By Yusseri ~ February 17th, 2007. Filed under: Malaysian Narratives, TOM_Main.
Written by Rajen Panikkar
The running amok of the Malay: a mental ‘culture-bound’ syndrome or another myth of the ‘native races’?
Born and raised in Malaysia, and having lived there for much of my life, I am of course familiar with the Malay’s alleged tendency to unpredictable murderous frenzy, his ‘running amok’. The Malay’s tendency to run amok is one of the many racialised beliefs that permeate the Malaysian consciousness to this day. However I first came across the classification of amok as a bona fide scientific ‘syndrome’ only recently when familiarising myself with the master text of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (the DSM), as is required of any aspiring clinical psychologist. Another common belief that pertains to the Malay is that of his indolence, a myth famously exploded by the late honourable Professor Syed Alatas in his great work The myth of the lazy native (1977). It must be said that these commonly promulgated beliefs do not match my actual experiences of living in Malaysia for almost thirty years. I have yet, for example, to witness an amok attack despite having spent over thirty years of my life in Malaysia, and this singular fact provoked me to investigate further this classification of amok as mental disorder of psychiatry.
In a recent attempt to read the social/ cultural with the natural, to incorporate cultural/ social factors as seems the fashion today, psychiatry has formulated a new category of cultural disorders in its classification (and diagnosis) of mental disorders – mental syndromes that are supposedly unique in that they are confined to a specific culture. Amok is one such Culture-Bound-Syndrome (CBS), as are koro and latah. It soon occurred to me that these CBSs are ‘syndromes’ of cultures that could be classified as other than First-World’, Western, modern or ‘developed’. Not only are these the exotic behaviours of the so-called ‘Third-World’ peoples, I was also struck by the highly pejorative nature of their ‘writing’ by contemporary psychiatry. Reading historical, and psychiatric or psychological descriptions of amok only reinforced this impression. Psychiatric and lay characterizations of the Malay malaise of amok are invariably as dramatic and incendiary as the act itself - so much so that they tend towards cliché and not scientific fact. Inevitably it also occurred to me that this writing was bizarre and distorted and likely entirely fictional, i.e. delusional.
The Western writing of amok
Of all the means of taking human life none are as unpredictable and dramatic in its senseless ferocity, none as gratuitous as that of the legendary running amok, as it is represented by the great Western Canon. In comparison an assassination is politically motivated, and murder is an act that similarly requires reason, mens rea, for its modern legal assignment. That the Malay customarily, according to mainly Western writing, counts, unpredictably or spontaneously ‘runs amok’ in his homicidal acts suggests that he is largely bereft of man’s reason. When investigating these Western accounts of amok I stumbled upon the following account.
‘As he read the clipping he heard the clock strike eleven in the market place. He finished the clipping and handed it back. As he turned into the market he heard the cry, “Amok! Amok! Amok!” And there was Ali with his kris in front of the drug store. The shutters fell like a guillotine. The old market women were scampering off with the agility of rats or evil spirits.
Three of them were too slow.’
Typical as this representation of amok may seem, what is atypical then is that the author is William S. Burroughs (1971), perhaps the Beat Generation’s pre-eminent poet. Burrough’s account, derived within an ‘alternative’ site of Western culture, illustrates for me the west’s all-pervasive and unerring articulation and dissemination of the other as exotic, chaotic and inherently savage. This lay depiction of the amok of the stereotypical Malay and/or ‘Mohammadan’, Ali, is in fact as precise as any disseminated by the historical and even ‘scientific’ discourses, of which the following is typical:
‘Amok is characterised by a sudden outburst of indiscriminate homicidal frenzy directed towards bystanders and terminated by the killing, suicide, or capture of the assailant.’
Both these characterisations conjure the legendary image of a temporarily unhinged Malay, that otherwise gentlemanly and indolent race of Orientals, spontaneously running through the teeming bazaars of the Malay Archipelago slashing furiously at its blameless inhabitants, as if hacking his way through its as teeming jungles. The alarm ‘amok, amok’ heralds his wayward bloody progress, sending his terrified fellow citizens scurrying to safety behind locked doors. This alarm also brings about that which he purportedly desires most, an honourable if violent death by the hand of the society of men with whom he had, when he entered into this homicidal-suicidal pact, broken his ties. This writing hints at the innate volatile savagery, and thus his treachery, of the ‘lazy but gentlemanly’ Malay, another infamous characterisation long carried by the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
Culture, race and the other in contemporary psychiatric discourse
Perhaps by unwitting, and uncritical, design, all the ‘cultures’ associated with the CBSs are precisely those belonging to those once explicitly identified as natives and savages in terms of a Western and historical primitivist discourse. These cultures are not of the modern, developed or First World. No less a luminary than Darwin, second only to Einstein amongst modern scientists, promulgated the notion of the native/ savage races of man possessed of a deficient, degraded and stagnant humanity, and predicted that at
‘some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.’
