Crafting the Nation-В State

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Another type of early Southeast Asian state is found in important Malay maritime states such as the Sulu Sultanate. Based in a string of islands in what is today the southwest Philippines, the Sulu kingdom was an Islamic state that came into being in the fifteenth century and endured into the nineteenth century. Rooted in an early boat-dwelling way of life that centered on nomadic seafaring, and featured trading and slaving, the Sulu Sultanate was established with the arrival of Islam in the region. Scholars describe the Sulu Sultanate as a “segmentary state” comprised of subunits with their own leaders, and still more subunits within these divisions. Personal ties bound leaders of these smaller sub segments to those of larger ones. These sorts of relationships have been described in various ways, as akin to “patron–client” relationships, or alternatively in terms of the Philippine concept ofutang na loob, which roughly translates as a kind of “moral debt” or “debt of the inner self” that binds people to benefactors in profound, emotional rather than legal ways. By the 1500s, the allure of trade in this region drew Europeans, ultimately laying the foundations for the European colonization of Southeast Asia. Later, much of the colonization of Southeast Asia by Europeans entailed conquest or co-optations of indigenous systems of governance (with the notable exception of Thailand). But one Southeast Asian nation—Singapore—was essentially entirely born in this colonial period. In 1818, British trader and co administrator Sir Stamford Raffles persuaded the British East India Company to permit him to hunt for a trade base in the region. Ultimately, he settled his sights on an island off the southern tip of today’s mainland Malaysia that was home to a small Malay fishing settlement and under the control of the Sultanate of Josher. By the mid-1800s, this had become a major trade entrecote for the British, and the base of their operations in the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca, and Singapore). As Carl Trocki points out, in many ways Singapore can be seen “as much as the successor of the Malayentrepôts of the Straits as it was the brilliant innovation of Thomas Stamford Raffles” (Trocki 2006:2). The entrepôt was soon drawing Chinese, Indian, and Malay immigrants, leading some scholars of Southeast Asia to describe Singapore as a “plural society” wherein several distinct populations reside side by side, mixing but not combining—co-mingling only in the market. The idea of “plural society” was based on observations of Netherlands India (Dutch colonial Indonesia) and British-colonial Burma made by the colonial public servant and Burma scholar J. S. Furtively (1956). In his classic writings, furtively cautioned that such plural societies were inherently unstable as they lacked common will and shared values. At the heart of the contribution by John Clammer (chapter 9) is this legacy of ethnic pluralism in Singapore. Clammer explores how it plays out in the lives of contemporary Singaporeans, and how the relatively young and Chinese-dominated Singaporean state attempts to shape its ethnically plural society, even as it builds overarching, nationalist sensibilities. The challenges, strategies, and marginalization presented by nation-building have been dominant themes in much of the anthropological writing about Southeast Asia. Colonialism transformed states, combining once-disparate regions into one territory and splitting others. Given the tremendous ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity in Southeast Asia, it is not surprising that colonial governments found it challenging to rule these territories. All of the nations of Southeast Asia came into independence after World War II (with the exception of Thailand, which had retained its autonomy).These relatively new nations have inherited similar nation-building challenges to those faced by the colonialists that proceeded them. Benedict Anderson, who is perhaps one of the world’s most famous writers on the rise and spread of nationalism, has drawn much of the inspiration for his writings from his research in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines (cf. Anderson1991 [1983]). As he famously observed, the nation is essentially an“ imagined community.” A nation does not have the attributes of a face-to-face community wherein shared concerns are rooted in local history and localities. Given the great number and diversity of citizens within a nation, nationalist sensibilities are not natural: they must be cultivated. Citizens must come to embrace an idea of belonging to a nation, of sharing a broader national fictive kinship with their fellow citizens. In this regard, the nation is an imagined community, based on the construction of shared cultural elements such as the establishment of a national language, national newspapers(which inculcate a sense of connection to events elsewhere in the nation),a uniform educational system, shared national holidays, national history museums, and among other things, the inculcation of nationalist ideologies(such as Indonesia’s celebrated Panacea—or “five pillars”—the official state ideology that includes democracy, monotheism, justice, etc.).Two of the contributions to this section, by Hjorleifur Jonsson and Christina Schwenkel, address dimensions of south east Asian states’ efforts to construct nationalist sensibilities. Jonsson (chapter 8) examines the ways in which upland minority peoples become active agents in the state’s civilizing mission. It can be popular to think of “the state” as assimilating minority peoples in a Borg-like fashion (‘Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated”), but this is by no means the full story. As Johnson subtly shows, the Mien are concurrently objects of national development and repositories of quaint “custom.” The Mien negotiate these state actions to tell their own story of themselves, participating in documentation of their traditionand creating new activities, such as sports competitions, in which they can demonstrate their participation in the project of nation-making. Similarly, war museums in Vietnam are meant to unify the nation as sites of national memory-making. As Shaun Malarney (chapter 18) shows in a later section of this volume, even memorializing the honorable war dead is a statement oaf kind of meta-citizenship (certain dead are officially remembered and others are not) that simultaneously honors the deceased’s sacrifice and models the good Vietnamese citizen for the living. Shekel’s contribution (chapter10) demonstrates that, for the younger generation, the museum resonates in different ways than anticipated by the state, for this generation is less interested in entering the galleries (wherein they would be given a visual lessoning nationalism), and is more interested in socializing with friends outside the museum or using these tourist sites to meet foreigners with whom they can practice their English. We have dealt with Burma very little in this collection. Given political conditions in Burma, it is difficult to find accounts of everyday life there. But we would be remiss if we did not mention the very different form of crafting the nation-state in Burma. The Union of Burma formerly established its independence from the British Empire in 1948; on the eve of this independence, the new leader of the country, Aunt San, and his cabinet were assassinated. The original constitution granted a degree of autonomy to the ethnic’ minority’ peoples (in fact, Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse states of all Southeast Asia; ethnic Burmans comprise about 68 percent of the total population), but by 1962, the military had taken over the government of Burma and they abrogated the promised autonomy for ethnic minority territories. Burma has continued under various forms of military rule to this day, despite elections in 1988 won by Aunt San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Repeated brutal attacks on ethnic opposition groups (as well as on ethnic Burmans) have resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees, both within Burma and to its neighbors. Gallegly did research in a Thai forestry project not far from the Burma border and frequently observed Shan refugees from Burma fleeing the latest military campaign there. NicolaTannenbaum (2009) has recently written about Shan refugees from Burmain Thailand. Sue Darlington, author of chapter 11 in the next section, has worked closely with Karen refugees; changes in United States regulations in 2006 now allow Karen refugees to resettle in the United States. In short, the model of nation-building in Burma is by no means one of incorporation or imagined community.

 

 

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