutch zelfstandig, in the English sense of “being autonomous,” could have been mandiri, whose meaning applies to an individual rather than to a collective of people. Therefore, zelfstandigheid or “autonomy” could have been keman­dirian instead of kemerdekaan. Kemerdekaan is closer in meaning to onafhankelijkheid or “independence.” In the article published by Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe, Montessori’s principles of (individual) autonomy were described as pangkal kemardékaan or “sources of independence.” This interpreted the meaning of kemardékaan as tidak hidoep terperintah (not to live under the orders of others), berdiri tegak karena kekoeatan sendiri (to be able to stand on one’s own feet), and tjakap mengatoer hidoepnya sendiri (to develop the capacity for self-determination) (ibid.). The overall context of the article was the reform of educational principles and the teaching method; hence it carried a pedagogical concept. However, the terminology implied a message much more sweeping than just the pedagogical one.

Other articles on pedagogical issues also provide good examples. In April 1931, Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe published an article titled “Zelfstandigheid van den Onderwijzer” (Autonomy of the teacher), originally a lecture delivered by Soedjadi to a meeting of the West Sumatra chapter of the PGHB (Soedjadi 1931, 65–70). The article deals with the teacher’s sustainable improvement of professional quality. “A teacher has to be zelfstandig,” Soedjadi wrote in the article. This implies, he stated, that a teacher should be imbued with the spirit of self-learning in order to maintain his self-esteem as a teacher and to learn from the experience of fellow teachers (ibid., 66–67). That is all well and good, but the particular way in which Soedjadi explored these points shows how political his concept actually was. He said: “Here zelfstandigheid should mean ‘standing on one’s own feet’, hence merdéka.” He lost no time in adding: “The word kemerdékaan is often used in either a political or a religious sense. But we are now using it in a pedagogical sense.” Nevertheless, in explaining the meaning of kemerdékaan, Soedjadi picked a politically suitable example. “In England,” he wrote, “even the lowest-ranking koelies obtained the right to education up to the level of the Dutch MULO. Here, our people will never have the rights the English koelies have until all teachers achieve kemerdékaan!” (ibid., 68).

In July 1931 Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe published an interview with Oesman Idris, director of the Malay Language Department at Hamburg University, Germany, who also worked as a freelance editor of the journal (Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe 7, Year 11, July 1931, 130–132). Oesman stated that school education in Indonesia was not geared toward improving the autonomy of children. “Many of our children go to school because they want to become government officials and administrators,” said Oesman. “We must educate our children so that they can be their own masters” (ibid., 130). Oesman pointed out that education in Indonesia was accessible exclusively to children of the haves, “as if the have-nots are only spectators, who do not possess the right to it . . . In Europe, both the rich and the poor have equal rights to education!” (ibid., 130–131). The interview with Oesman shows that the concept of kemerdekaan had taken on more political than pedagogical overtones as it pointed as much in the direction of educational content as to accessibility to and equality of rights. The transformation in the concept shows the subtle process at work in the way that teachers were exposed to progress through their understanding of their social roles.

The Seeds and the Seeding Ground: Students

The process by which HIK students of the 1930s became politically conscious was a gradual one. In general, three phases of the process can be identified: the students’ daily lives in schools and boarding houses during the 1930s; changes in schools’ domestic rules and events from the end of the 1930s to the beginning of the 1940s; and the shutting down of Dutch schools right after the conquest of the Netherlands Indies by Japanese troops in March 1942. Testimonies from HIK graduates and former students describe this process of the changing self-perception leading to political awareness.

Graduates and former students of the HIK speak of the increase, during the 1930s, in the availability of and access to reading materials in schools and boarding houses, even though those were censored, as one factor that initially stimulated their political curi­osity. “At the HIK in Bukittinggi, I regularly read Dutch newspapers and magazines from which I learned about up-to-date events and developments in Indonesia and the world,” wrote Abdul Haris Nasution in his autobiography (Abdul Haris Nasution 1990, 28–29). He entered the lower level of the HIK in Bukittinggi in 1932 and continued to the upper level in Bandung in 1935. At one time, a Dutch newspaper published the Japanese idea of a Greater Asia and warned its readers against what it called “the danger of the Japanese.” Instead of paying attention to the warning, Abdul Haris “wondered why I felt proud of the Japanese; perhaps because they were inspiring Asians regardless of the negative commentaries about them in the Dutch press” (ibid.).