Underdeveloped, developing, least developed countries (LDCs) and Third World are amongst the many common euphemisms for the deficient (backward) peoples, always in juxtaposition with West of course, employed in this persisting, and indeed transforming, fundamentally primitivist discourse. They indicate significant deficiencies in supposedly scientifically determined biological and social (cultural) ‘norms’, when referring to those discovered, conquered, and enslaved and colonised from the late 1400’s. These terms are coincident with the gamut of imperialist relationships between the West and its subordinate other; beginning with the latter’s ‘discovery’ by the former, and continuing through to the social, political, economic and military dominance of the North and West over the South and East to this day. In particular these terms maintain the historical status of the ‘lesser races’ in advance of some elusive redemption that is indubitably the West’s project of modernity.
The specific case of the Malay native/ savage and his malaise; Amok has recently been incorporated as a mental syndrome confined to the Malay, or Malaysian, society or cultural area. The implicit assumption appears to be that Malaysian and/ or Malay culture is a historical/scientific truth or constant, a biologically and socially homogeneous collective, to which can be attributed that specific historical/scientific truth that is the mental or behavioural disorder of amok. J. E. Carr, like many other transcultural psychiatrists, asserts that
‘amok as it is conceptualised by the Malay, will be found prevalent only among people who share Malay conceptualisations and behavioural norms. Behaviour similar to the amok phenomenon will found in other cultures but it will be called a different name and conceptualized and valuated in their ways.’
Contemporary psychiatric discourse invokes culture when it confines the word amok and the phenomena it signifies to the Malay. In doing so, it appropriates and endorses prior historical and even scientific truths, but really myths, of the Malay and his purported nature, in place of providing actual empirical evidence with which to validate amok, and the CBSs in general, as a ‘mental syndrome’. In reading culture with the natural, the medical/ scientific and thus universal, psychiatry has formulated a category of mental syndromes that are supposedly ‘culturally structured’ (but which excludes all Western cultural influence). Instead, the critical criterion, implicit though it may be, appears to be that the CBS must be a syndrome of those ‘cultures’ that have at one time or another considered to be native/ savage, by exactly coincident imperialist and Enlightenment discourse. It is only when this criterion is made explicit does the CBS as category appear to take meaning rather than exist as a supposedly natural disorders arising from an organic origin, as is required with all medical disorders. However what is intimated, however implicitly and unwittingly, is exactly that. Amok and the other CBSs arise from deficiencies innate to the savage/native state (and correspondingly not found in developed Western peoples). What however is highly ironic is that amok as with almost all of the catalogue of over 400 mental disorders (‘universal’ and ‘culture-bound’), even schizophrenia, in reality only exist as ‘syndromes’ or putative medical disorders - as collection of signs that appear significant to what are in reality culturally-bound elites (including psychiatrists) but with no distinct unitary real organic basis (the ‘medical model’ or organic’ physical basis or ‘disease entity’).
With psychiatry’s formulation of the CBS, amok does not only continue to be written as a historical truth, it is further authenticated as a historical truth as it is now linked as a mental disorder/ syndrome to a presumed organic basis, through psychiatry’s ‘medical model’; to that other biological/ scientific truth of the Malay as a biological race; and to specific environmental influences (amok as ‘culturally structured’).
The scientific ‘truth’ of the Malay as biological race of man; The Malay has been scientifically classified as one of the ‘major’, though deficient, races of humanity for over 200 years. Around about 1775 Johann Blumenbach ranked man into the Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay ‘varieties’, later renamed ‘races’ following Kant’s a priori theorisation of the hierarchy. This scientific notion of race could be said to incorporate a Manichean binary comprising the munificent archetypal white man and its degenerate or deviant coloured savage variants. This particular binary system is one that Frantz Fanon critiqued through his anti-colonial thesis, insisting that the stability of the category ‘white’ depends on its negation of ‘black’ or ‘coloured’ (or settler/native). Edward Said later expanded on Fanon’s articulation of this settler/ native binary, incorporating the Oriental, as native to the Orient, as a discursive product of that specific culturally-bound (i.e. Western) discipline of Orientalism. The Malay, as one of the Asiatic races and that Oriental native to the Malay Archipelago, can be considered to be a negation of the white man who had encountered, conquered and colonised him. It can even be argued that it is at the inception of history, and the Western intellectual tradition, and not at that prior moment of his conquest, that the white man and native emerged as confirmation and negation of history itself (as a discipline of that Western tradition).
