Traditionalism and the Ascendancy of the Malay Ruling Class in Malaya

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By Donna J. Amoroso, Foreword by Francis Loh Kok Wah and Audrey R. Kahin

In this original and perceptive study Donna J. Amoroso argues that the Malay elites' preeminent position after the Second World War had much to do with how British colonialism reshaped old idioms and rituals – helping to (re)invent a tradition. In doing so she illuminates the ways that traditionalism reordered the Malay political world, the nature of the state and the political economy of leadership. In the postwar era, traditionalism began to play a new role: it became a weapon which the Malay aristocracy employed to resist British plans for a Malayan Union and to neutralise the challenge coming groups representing a more radical, democratic perspective and even hijacking their themes.

Leading this conservative struggle was Dato Onn bin Jaafar, who not only successfully helped shape Malay opposition to the Malayan Union but was also instrumental in the creation of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) that eventually came to personify an 'acceptable Malay nationalism'. Traditionalism and the Ascendancy of the Malay Ruling Class in Colonial Malaya is an important contribution to the history of colonial Malaya and, more generally, to the history of ideas in late colonial societies.


"Beautifully written, impressively researched, tightly organised, quietly humorous and 'nice shooting' in the jungle of Malaysian history and politics." - Benedict Anderson

"Traditionalism and the Ascendancy of the Malay Ruling Class in Colonial Malaya provides a glimpse not only of Donna Amoroso’s particular acuity of analysis and her scholarly abilities but also of the precise reasoning and beautiful prose that characterised all her writing." - Audrey R. Kahin

"...the work will be of interest to scholars not just of Malaysia, but of British and other European colonial projects more broadly." - Meredith L. Weiss


Donna J. Amoroso taught in Ohio and Tokyo, was editor of Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, ran the academic writing programme of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, and co-wrote State and Society in the Philippines with her husband Patrick Abinales.


Publication Year: 2014
312 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-814-0, Paperback

NUS Press and Strategic Information and Research Development Centre