The Myth of the Lazy Native by Syed Hussein Alatas
The Myth of the Lazy Native has a problem with inter-temporal descriptions: Alatas doesn't couch them in terms of the dominant perspective at the time the descriptions were made. E.g. the received conception of "race" changed drastically over the 500 years he talked about.
As such, it's a good example of Problem literature, where the author perceives an evil and attempts to confront it on their own terms.
But capitalism is identical with the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise. For it must be so; in a wholly capitalistic order of society, an individual capitalistic enterprise which did not take advantage of its opportunities for profit- making would be doomed to extinction".
Barbossa's accounts, completed about 1518 A.D., is interesting in that his view of the Malays differs radically from that of the Javanese in Malacca and Java. He arrived in Malacca shortly after it was conquered by the Portuguese. He noted that the distinguished Malays of Malacca were serious Muslims, leading a pleasant life, in large houses outside the city with many orchards, gardens and water-tanks. They had separate trading houses in the city, and possessed many slaves with wives and children.
The image of the lazy Javanese subsequently lingered in the minds of others. Thus in 1904 the economic historian Clive Day, commenting on the situation at the end of the 19th century, suggested the following: ... In practice it has been found impossible to secure the services of the native population by any appeal to an ambition to better themselves and raise their standard. Nothing less than immediate material enjoyment will stir them from their indolent routine. As a result, it is the universal practice among employers to offer a large part of the wages for any period in advance; if the native takes the bait, he can be held to labor (in theory, at least) until he has worked out the debt that he has incurred.
And the Pahang Automobile Service has found that it could safely substitute Malays on its motor-cars, for skilled Europeans at five times the salary, though the Pahang road is one of the most difficult in the world for motoring. Many Malay motor-car drivers can now be seen in the crowded streets of Singapore.
The Indians and Chinese immigrants were ensnared in the colonial capitalist system of production; the bulk of them remained coolies. Only a handful of them like Yap Ah Loi became successful capitalists. The immigrant coolies were left in their illiterate, backward state. They were used merely as a tool, "a mule among the nations". The Malay refusal at the time to be exploited as "a mule among the nations", was a rational and sound response. They attended to their own work in their own areas of interest.
In 1846, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote a joint work which provided an important clue to the understanding of history. For our theme this is specially relevant. They observed the following: "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e. the class, which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it."
However the demand for labour was so great that a credit-ticket system came into being. Coolie brokers in South China, Hong Kong and Singapore arranged for the shipment of batches of coolies to Penang and Singapore. On arrival the brokers found employment for the immigrant coolies. These brokers were particularly unscrupulous. The employers paid them according to the market price for each labourer. The labourers imported under this system were called "piglets" and the people in charge of their lodging houses were called "heads of piglets" (Chu Tsai Thau). ... The means of recruitment were inhuman even by 19th century standards. "The coolies were, in fact, treated like cattle or pigs, and there are well authenticated cases of hundreds of coolies dying during the voyage or being drowned like rats without a chance of escape when ships sank.
"For example the usual system of employment on the sugar plantations in Province Wellesley whether European or Chinese-owned was the 'rumah ketchiP system. Under this system, the estate owner divided up his estate into sections each of which was in charge of a Chinese contractor. The owner arranged for the purchase of coolies and then handed them over to the contractors debiting their expenses to the contractors' account. The contractors took complete charge of the coolies, provided a house (the rumah ketchil) and made all arrangements for wages, food, etc.(Province Wellesley was next to Penang)
The 1890 Report of the Commission to enquire into the state of labour in the Straits Settlements, which was submitted to the government in 1891, included information on terms of contract in ordinary use for new arrivals to the Straits Settlements. For agricultural work in the Straits Settlement and the Malay States, working days were 360 in a year. The wage was $30 per year, about 8| cents per day. Of this, $ 19.50 was deducted for passage from China. Food and some clothes were provided by the employer. If the labourer at the end of his first year was in debt and was retained, the wages were $3 a month with food.
In 1857, at the opening of the tin mines in Ampang at Kuala Lumpur, there was 87 coolies in the first batch. After 2 months, due to the ravages of fever and tiger, only 18 were left.
The upholders of colonial capitalism suggested a further virtue of opium smokers. They were law abiding. They feared they would not get opium in prison. An old towkay summarized it in the following: "I put the four well-known evils in this order—womanising is the worst, gambling comes next, drinking next and, last of all, opium smoking. The womaniser's disease is visited upon his children and family; the gambler squanders his father's inheritance; the drunkard acts and behaves recklessly; on the other hand, the opium smoker is steady. He thinks carefully before he acts."
There was then the exploitation by the encomenderos, those Spaniards holding large tracts of land with a right to levy taxes and tributes. Some sold Filipinos into slavery, to pay the taxes levied on them.
"The pernicious influence of the rulers, that of surrounding themselves with servants and despising physical or manual labor as unworthy of the nobility and aristocratic pride of the heroes of so many centuries; those lordly manners that the Filipinos have translated into Tila ka Kastila (You're like a Spaniard); and the desire of the ruled to be the equal of the rulers, if not entirely, at least in manners—all these naturally produced aversion to activity and hatred or fear of work."1
In the past Malays did not exhibit discipline or punctuality. Indeed the absence of such words in the vocabulary of the Malays indicated the absence of the concept, hence the phenomena. Tha saying "janji Melayu" (Malay promise) is common to illustrate the unpunctuality of the Malays.6 Industriousness (rajin) was present in the vocabulary. Malays show no spirit of perseverance in the midst of adversity. A Malay saying "Hangat-hangat tahi ayam" (Warm as a fowl's dropping) is invoked as a proof.
Mahathir bin Mohamad, a Malay physician and politician from Kedah published his reflections on the Malay problem in 1970 at the time when he was outside the party.
The negative traits of Malay character discussed by Mahathir are either an exaggeration or misplaced judgements.
Amongst the Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia there is a mental disorder called "koro"., a shrinking of the genital, predominantly amongst males. Just because it is primarily confined to the Chinese community, can we say that the loss of potency, the shrinking of the vital organ, is part of the basic psychological make-up of the Chinese? Such a conclusion would be a highly absurd and muddled one. Koro has nothing to do with Chinese character or the Chinese "dilemma".
Approximately half a century after the Spanish conquest, Morga had noticed some effects of the conquest on the Filipinos. We have earlier noted the forced labour and delivery of tributes, but a new factor restricting trade was introduced. The natives were not permitted to leave their towns on trading expeditions except with the permission of the Spanish authority.
The same applies to the Malays. With the conquest of Malacca by the Portuguese, and the subsequent growth of Dutch domination, the Malay trading class also disappeared. Thus when the British came to Malaya at the eiid of the 18th century, they did not find a Malay trading class
The estimated total population of the Straits Settlements in 1927 was 1,059,968. The European population was 11,305, the Chinese 615,149, the Malay 270,552, the Indian 141,777, and other nationalities 10,800.
In 1937, the estimated population of the Straits Settlements was 1,245,739, of which 14,397 were Europeans, 770,645 Chinese, 294,565 Malays, 142,703 Indians, 12,402 Eurasians and 11,657 other nationalities.
The Straits Settlements had become a seething cauldron of venereal diseases. In 1907, the annual report acknowledged the number of brothels and prostitutes in the Straits Settlements. There were in total 3,867 prostitutes and 541 brothels. There were 28 European prostitutes, all operating in Singapore.