Over the colonial and post-colonial era the Malay or ‘true Malay’ or ‘Melayu’ has come to refer to the people native (but not necessarily indigenous) to West or Peninsula Malaysia. The notion of a Malay Peninsula, which has since become indelible, could be said to have been an entirely English one - a consequence of their imperialist mapping of the world and its peoples (Reid, 2004). It is somewhat ironic that that which perhaps constitutes the greatest contraindication to the scientific fact of the ‘Malay race’ has very recently re-emerged, after a two hundred year absence, within contemporary Malaysian society. The national constitution legislates for any to identify as Malay providing that he/she becomes a Muslim (the primary criteria) and follows Malay traditions and customs, including speaking the Malay Language. Malay identity can then be looked upon as a purely ideological product, one which discounts the need for a biological basis or transmission, and thus a racial classification. In the first scientific colonialist treatise on the colonised world, The History of Sumatra (1783), the English colonial administrator and scholar William Marsden determined the Malay to be synonymous with that lesser religion of the East, Islam (compared with the ‘Bhrammanical’ ones). Of great significance is his identification of the custom, as opposed to biological descent, of becoming Malay. Sumatrans when they
‘learn to read the Arabic character, submit to circumcision, and practise the ceremonies of religion, they are often said men-jadi Malayo.’
Men-jadi Malayo, which translates exactly to the English as ‘to become Malay’, was the vernacular of the day in these parts for entering the Islamic faith. It was also Marsden’s ‘scientific’, and obviously highly selective, view was that the Sumatran native in becoming Malay, really Muslim, changed for much the worse, ‘their consequent change of manner have lost in a greater degree than some neighbouring tribes, the genuine Sumatran character’. Marsden foisted this purportedly inferior Sumatran race with that ancient mantle of the treacherous infidel, or treacherous Mohammadan to the English righteous Christian, a Manichean binary dating to the crusades.
The Malay as naked or natural or spontaneous brown savage.
Marsden was also largely responsible for the inception of a colonialist discourse on the Malay, of English manufacture, as a ‘naked’ brown savage variety, as a bona fide biological race, of humanity. Tellingly this pejorative characterisation was entirely consistent with perhaps the earliest one of the Malay as the ‘most treacherous of all races’ made by the first European to the region (circa 15th century) - a description reprised by Darwin’s colleague, Alfred Wallace, in his monumental scientific treatise of the region, The Malay Archipelago. This treachery was further reinforced by the ‘scientific ranking’, by Marsden, of the Malay and other Sumatran races amongst the class of ‘naked or spontaneous brown savages’. This variant of humanity, first classified by Willam Roberston in his History of America (1777) was so named because he/ she was purportedly close to nature, as in the case of that variety’s prototype, the American indigene. The particular characterisation as naked referred to lack of clothing, which imputed a lack of civilisation (and society), and importantly also, a lack of hair. This second feature signified that the naked savage was infantile, as infants (and women) lacked body hair, and perhaps even more significantly, an indolence that contrasted with the White man’s (who was covered with hair) industry. The white man was innately industrious driven to toil against his harsh (northern) temperate clime. This toil of and against nature resulted in his advanced societies and civilisations. The white man’s body was thus covered with hair, growth which had supposedly been stimulated by millennia of this struggle. In contrast the naked savage was provided for by the bountiful environments of the tropics and did not have to struggle thus his innate indolence.
Ranked by Roberston below the developed mature white man, and the adolescent like ignoble black savages (the Indon and African), the naked brown savage was allegedly infantile, possessed of a languid indolence, and correspondingly a spontaneous nature. As his mentality was deficient in comparison with the white man possessed of mature (pure) reason, this permanently infantile variety of man was capable only of limited development. Accordingly the Malay as a naked brown savage could only spontaneously assimilate the refinement or civilisation of the superior races, including the ‘Bhramannical’ ones, as opposed to being capable of any original civilisation or progress. Left on his own the naked brown savage would spontaneously regress to nature, disrobed, as Hugh Clifford described, of his thin coat of refinement. Marsden used the by then common narrative of the ‘failed civilisations’ to explain his view of the Malay status as a stagnant and even regressing (backward) race, as were the other brown naked savages, such as the indigenous Americans and Polynesians. This failure was especially evidenced by their only too swift (and brutal) conquest and colonisation by the superior refined white man.
