This meticulously researched book represents a noteworthy contribution to our understanding of the ‘subaltern’ economy of Malaysia during the colonial period and to our appreciation of the changing role of the Chettiar in modern times. Chettiar prominence as creditors to Malay peasants is well known, but the authors show here that connections extended deep into Malay society, from royal families to civil servants. While pre-war links to plantation workers and support for Indian business were only weakly developed, Chettiar investment in larger Chinese enterprises was a significant factor in supporting the activities of local Chinese entrepreneurs. In this sense, the authors argue, the Chettiar helped lay the basis for Malaysia’s later economic development, while their contemporary commitment to nation building is demonstrated in their involvement in social welfare and concern for the well-being of their fellow Indians.The Chettiar Role in Malaysia’s Economic History will be welcomed not only by historians
of Malaysia, but by all scholars involved with the complex narratives of Indian migration.
Barbara Watson Andaya
Professor of Asian Studies
University of Hawai’i
Chettiars have been central to the financial economy in India and in the British Colonies in particular in Malaya and Burma. Authors of this book compares Chettiars’ financial activities against the perspective of British colonial policies on land and property accumulation, their financing of Chinese capitalists as well as the Malay peasants and the Malay rulers. Both authors convincingly construct a theoretical paradigm where Chettiars formulated local finances in unfamiliar and familiar abodes in the Empire, connecting different races and capitalists within a successful capitalist modernization and transformation at both rural and urban levels. Chettiars global ventures were central to South East Asian economic modernization. The authors apply exceptional skills in research, both empirical and theoretical. Their unrivalled knowledge of the history of the Malaysian Indians is now captured in this scholarship on a powerful money lending caste impacting on global Indian trade, migration and investment.
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