DECONSTRUCTING THE MYTH OF THE LAZY NATIVE Abstract This essay is focused on Syed Hussein Alatas’s most well-known book, The Myth of the Lazy Native, published in 1977. The book was written in a time when people of the region of Malay Archipelago – a term coined by European explorers and particularly popularized by Wallace in1869 – had grappled with issues of independence and nationalism, trying to shake off the historical baggage of colonial rule…
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According to the author, the myth itself appeared not only a key component of colonial ideology, which performed the function of justifying the supremacy of Western rule and culture, but also the means of validation of an interethnic, social and political hierarchy, with the natives at the bottom, which have had serious repercussions for both national and economic integration of Malays (Alatas 1977). Looking into author’s biography, the essay situates the production and consumption of the book in the context of important domestic and global events, and attempts to define the purpose this book served and serves, as well as its importance to every one concerned. Introduction Writing on history has always been a large and complex undertaking, whose results, however, are more or less full of controversy and bias. This is either a natural consequence of a situation where, as pointed by Lysa (1966), one selects facts or evidence which he or she deems significant and puts them in a particular sequence, thus suggesting an explanation for certain outcomes, or due to differing interpretation of all those facts considered equally important by each and every one of the parties concerned. It’s especially true of a region, like Southeast Asia, in which different nations, religions and political creeds had become entangled in the labyrinth of local mentality, customs and tradition. In this train of thought, the prominent Malaysian scholar and politician, Syed Alatas writes (1977) that “no scholarship is free from the influence of ideology” (p. 16) since whatever stand a researcher has on social, economic or political issues, it is inevitably based on a certain system of values, which, in turn, is related to his ideology. Not surprisingly therefore, Alatas’s most well-known work, The Myth of the Lazy Native (1977), reflects its author’s ideological commitment, although the author himself stipulates that producing objective analyses and conclusions that not suffer a distortion due to the initial grip of ideology is quite plausible under certain circumstances. Further in the book, Alatas presses on with his point (1977): It should be possible for a native scholar committed to the ideal of independence to recognize the merits of colonialism without distorting them — similarly the converse should be true. What we are concerned with here is the negative influence of ideology, the distorting, uncritical, inconsistent streak in a scholars reasoning which arises from an unconscious attachment to his ideology (P. 16). Being a notable example of more or less an ideologically-based argument, the book also presents an alternative discourse upon the nature of interactions between the East (Southeast Asia in particular) and the West during the colonial period, including judgments on the nature of Asian natives; as well as appears a logical continuation of Alatas’s concept of “academic imperialism”
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