The spontaneous amok of the Malay as a naked/ natural brown savage
What is particularly salient to this discourse of the naked (natural) savage is that the unpredictable and treacherous amok can be conceived of as a signifier of his supposed innate/ natural infantile and spontaneous nature. To be treacherous is to be capricious, dangerously unstable and unpredictable, likely to betray trust, marked by hidden perils and illuminatingly, perfidious. The naked natural savage was as nature, lying calm, idle or indolent until unpredictably treacherously as if with no reason erupts in the form of earthquakes, volcanoes, and great storms. Amok is, paradoxically perhaps, the inevitable natural eruption of the indolent or idle natural/ naked savage. Astonishingly perhaps this scientific characterisation, and the amok, of the Malay is exactly coincident with that first Western myth of the Malay as ‘the most treacherous of all the races’. A very common and aligned myth of his treachery and amok that persists to this day in rapidly modernising Malaysia, as evidenced by the very public berating of Malay by elite Malay, most usually politicians, is his supposed indolence or idleness. The indolence of the Malay can be viewed as a ‘resting state’, and by analogy as nature lying idle, and necessary to the myth of his spontaneous treacherous amok in his inherently disordered and unpredictable existence. Ostensibly contradictory attributes they can however be viewed as complimentary, and necessarily so in representing a human that is ‘natural’, spontaneous and unpredictable of nature.
Paradoxically perhaps it can viewed that this Malay could not be written or constructed as absolutely or uniformly savage, he would then not be unpredictable and thus treacherous, previously the unitary attribute of the Malay. Deficient of mature or pure reason the Malay perilously (treacherously) straddles that breach between the darkness of chaos/barbarity and the light of reason/civilisation. The Malay as natural savage fluctuates between his amok and his koma-tose phase, at the mercy of an irreconcilable tension between absolute order (courteous indolence) and disorder (frenzied amok). Amok/komA are mirror images reflected in the observation of the Malay by his colonial masters.
Informed by (and informing in turn) the emerging sciences of the early nineteenth century, Marsden’s writing of the Malay was expanded on and disseminated by his successors in the colonial administration of the Native States of Malaya. Stamford Raffles, Alfred Wallace, Hugh Clifford, Frank Swettenham and Anthony Burgess were amongst the many that purported to realistically and/or scientifically depict the Malay and his/ her world, in this discourse which persists to this day. Much as the ‘Malayo’ may have been an ideological product of Sumatran society, and of contemporary Malaysian society, so was Marsden’s Malay an ideological product of a scientifically informed colonialist discourse that was complicit with, and indispensable to, the colonial management of the native territories.
The cultural specificity of amok
The latest edition of the DSM (the DSM-IV-TR) describes amok as ‘an outburst of violent, aggressive, or homicidal behavior’ which ‘tends to be precipitated by a perceived slight or insult’, and that similar patterns of behaviour are ‘found in Laos, Philippines, Polynesia (cafard or cathard), Papua New Guinea, and Puerto Rico (mal de pelea), and among the Navajo (iich’aa).’
An immediate contention against the cultural specificity of amok is that equivalents occur in many other ‘cultures’. What is also notable is that modern, developed or First World phenomena that resemble amok in their ‘indiscriminate’ nature of their ‘homicidal frenzy’ are not considered equivalents of amok. These intermittent phenomena10 involving contemporary weapons such as assault rifles have been given names such as SMASI (sudden mass assault by a single individual), and the autogenic (self-induced) massacre. Reference to a likely European equivalent of as ancient repute, the fearsome Viking warrior’s rampage berserkgang is excluded. If amok really is truly is a highly verifiable scientific truth it can be argued that this syndrome is so widespread as to be found also in the developed societies of the West, rather than merely a Malay cultural artefact.