Alatif Azis had a different experience, as he revealed during an interview in his home in Bandung on November 27, 2006. He entered the lower level of the HIK in Bukittinggi in 1930 and the upper level in Bandung in 1933, two years senior to Abdul Haris. While in Bukittinggi, Alatif regularly took part in discussions held by the Youth Organization of Muhammadiyah although he never officially became a member of the organization. He occasionally watched public processions of what he remembered as “the Nazi Youth Organization of the East Indies.” Alatif never realized that his interest and “passive participation” in those activities had invited the suspicion of the authorities.

Unlike Alatif, Mohamad Isa did not say that any step was taken against his active participation in an organization. In 1940, he joined the Islam Youth Organization ­(Islamistische Jeugd Bond) in Yogyakarta (Mohamad 1993, 14–15). To celebrate the Islamic Day of the Sacrifice (Idul Adha) in 1942, the organization’s leaders decided to hold a public prayer. “We marched and chanted the Takhbir prayer along the way. I think it was the first public religious march Islamic students in Yogyakarta had held in colonial times,” said Mohamad (1991b, 29–32).

Djoko (1991, 2–11) wrote that on a certain day students of the HIK in Yogyakarta participated in a long march organized by the Nederlands-Indië Atletiek Unie (Netherlands Indies Athletics Association). He wrote:

As we marched down Malioboro Street, we [the HIK students] sang Hawai’ian pop songs. But Mr. Mabesoone, our Dutch teacher who was our leader in the show, didn’t seem to like our singing. He said, “If you do not have a feeling for music, you’d better shut up!” We whispered among ourselves, “Quiet, quiet!” We then marched on in silence. Noticing we had fallen silent, Mr. Mabesoone approached us in our ranks and said, “Sing [instead] appropriate patriotic songs, boys!” I spontaneously gave a loud rendition of “Indonesia Raya!” To my great surprise, immediately everybody began to sing “Indonesia Raya” as if I had issued an order. I was amazed myself that we dared to sing the forbidden song in a public thoroughfare.
 In the late afternoon, when we were all back at our boarding house, I saw a police motorbike being parked in the front yard of the house of the school director. Instinctively, I was overcome by trepidation, especially after I saw from a distance a police officer pointing his finger at me as he was talking to our school director. At dinnertime that evening, I was asked to see the director in his office. He did not say much except for “The bucket is already full; no more drops can [be poured into it].” Then he gave me my report book, in which was written “verwijderd wegens wangedrag” [expelled for bad behavior]. That evening I ended my days as an HIK student! (ibid.)

The case of the singing of “Indonesia Raya” is perhaps one that has a strong political theme. Djoko also noted that day-to-day events in the boarding house made him feel “rebellious” ever since his first days at the HIK in 1938. As a rule, Dutch was the language of instruction at school as well as in daily interactions among students. “But we sometimes spoke Javanese with fellow Javanese, something that we could not always avoid as it is our mother tongue,” wrote Djoko (ibid., 4). He added:

When our teachers heard us speaking Javanese, they reprimanded us, “Spreekt toch Nederlands!” [Do speak Dutch]. This was indeed an acceptable reminder. But often such a reprimand was ­followed by “Denk toch Nederlands!” [Think Dutch]. I thought the latter order was very offensive, as if they wanted to make us Dutch.
 . . . One day during a pedagogy class the director of the HIK, Mr. Nuhoff, said that the aim of the Netherlands Indies government was to improve the lives of indigenous people. When given the opportunity, I raised my hand and asked, “If that were the case, why has the Dutch language been considered better than our Indonesian language?” I saw a blush infuse Mr. Nuhoff’s face. He replied, “Young man, the Dutch language is your scientific language. And . . . whenever I hear the word ‘Indonesia’, I conjure up the image of people once removed from cannibals!”
 There was another incident that really upset me. One of my juniors (I forget his name) had not yet become accustomed to eating his meals using a spoon and fork. This invariably happened among the new students, as many of us had come from a rural tradition. This junior sat on my right side at the dining table and always became nervous when others watched him eat.
 One day, when we were having lunch, our supervising teacher, Mr. Van Oerle, approached and said to him, “Now then, listen carefully: If an animal eats, it brings its mouth to the food; if a man eats, he brings the food to the mouth!” My junior friend looked very frightened. But I felt personally offended by what Mr. Van Oerle had said, although he was not addressing me. I stood up straight away and replied to Mr. Van Oerle: “Sir, when in Rome, do as the Romans do! In your culture a man brings the food to his mouth; in ours . . . We have to assume a properly noble position!”
 Mr. Van Oerle ordered me to see him in his office after lunch. When I arrived, he said that he would make a minute report unless I apologized for what I had done in the dining room. This time I was frightened, because I realized the serious repercussions such a report could have. I did, then, apologize to Mr. Van Oerle. (ibid., 4–5)

