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Women and Malay Voices

Undercurrent Murmurings in Indonesia’s Colonial Past


Tineke Hellwig

Women and Malay Voices examines Malay literature by Chinese peranakan authors in the Dutch East Indies between 1915 and 1940. The narratives, some of them based on sensational murder trials reported in the news, offer insights into women’s lives and experiences and glimpses of female agency. With its primary focus on Malay texts and Asian women, this book offers a unique opportunity to hear subaltern voices and understand the lives of colonized women in new ways. Using feminist and postcolonial theories, this study juxtaposes the Malay texts with Dutch fiction and newspaper accounts to gain insight into how gender, race, and class are represented and what ideologies marked power relations in Dutch East Indies society.


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Chapter 1 Introduction 1


Chapter 1 Introduction This book discusses Malay works of literature published in the Dutch East Indies between 1915 and 1940. The texts were intended for popular reading, and written in non-standard Malay by authors of Chinese descent, most of them peranakan (mixed-blood Chinese).1 This genre formed an “undercurrent” in literary production and, until the 1980s, was marginalized and ignored. These stories deserve serious attention as cultural products of the late colonial period, a time when Indies society was going through a transition from more traditional values to early modernity. The Malay literary texts reflect and represent this period’s processes of societal change. The present study recovers some of the stories from obscurity and demonstrates that these understudied texts are worth examining through close reading. I soon discovered that the textual and discursive boundaries of these Malay works are porous, and blurred with other texts and discourses, many of them in Dutch. Therefore, I decided to explore intertextual and interdiscursive connections by juxtaposing Malay discourses with discourses in Dutch, be they literary, journalistic, historical or oral accounts. Since Dutch was the hegemonic language in the Indies, Dutch discourses in most cases present the colonizer’s authoritative and masculine points of view. I start here from the premise that the Malay works speak the language of the subaltern and give the perspective of the colonized, of Asians, and of the feminine. “Writing in Indonesian [Malay] as a kind of literary lingua franca…allowed colonized or postcolonial subjects to evade, rather than compel...

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