Amok as martial strategy of the Malay and the Malay-alee
Captain Cook is reported to have first brought notice of the running amok to the English speaking world. However, earlier European, as opposed to English, accounts that mention amok indicates it to be a commonly employed battle tactic. Tome Pires was amongst the first writing that in the Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511, that the young nobles of the court of Malacca including the Sultan’s son offered to ‘run amok’ against the Portuguese. Stamford Raffles, some 300 years later and, far more recently, Schrieke (in 1952) and Reid (in 1988) also report amok to be a widespread military strategy employed by the Peninsula Malay, the Javanese and the Balinese, prior to their colonisation. It seems reasonable to compare martial amok with the berserkgang of the Vikings and the Japanese Kamikaze. Highly structured, planned and organised, heavily ritualised longed practiced strategies, which were not merely limited to the Malay Archipelago. Very similar amok-like martial strategies were also noted by Europeans amongst the peoples of the Malabar Coast, now the Indian state of Kerala and land of the Malayalee.
Amok as a culture-bound syndrome of the Indian of the Malabar Coast; Gaspar Correa wrote an account in the 16th century, of a ‘caste’ of personal guards of the ruling families of Cochin along the Malabar coast, who in pledging their lives to the royal households of the day were called ‘amoucos’. In avenging the death of two princes of Cochin these guards
‘dispersed, seeking wherever they might find men of Calicut, and amongst these they rushed fearless, killing and slaying till they were slain. . .. But as it became known that they were amoucos, the city gave the alarm, . . .. But they like desperate men played the devil before they were slain, and killed many people, with women and children.’
It is plausible to imagine the alarm ‘amouco, amouco’ substituting for the Malay ‘amok, amok’ heralding these homicidal strikes. Around about the year 1614 Diogo di Couto used the same term, amouco, to describe the homicidal actions of both the Javanese and the citizens of Malabar, noting the
‘Javanese to be chivalrous men and of such determination that for whatever offence may be offered them they make themselves amoucos in order to get satisfaction thereof.’
And, on the death of their King in a confrontation with the Portuguese, in Malabar
‘nearly 4,000 Nairs made themselves amoucos with the usual ceremonies, shaving their heads on one side, and swearing by their pagoda to avenge their King’s death.’
Here then likely is another of ‘the dissension of other things’ in the purportedly ‘inviolable identity’ of the Malay CBS of amok - the collective martial strategy of the amouco used by a clan of the Malayalee ethnic group around the early 16th century. It perhaps can never be unambiguously known as to the exact origin of the terms amok or amouco, and of their historicity. As martial strategies, however, they share great commonality, enough to suggest they were amongst the many customs shared by the peoples of the subcontinent and the Malay Archipelago in their great intermingling through the ages.
The dominant feature that supposedly distinguishes the martial amok of the Malay and that of the amouco of the Malabarian, from the ‘modern’ amok classified as a CBS, is the latter’s individual agency - amok as solitary rather than collective. Where the amouco, for example, was part of a martial contingent participating in a ritualised practice to restore honour, the solitary amok is carried out by an individual as if spontaneously requiring little more than a perceived insult as a provocation for redress. The amouco was also said to be furiously homicidal but ultimately suicidal in intent, and at the very least, partially indiscriminate – all attributes supposedly elemental to the solitary amok of the Malay.
The evidence of its diverse origins and practices, this ‘dissension of other things’, counters that scientifically promulgated fact of the cultural specificity of amok, a word that bears striking resemblance to amouc-o; as does the term Malay-alee to Malay. These initial accounts diametrically contradict the contemporary psychiatric view of amok as solitary, un-predicated and indiscriminate, and thus unpredictable (spontaneous) in its progress. Far from being spontaneous, these practices were instead deliberately choreographed to create chaos in battle. It seems notable however that later accounts cease referring altogether to these organised collective practices, and give way instead to a colonial English discourse of the running amok of the individual male Malay, mimicking, perhaps, the fragmentation of his societies under imperial rule. Also as significantly little mention, if any, is now made of the Indian amok. As would be expected with any conquered and colonised society their martial components, the amouco of the Malabar Coast, and the shock troops of the Balinese being examples, vanished on being replaced by those of the coloniser.
What also contradicts the notion of amok as a culturally specific signifier is that a solitary form of the collective homicide-suicide of the amouco amongst the Malayalee was called amok, a supposedly Malay word and phenomenon. Towards the late seventeenth century Reverend Phillip Baldeus, the Dutch chaplain of Ceylon, describes the following practice among an elite of the Nair clan:
‘among the Nairos (Nairs) those who call themselves amok are the worst, being a company of desperadoes, who engage themselves and their families by oaths to revenge such injuries as are done them’.