The anticipated war against the Japanese in the early 1940s forced the authorities of the Netherlands Indies to prepare for an emergency situation, and this inevitably brought changes in the daily routines of students and teachers. Zurchiban Surjadipradja was in the fourth year of the HIK in Yogyakarta in 1941. Recalling the situation at the end of 1941, he wrote:

The city of Yogyakarta was only half lit at night. The authorities decided to reduce the lighting in anticipation of a sudden Japanese attack. So, streetlights in open spaces were turned off or covered.
 In the boarding house, we also had to reduce the number of lights. Lamps in the corners and along the pathways were not turned on so that at night we could only see the flashlight of the inspecting teacher spotting pathways in different directions. (Zurchiban 2003, 24–28)

As war approached, students began to get involved in war-related preparations. Some students were appointed by the school director to form an internal security corps as air-raid wardens, or Luchtbeschermingsdienst. Suroso testified: “We were given a crash course by an officer from the local fire department. He showed us how to identify the effects of brisantbom (anti-personnel bombs) and brandbom (incendiaries), and how to tackle them” (Suroso 1992, 33–34).

Several other students were selected by a team from the medical service in ­Yogyakarta to join the Student Red Cross Corps. They included Mohamad, Hanafi, Nazir, Ismail Harahap, Soedjiran, Suwantono, Warsito, Suhardjo, and Sayid Salim Baazir ­(Mohamad 1991a, 34). “In the Corps, we were trained in the dispensing of first aid, not for battle,” Mohamad said (ibid.). The experience of Mohamad, as quoted below, shows the direct involvement of student members of the Red Cross Corps in dealing with the war situation:

After lunch, one day at the end of 1941 or the beginning of 1942—I do not really remember—the student members of the Corps were summoned to assemble immediately in the front schoolyard. We were then taken by bus to the Tugu railway station. From there a train took us westward to . . . Tjilatjap [a harbor on the southern coast of Central Java].
 There . . . we had to take many patients, all badly burnt. . . . At 9 o’clock that evening, the train departed back to Yogyakarta. We were very busy with the patients. They cried and shouted in panic the whole way, “Water! Water, please! Oh my God, forgive me! Ease the pain! Oh Mummy, Mummy, pray for your son!” The stench of burnt flesh mixed with blood filled the air in the carriage. Luckily, the military doctor I assisted stayed calm and gave me practical guidance. “Houd vast z’n bips, Maat. Houd vast en stevig!” [Hold his bottom firm, mate. Hold on firm and tight!] he told me when we were giving a patient, who was in intense pain, a morphine injection. Another patient died after being administered an injection. “We were too late,” said the doctor. Every time I took my hands off a patient’s body, astaghfirullahal’adhim [Oh my God], my palms were full of burnt skin or even some of the flesh protruding from the patient’s body!
 After midnight we had time to get some rest. The doctor offered me a cheese and egg sandwich, along with warm bouillon and coffee. During the two and a half years I had lived in the boarding house, I had never drunk coffee. During the first school break at 10 o’clock every Monday and Thursday, we were served green bean porridge instead of coffee. So the doctor’s offer of ­coffee was actually golden. But at that time I could not take it. “No appetite, Doc. Because of the smell of the men’s burnt flesh, I feel sick. I want to vomit!” I said.
 The train arrived in Yogyakarta long before dawn. I do not recall how busy it was at the station. I do not even remember how we got back to the dormitory. (ibid., 36–40)

The situation in the boarding house when Mohamad and his colleagues returned was described by Suroso, who was only a first-year student in 1942. He wrote:

The silence of an early morning was suddenly loudly disrupted when a group of soldiers of the Student Red Cross Corps returned. They looked really messy and exhausted; some were no longer in uniform. We all crowded around them and inquisitively showered them with questions. Because some of us asked questions simultaneously, the story Mohamad and his friends told us was rather onsamenhangend [incoherent]. Then our school director, Mr. Brouwer, came and took his turn asking them questions. There really was an uproar that morning. (Suroso 1992, 33)

HIK students assiduously followed news about the war developments by listening to the radio (ibid.). Two air-raid shelters (schuilkelders) were built in both the northern and southern boarding houses of the Yogyakarta HIK. “We were instructed to run to the shelters whenever we heard sirens. Weeks before the Japanese arrived in town, lessons or classes had ceased because we did drills,” wrote Soesilowati Basuki (2003, 4–6).

