Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Impact of Colonialism

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1870 marked the year when significant changes that altered the region of Southeast Asia first began. The impact of colonialism played a important role in the development of the region, as the changes were implemented by the colonialists, with desires to exploit the bountiful resources of the region. To a large extent, the impact of colonial rule was almost entirely negative, affecting the natives of the region in a detrimental manner, economically, politically and socially as the whole structure and basis of the traditional Southeast Asian communities were altered to meet the demands of the colonial powers. Though there were positive effects that could be used to counter this stand, the negative impact of colonial rule was far more outstanding and its effects far-reaching.

The economic impact of colonial rule on the region of Southeast Asia had its harsh effects on the local communities. The impact economic imperialism caused many problems in the rural parts of Southeast Asia as the changes that were implemented severely undermined the previously self-reliant communities, making them susceptible to the fluctuations of the global economy.

The very first negative effect of economic imperialism would be the exploitation of the economies of the region of Southeast Asia where the needs of the native community was second to that of the colonial powers. For example, in the Preanger districts of West Java, the Dutch forced cultivation of coffee and the cutting of timber in teak forests as compulsory labour. This showed the over emphasis the colonial powers placed on colonies as producers of agricultural products. This exploitation of the colonies was also worsened by the fact that most colonies produced just the few cash crops in bulk, with little or no economic diversification. For example, in most of the Western Malay states, tin mining was the main economic occupation. In times such as the Great Depression, when prices of tin and rubber fell significantly, the colonies would suffer a period of economic ruin and devastation as the Southeast Asian countries depended on the export of only a few export. The people of the region were also exploited and neglected such as in the case of Indo-China, rice was still exported despite the fact that the Vietnamese had little food to eat.

Another serious economic problem that was an effect of colonial rule in Southeast Asia was the problem of land alienation. For example, in French Indo-China, following the sharp rise in demand for rice in the world market, the locals tried to produce crops for export by borrowing capital from money lenders. Peasants who were behind on their credit payment or farmers who were unable to make legal claims on the land they cleared resulted in the loss of their lands as the French tried to auction of large blocks of land to the Europeans while getting the Vietnamese to work on the land that by right was theirs. By 10,5 % of landowners owed 45% of the land while 1 out of 4 peasant households owed land. This meant that the local farmers and peasants had to pay high rental to those whom they owed. In French Indo-China, there were little or no reforms what so ever as the landlord class of the regime opposed them. This meant that many of the peasants became “poor people in a rich country” .


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Another example of negative impact of colonial rule in the economic sense would be that there was no development or support for any native industry in the region of Southeast Asia. For example, in the Philippines, cane sugar was an industry that could have been extremely well developed. However, in order to protect their own sugar processing industry, tariffs were set up to prevent Americans from investing and thus developing the sugar processing industry in the Philippines. This lack of development in the process of industrialisation resulted in the loss of employment opportunities for the natives. This could have been used to supplement their meagre incomes and improve the lives of the indigenous community. This method was negative for the natives as it held them back from developing any further.

Another aspect of negative impact of colonial rule was the existence of the Dual economy. The system of dual economy was such that two different economies existed side by side. One was Western style economy, the other, traditional economy of the natives. The existence of the dual economy resulted in the stagnation of the indigenous community who were left in a kind of backward time warp. In the case of Malaya, the Malay Land Reservation Act was passed so as to along the Malays to carry on with their traditional way of life. In the short term, this situation seemed ideal, as it appeared to be the best for both parties. But in the long run, the system of dual economy was disastrous for the indigenous community as they were not equipped with the necessary skills and resources to compete in the changing economic situation. This meant that the locals had lost control of their economic powers in their own countries to the colonial powers and immigrants.

Another negative economic effect of colonial rule was the inequality of taxation. This situation affected the natives of Southeast Asia unfavourably. The European community was not taxed in proportion to the share of economic activities in which they partook but rather, as in the case of Dutch East Indies, the Indonesians and Europeans paid similar amount of taxes as land which was owned by the natives was taxed rather than the volume of trade, which the colonial powers heavily engaged in. Thus, even though the Europeans made more money, the natives paid a similar tax, which was then used by the colonial powers to improve the welfare conditions .Thus the improvements that were made to the Southeast Asian countries were a result of the natives’ payment rather than a portion earned from the profits of the European community. These same improvements which were mostly paid for by the indigenous community was even reduced when the depression set in, thus showing that the impact of colonial rule was to a large extent, economically, negative.