Baldeus, in 1704, also noted that these amoks were commonly observed at Batavia, now Jakarta but then a Dutch colony on Java, again linking the Malay and the Malayalee, with the supposedly Malay word, amok. This particular account would seem to give lie to the claim by the DSM that ‘the original reports that used this term were from Malaysia’. In as much as Malaysia did not exist until August 31st 1957, this statement is already some sort of ‘lazy’ error of history.
The ‘Native-Bound’ Syndrome
The inclusion of the category of CBSs into the DSM is explicitly authorised by expediently, and rather formalistically, invoking ‘culture’. The CBSs, however, appear synonymous with the anachronistic, one would have hoped, notion of the native/ savage. It seems likely that psychiatry’s insistence of both the phenomena of amok, for example, and its cultural specificity is an instance of the consolidation of modern historical/ scientific constant or ‘truth’, but really lie or myth. Contemporary psychiatric discourse merely contributes to the many previous layers enveloping the elusive essence of this specific historical fact (of amok), which is derived, and transmitted, through a specific epistemological tradition. In short it can be said that amok and the CBSs are syndromatic in general of a historical and hostile western writing of the other as exotic, inherently savage, and deficient.
It would seem far less disingenuous to substitute the term ‘native-bound syndrome’ in place of the culture-bound syndrome as this specific catalogue of the DSM comprises entirely of those supranormal phenomena of the once explicitly classified natives/ savages of the world. Contemporary psychiatry through its master text, the DSM, can be said to maintain that anachronistic status of the native that is inviolable of and complimentary with a formerly European and now western identity. The scientific truths of the DSM are those of a Western disciplinary tradition that is highly practiced at constituting its many deficient ‘others’, right from its very inception. What is vigorously promulgated even propagandised as the truth and reality is then itself indubitably culture-bound or structured.
What to me is then as astonishing a ‘coincidence’ as any I have encountered in the Western writing of amok, is contemporary psychiatry’s generalisation of this supposed mental syndrome to other (‘native’) cultures. The DSM-IV-TR, as mentioned above, states that amok that similar patterns of behaviour to amok are ‘found in Laos, Philippines, Polynesia (cafard or cathard), Papua New Guinea, and Puerto Rico (mal de pelea), and among the Navajo (iich’aa).’ I hark back, very appropriately enough, to Professor Syed Alatas’s Myth of the lazy native. It is not only the Malay that was assigned the characteristic of indolence, so were the Javanese and Fillipinos, and so were/ are the American indigenes in mainstream American discourse. These were peoples who did not, could not toil or cultivate their lands and lived of its native natural state, and were thus characterised as indolent. Here also, I am reminded of the current demands made on Malay to give up their ‘undeveloped’ but precious land, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, for the sake of progress or development in Malaysia’s drive to modernity, often by Malay elite themselves.
Like this generalisation of the lazy natives, the Malay, Javanese, Fillipinos, Polynesians, Puerto Ricans, Navajo, etc., all who once ranked amongst the class of ‘naked brown savages’ then also supposedly possess cultural equivalents of that complimentary spontaneous violent behaviour of amok (cathard, mal de pelea). Quite incredibly the highly authoritative scientific discipline of contemporary psychiatry has unerringly perpetuated a very specific and highly pejorative imperialist narrative by very precisely, but utterly unwittingly, writing a supposedly ‘scientific’ racial characterisation into its catalogue of ‘mental disorders’.
Dr. Zawia Yahya, a noted Malaysian critical and postcolonial theorist, commented on the permanence of this colonialist/ imperialist writing in her elegant work Resisting colonialist discourse (2003). She offers that despite the intentions of various writers of the marked transformations in the nature and status of literary production during this writing, there is a ‘remarkable continuity of the central features’ of the English colonialist discourse on the Malay ‘native’. These observations of the Malay’s deficient humanity were written with a striking continuity, dating from those first reports of the ‘new world of voyages’ of the Europeans, in the late 14th Century, through to the entirety of a English colonialist discourse comprising both scientific and lay representations of this native, until about the middle of the twentieth century and even beyond. That this legacy still persists with an at times alarming virulence, is a measure of the force with which colonial ideology has been inscribed on the ‘national’ and, more especially, the Malay consciousness. And its only too ready appropriation by the dominant classes of contemporary Malaysian society, in their pursuit of great privilege.