The war was indeed creeping closer. The conquest of nearly the entire territory of the Netherlands Indies by the Japanese in March 1942 was followed by the closing of colonial schools, including the HIK. Teachers and students were caught up in an emergency situation. Soeparmo, who graduated from Bandung in 1935, was a teacher at an HIS in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. “Two colleagues and I were released from school to man a Dutch telegraphic radio station. When the Japanese came to town, I managed to return to Java,” Soeparmo wrote (1986, 45–46).

Kadaroesman, who had graduated from Bandung in 1938, was a teacher in Tapaktuan, South Aceh. “People were really panicked and hid in shelters every time there was an air raid,” he recalls (Kadaroesman 1989, 33–39). Kadaroesman notes that unlike other places where local people cheerfully welcomed Japanese troops, the local people of Tapaktuan preferred to hide when Japanese troops entered the town.

As all schools were closed, students were sent home. At the last moment, just before sending the students home, the authorities of the HIK in Yogyakarta handed students in the final year what was called a nooddiploma, an emergency certificate. It was not a school-leaving certificate but a statement of the stage of training that the ­students had reached. The nooddiploma was meant to provide a basis of assessment in case further training was to be followed in the future. The nooddiploma was given also to HIK students in Bandung. However, perhaps because Bandung was the main base of the Netherlands East Indies military defense, the situation there had become extremely critical since the landing of Japanese troops in Merak and Banten on March 1, 1942. In some instances, students in the upper years did not receive the nooddiploma when they had to leave school in April 1942 (Mohamad 1992, 37–41; Suparno 1993, 4–8; Suroso 1996, 11–19; interview with Moerdiono, Yogyakarta, September 27, 2006).

With or without a nooddiploma, all HIK students had to give up their training and leave the boarding house. Soesilowati managed to flee from the boarding house of the girls’ HIK in Yogyakarta to her relatives in Medari, near Magelang in Central Java (Soesilowati 2003, 4–5). Suparno B. of the upper-level HIK in Bandung wanted to return to his parents in Makassar, but the virtually insurmountable difficulty of finding transport forced him to move to Solo. “It was the darkest time in my life,” he wrote (Suparno 1993, 5). From the Christian HIK in Solo, Central Java, Priguna Sidharta managed to go home to Losarang, Indramayu, on the north coast of West Java, but was stranded in a hilly southern area of the region (Priguna 1993, 35–36). Suroso had to spend another three weeks in the HIK boarding house in Yogyakarta before finding a way to get home to Trenggalek, East Java (Suroso 1992, 35). For these students, the period between March and August 1942 was a desperate time as they struggled, often unsuccessfully, to get home.

Around the end of the colonial era, during the period of regime change, Suroso witnessed an event that illustrated crucial elements of a future Indonesia. He wrote:

Immediately after we heard that Japanese troops had arrived in town, we came out of the school boarding house and went into the street. I noticed many of my colleagues wore a sarong and a peci [rimless cap] on their heads. Suddenly I felt strange and awkward being among my colleagues, who were dressed in a sarong and a peci, because I was the one who did not own a sarong or a peci. Fortunately, nothing that would have created unpleasantness between us happened. (ibid.)

In an interview in Jakarta in January 2007, I asked Suroso what he meant by “felt strange and awkward” and “unpleasantness.” His answer remained vague. However, in the course of our conversation he did somewhat explain the point. The sarong and a peci were accepted by some Indonesians as the symbolic outfit representing an Islamic identity. The rules governing life in the HIK boarding house were designed to stifle any overt show of ethnic or religious diversity in the form of symbolic materials. Religious activities were allowed at the individual level. Consequently, students could live in harmony despite differences in ethnic and religious backgrounds. Suroso’s testimony can also be interpreted to mean that with the arrival of the Japanese, Dutch school rules went into abeyance and this opened the way for the free expression of self or group identities, including a religious one. Later, during the occupation, in exactly the same boarding house, Muslim students recited the Shalat prayers aloud five times a day, something that had never happened during colonial times (Soemarto 1989, 41–45).