Colonial rule also had a large role to play in the social aspect of the effects of colonialism. Colonialism and its social impact of the region of Southeast Asia have both positive and negative effects. Again, in this case, the social effects of colonial rule, to a large extent, did have negative effects such as the formation of plural societies. Plural societies are societies where or more racial groups exist but do not integrate, each holding onto their own distinct cultural values and language. As in the case of the Burma, the Indians were heavily concentrated in Rangoon. They were seen by the Burmese as competition. This resulted in the rise of racial tensions as they were seen as the most obvious expression of colonial rule and were resented especially when they started intermarrying with local women and because they appeared to gain access to more job opportunities easily. They were seen as interlopers and this was a negative impact under colonial rule because this feeling of resentment led to problems such as the racial riots of 10 in Burma.

Another negative effect colonial rule had on Southeast Asia was the widening of the social gap in society. This was brought about by a lack of access to western education. Most of the indigenous community of Southeast Asia had a vernacular education which like in the case of Cambodia was provided by traditional institutions with the sole aim of making reconciling them to their future occupation and lives as peasants. The children who were given a western education were mainly the children of Southeast Asian aristocracy and it was these same children who would obtain jobs in the civil service because of western style education being one of the main criteria of entry. This meant that the social gap between those who had a vernacular education and those who had a western education grew wider as those who had a vernacular education would be socially immobile and were still backwards as compared to those who had a western education. The widening of the social gap was an extremely negative legacy left behind by the colonial rulers as in the case of Malaya, many of the indigenous people were stagnant and unable to do much to improve their situation.

Also, the negative impact that social colonialism had through education was that the western educated natives were not given jobs and responsibilities that were equal to their qualification. The natives were confined to lower positions of the administration despite being more than suitable for the job. In Dutch East Indies, few Indonesians were given senior ranks in the administration. This would mean that when the time came that the people wanted internal self-government or independence, most of them would not have had the necessary experience to lead the country. The chief exception to this would be the Americans in the Philippines. The Americans encouraged the Filipinos to learn about democracy and gave all children opportunities to have a western style education so as to give each of them equal opportunity.

Politically, the impact of colonialism had far-reaching effects, most of which are also negative effects for the natives. An example of political negative impact would be the loss of power for the indigenous rulers. This can be seen from the unrest that occurred in Perak in 1874, which resulted in the appointment of a British Resident to advise the Sultan of Perak in all matters of administration except those regarding Malay customs and religion. The right to rule was now in the hands of the colonial powers, either through direct or indirect rule. Considering that most of the colonial rulers had little knowledge of the traditional systems which they replaced, it would make implementing of changes even harder to achieve. In order, to even retain their positions as monarchs of their ethnic empires, it was necessary for the traditional leaders to conform with what the colonial powers wanted. The power and positions of the indigenous political leadership was displaced almost ruthlessly by the colonial rulers.

Another example of the political impact that was negative would be the lack of representation by the indigenous community in the administration of the country. The loss of political power was in some countries masked by the façade of indirect rule, but in truth, all executive and legislative power was in the hands of the colonial rulers, not the indigenous population. There were some attempts made like the Superior Council of Indo-China where there was some form of indigenous participation, but was limited to 4 native members only. The French granted participation on higher levels of government for the natives slowly and reluctantly, but even still, the electorate had little power or use. Another example of some attempt of representation made was by the Dutch who started the Volksraad but again, ½ the membership was Dutch and ½ were elected, the rest were nominated by the Governor-General. Again, like the French, the Dutch appeared to be half-hearted about giving representative powers to the indigenous population.

To a large extent, the impact of colonial rule almost completely negative. The problems which the indigenous population faced were many and great. Within their own region, the Southeast Asian community was unable to change the situations. Yet, the colonial powers were able to effect positive things such as better health Sanitation and provide and improve standards of health care such as the control of outbreaks of malaria in British Malaya. Infrastructure for economic development such as railway lines were also developed such as the Luzon line that stretched across the plains of Manila to the ports so that goods could be exported.

Politically, the colonial powers were able to organise a system of administration that was impersonal, but was cost-effective. Yet, all these benefits that came along, still could not outweigh the negative impact that colonial rulers had on Southeast Asia and its community.

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