Accepted paper:

Plantations, Immigration and Indigenous Elites in the Nineteenth-Century Asia Pacific


Nicholas Miller (University of Lisbon)

Paper short abstract:

This paper inquires into late nineteenth-century ruling elites' attitudes towards race and immigration and their strategic negotiation with colonial ideologies and practices in Hawai'i and Johore (Malaysia).

Paper long abstract:

In 1881, a discussion about the comparative merits and demerits of Asian and Western immigrants was held at the Istana Besar (Grand Palace) in Johor Bahru between Abu Bakar, Sultan of Johor, and David Kalākaua, the King of Hawai'i, following the latter's formal receptions in Japan, China and Siam. Taking this conversation as its starting point, this presentation inquires into the imbrication between plantations labour, race and attitudes towards immigration in two Asia-Pacific sites beyond direct imperial rule. By inquiring into indigenous elites' strategic negotiation with the pseudoscience of race in the backdrop of growing global asymmetries of cultural and economic power, this paper will examine local elite status aspiration in two sites typically marginalised in literature on colonialism, race and contract labour. Indigenous leaders in Johor and Hawai'i produced unique instances of racial and assimilative-integrative discourse that have retained contemporary legacies in local nationalist discourses in both sites. A careful inquiry into the intersection between individual epistemologies of immigration and inter-regional networks of labour migration (the Chinese run credit-ticket system and the Western-administered contract labour system) permits a novel gaze into the complexities of state action and the globalization of racialised vocabularies and labour regimes in the late nineteenth century. I will thus contribute historical perspectives to current tensions between the explicitly multiculturalist successor governments that have emerged in both sites and activist indigenism that often posits an intimate link with late nineteenth-century kingly rule.

panel P144
Laboring racialization in the lived experience of settling, moving, and making place