This paper has presented a picture of how Indonesian teachers and teacher candidates at government schools during the last colonial decade became politically conscious, as a consequence of ideas and reflections, in their daily professional lives. Of humble origins, from socially lower-class families, most of the teachers and students had initially stepped into the teaching profession for personal vertical mobility; but, spurred by changes in society at large, they then developed a shared sense of caring and engagement that encompassed the scope and aim of the teaching profession for which they had been educated. Like many of their Indonesian contemporaries during the 1930s, the school­teachers in this study were called upon to embrace the idea of persatuan, or unity. As they did so, feelings of self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence arose as crucial issues that gradually strengthened the teachers’ perception of their position in society. In this ­climate, discussions about progress in pedagogical theories often turned into reflections about identity and social roles. Teachers began to search for new meaning in the relationship between individuals and society. This search for new meaning was enhanced by various international events that were reported regularly in teachers’ journals. All this confirmed the growing political horizon of the teachers and teacher candidates.

The individual testimonies presented here reveal that the rise in political consciousness was not always a deliberate decision. In many cases it began with an “unprecedented introduction” to events in daily lives. In the 1930s, when students at the teacher schools were still a privileged stratum receiving the training that ascribed them a place in the intellectual elite status, they were exposed to, or experienced, certain “incidents” that slowly made them aware of their social position in colonial society. In the critical years toward the early 1940s, the students’ understanding of a new Indonesian society expanded when they witnessed substantial changes in daily school activities and, at the same time, school authorities took a more accommodating approach. During the Japanese occupation of the Indonesian islands (1942–45), teachers’ political consciousness became more structured and radicalized; but by then it was already in an advanced phase of the process that had originally begun from an unstructured, somewhat incidental, and nondeliberate shift in the course of their lives through the 1930s.

Through gradual phases, the teachers’ political consciousness stimulated an imagination in their mind of a new society other than the colonial one. It is doubtful, however, whether the teachers as a collective were conscious of the imagination they shared at the time it emerged. The data cited from the teachers’ journals and newspapers of the 1930s show the growing concern of teachers and students over the changes in society. Unfortunately, they do not indicate whether the teachers knew and saw themselves as one collective body, even though the idea of unity was widely discussed. The teachers’ recollections and testimonials do show that the teachers shared the consciousness of themselves as one community. Yet, this is a post-factum consciousness as the data were compiled by the teachers themselves, and by my interviews, some 40 to 70 years after the actual events had occurred. So, while it is obvious that the teachers of the 1930s shared a vision of a new society, it is not clear whether they shared it consciously as a collective at the time that the vision was emerging.

The political consciousness that public school Indonesian teachers were experiencing during the 1930s could not have been an expression of nationalism in any sense. It could not have suited the context of what were generally known as anti-colonial movements propagated by the (mainstream) Indonesian Nationalists. Nor could it be precisely understood by Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities (Anderson 1983, Indonesian translation 2001). It holds true that Indonesian teachers at government schools during the 1930s began to envision a society different from the existing colonial structure, but they did not see it in terms of changing the structure of power politics. The new society they had imagined, as long as they testified, was a society where the privileged elites widened their social horizons and participated in finding solutions to the most recent and urgent problems of the people. In this case, the teachers shared an identical vision of the change in the social structure, and therefore they, seen post-factum, comprised a sort of community. Yet, it is doubtful whether they can collectively be categorized as a fragment of a nation—even in its smallest unit. As Anderson (ibid., 8) has suggested, the concept of a nation requires that people who share the same imagination are conscious of their being a collective, although they may never, or will never, know or meet each other. The teachers in the present study did not appear to indicate a consciousness of a shared sense of collectiveness at the time the vision they all shared was emerging and growing. Although they met Anderson’s requirement of a shared experience and a shared imagination, they lacked the collective mental awareness of what they were sharing. On this account, the emerging political consciousness of the teachers cannot be understood within the frame of nationalism, whatever sense the term may convey.

