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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 7 Peranakan Women’s Voices 151


Chapter 7 Peranakan Women’s Voices In the preceding chapters I explored representations of Asian women that I found in lingua franca Malay works written exclusively by male authors. While Gouw Peng Liang’s Tjerita Nona Diana led me to the novel Warm bloed by Elisabeth Overduyn-Heyligers, it was only in my discussion of Eduard J. Kerkhoven’s nyais that my point of departure was a novel written by a woman, i.e. Heren van de thee by Hella Haasse. This chapter shifts away from predominantly male discourses and presents close readings of peranakan women’s writings from 1925 to 1938. It analyzes the textual particularities that help us to understand how women represented societal transformations in the colony at the beginning of the modern era. It provides insights into how the authors dealt with aspects of gender, race and class in identity formation. It is critical to examine what messages women conveyed to their audiences through their novels and stories, and to hear “their voices speak to us across the chasm of historical [and cultural] difference” (Felski 1995, 33). Such a reading allows us to determine how they responded to modernity, which meant repudiating traditions of the past and disrupting prevailing norms. In this chapter I discuss female characters who pursue formal education or choose a professional career, who cope with marriage, sexuality and family life, and interracial relations. I explore to what extent the texts reflect a woman’s search for self-definition and self-confidence as a positive development. How are the stories intertextually connected...

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