Instead of attempting to understand the teachers’ emerging political consciousness in the frame of nationalism, I would rather see it in the context of the emergence of a shared sense of citizenship. It was the process in which a perception of equality and equity was growing among Indonesian teachers, who, as part of the privileged indigenous elites of the 1930s, had initially been prepared to become role models of docile subjects of the colonial administration. In this sense, the growing shared sense of citizenship did not necessarily have to do with state formation, but with the realization of a coexistence among people of different social classes, ethnicities, and even levels of attachment to power politics.

For this sort of citizenship, Henk Schulte Nordholt (2011) proposes the concept of cultural modernity. It is not a “fashionable container concept” but, rather, “refers to the role of the individual and to equality, to notions of development, progress and mobility” (ibid., 438). According to Schulte Nordholt, the Indonesian middle-class elite, during the late colonial decade, did not aim to create a nation in the first place, but to embrace a lifestyle. “Access to such a lifestyle could be obtained by joining the framework of the colonial system and in doing so consolidating the colonial regime” (ibid.). Schulte ­Nordholt’s hypothesis well suits the case of public school teachers, who, as part of the emerging indigenous middle-class elite, were stepping onto a rung of the lifestyle ladder they considered economically higher and more promising than the one they had begun from. However, his hypothesis falls short when used to analyze the position of the teachers as critical, nonideological agents of socio-political transformation. In hypothesizing that the aim of the non-Nationalist element in Indonesian transformation during the 1930s was not a nation in the first place, Schulte Nordholt has managed to forward his criticism against the “black-and-white” historiography of the last colonial decade. Notwithstanding this, his basic framework in setting the hypothesis has actually been ideological and reflects the paradigm that education, and the cultural modernity resulting from it, is state business.

It is obvious that Indonesian teachers at government schools during the 1930s underwent a transformation in their view of school education. Their perception shifted from a right-wing, conservative view of school education as a tool for economic repro­duction to a left-wing, progressive perspective that considered schools as “powerful social structures actively involved in the process of moral and political reproduction” (Giroux 2003, 6–9). Although the transformation that the teachers underwent in their view of school education was a radical leap when seen from the perspective of the Indonesia-centric historiography of the 1930s, it did not actually show a process of transformative pedagogy. Whether they saw school education as a tool for embracing cultural citizenship and modernity or as a moral and social engagement, the teachers remained in their position as subjugated subjects of the state: first the colonial state, then, after 1945, the imaginary Indonesian state promoted by the Nationalists. The education they had received made them lose the capacity to become critical agents who encompassed the role of “ideological gatekeepers” (ibid.). Hence, the sense of citizenship that teachers shared in the 1930s, albeit a dramatic shift from their original motivations of vertical economic mobility, did not reflect the notion of public education as an independent practice of cultural upbringing irrelevant to the state and state-formation ideology.

Accepted: December 25, 2012


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Aboean Goeroe-Goeroe

1931. Onderwijs Kita [Our education]. No. 10, Year 11 (October).
Oedjian bagi Ra’jat Indonesia tentang Persatoean dan Politiek [Test on unity and politics for Indonesian people]. No. 8, Year 11 (August).
Pembitjaraan Kita dengan Toean Oesman Idris [Our conversation with Mr. Oesman Idris]. No. 7, Year 11 (July).
Semangat Baroe Menoedjoe Indonesia-Raja [Towards the Greater Indonesia]. No. 6, Year 11 (June).

1930. Sedikit Pemandangan [A glance of view]. No. 12, Year 10 (December).

1929. Orde, Regeering dan Tucht: Faham Toea dan Faham Baharoe [Discipline, rule, and law]. No. 7, Year 9 (July).

Darma Kanda
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Persatoean Goeroe
1934. Deradjat Goeroe di Waktoe Sekarang [The rank of teachers today]; Kepertjajaan kepada Diri Sendiri [Self-confidence]. No. 14 (August 30).
Kaoem Goeroe dan Pergerakan [Teachers and movements]. No. 13 (August 15).

1930. Harga [Price]. No. 20 (September 25).
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Zelfrespect (Menghargai Diri Sendiri) [Self-respect (Self-appreciation)]. No. 16 (August 15).
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Eenheidsgevoel, Broederschap Zin, Onderling Vertrouw [Feeling of unity, sense of brotherhood, mutual trust]. No. 3 (September 1).
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Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 119-149
©Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University