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The Empire Writes Back | Green is the Colour

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2422 words Published: 3rd Jul 2018

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Ashcroft, Bill et al in the book The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post Colonial Literature discusses what post-colonial is and explains among others the theories of post-colonialism. According to Ashcroft et al, the term ‘colonial’ can be used to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present which concerns with the world as it exists during and after the period of European imperial domination and the effects of this on contemporary literatures. These contemporary literatures include those produced in the African countries, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Caribbean countries, India, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Pacific countries, Sri Langka and even the USA (p.2).

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Development of post-colonial literatures happens through several stages along with the stages of national or regional consciousness and the project of asserting difference from the imperial centre (ibid, p.5). The first stage is the stage of the imperialism where writings were produced using the language of the imperial centre because they were written mainly by the literate elites which can also be regarded as the representative of the imperial power. Examples include “gentrified settlers” (Wentworth’s ‘Australia’), travellers and sightseers (Froude’s Oceana, and his The English in the West Indies or the travel diaries of Mary Kingsley) or the Anglo-Indian and West African administrators, soldiers and ‘boxwallah’ and their memsahibs (volumes of memoirs). At this stage the writers not only talk about the landscape, language and culture of the place but also emphasize the ‘home’ over the ‘native’, the ‘metropolitan’ over the ‘provincial’ or ‘colonial’ and so on (ibid, p.5).

The second stage involved literature produced by what Aschroft et. al termed as ‘under the imperial license’ by the natives or ‘outcasts’ like the English educated Indian upper class or the African ‘missionary literature’. However, the institution of ‘Literature’ in the colony was still under the control of the imperial ruling class which prevented the writers from fully exploring their anti-Imperial potential. One of the examples given is a novel entitled Ralph Rashleigh by James Tucker. Basically, there are four post colonial models which can be used to study literary texts. The first model is the “national” or “regional” models which emphasize the distinctive features of the particular national or regional culture; while the second one is the race- based model which identifies certain shared characteristics across various national literatures such as the common racial inheritance in literatures of the African diaspora addressed by the “Black Writing” model. Comparative models of varying complexity which seek to account for particular linguistic, historical and cultural features across two or more post-colonial literature is the third model while the last one which is rather comprehensive is the comparative models which argues things such as hybridity and syncreticity as the constitutive elements of all post-colonial literature.

One of the popular preoccupations of postcolonial literature deals with nationalism. Several definitions of nationalism can be found in the dictionaries and among them are the devotion to the interests or culture of one’s nation; the belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively emphasizing national rather than international goals; and aspirations for national independence in a country under foreign domination (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nationalism). Benedict Anderson (1983) defines nation as “imagined, limited and sovereign communities”. According to Anderson “imagined community” is different from an actual community because it is not (and, for practical reasons, cannot be) based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members. Anderson argues that nations are a small idea shared by a geographically limited area of people that despite its limitation has influence and power in its greater region and sovereignty over its people. Nation became more and more realized as linguistic diversity, religious authority and traditional monarchies faded. A nation “is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each, lives the image of their “communion” and regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Members of the community probably will never know each of the other members face to face; however, they may have similar interests or identify as part of the same nation. Anderson believes that his creation of “imagined communities” became possible because of “print-capitalism”. Capitalist entrepreneurs printed their books and media in the vernacular (instead of exclusive script languages, such as Latin) in order to maximize circulation. As a result, readers speaking various local dialects became able to understand each other, and a common discourse emerged. Anderson argued that the first European nation-states were thus formed around their “national print-languages”.

Quayum (2009) in his introductory note for “Writing A Nation Essays on Malaysian Literature” stated that nationalism implies idealisation of the nation that has many positive qualities in its ideal state. Besides creating the sense of belonging, solidarity and shared membership for all its citizens where all members recognise mutual rights and duties towards one another, it also creates a sense of conviction and loyalty among members to certain shared artefacts of the nation. Quayaum however believes that to some extent nationalism may also be dangerous because there is a probability that the idealisation of the nation can turn into idolatry and nationalist sentiment can deteriorate into demagoguery, divisiveness, despotism, radicalism and racism which may lead to sectarian arrogance and destroy the creative bond of the wholeness of humanity.

Lloyd Fernando’s Green is the Colour

Lloyd Fernando’s Scorpion Orchid (1976) and Green is the Colour (1993) provide crucial insights into the state of belonging and nation-formation, as well as the understated realities of racial religious segregation and politics of prejudice which are still rampant in the contemporary Malaysian ideological landscape (Qayum and Nam, 2009).

Although the exact time frame for Lloyd Fernando’s novel Green is the Colour has not been clearly stated, it is quite possible that the historical context which Fernando is indirectly referring to was the Malaysian Racial Riot of 13th May, 1969. The novel exposed the unstable relationship between the racial and religious groups of Malaysia which continues to haunt the socio-cultural fabric of the country up until today (Ng, 2009). Thus, the depiction of violence, prejudices between different races and roaming vigilante in the countryside were quite real and became a common sight at that time. The effect of the racial unrest which is referred in the novel as the “unsightly scab” in Malaysian history can directly be felt by the multicultural citizens represented by characters like Siti Sara, Dahlan, Yun Ming and Gita.

The ill-fated, cross-cultural relationship between Siti Sara and Yun Ming and their reflections to the “uncertain” situation in the country become the focus of the novel. Yun Ming, a second generation Chinese is a civil servant working for the Ministry of Home Affairs who seeks justice by working from within the government. He lusts for Sara, an oversea- graduate lecturer teaching in a local premier university from the first moment he sees her at a concert. Since the first meeting, Yun Ming seems to feel a kind of attraction towards Siti Sara and always tries to find ways or opportunities to be near her. Siti Sara who at first tries not to make her feeling obvious due to her status as Omar’s wife finally responds and begins to find comfort and peace in Yun Ming’s company who is described as gentle and moderate and looks at things from a “human point of view” and believes in the “brotherhood of all”. His sincerity and trustworthiness are evidenced through his willingness to risk his life in distributing relief goods in the Malay areas even during the peak of racial riot. The understanding and tolerance that Sara never gets from her spouse leads Sara to be deeply in love with the Chinese guy. Despite all the challenges and disapproval from others (except from Lebai Hanafiah, Siti Sara’s father), the couple is almost successful in their relationship until Yun Ming is caught under the instruction of the villain in the novel- Panglima.

Siti Sara is very significant in the novel not only as a heroine but also a narrator. As such, the story is mainly narrated from her viewpoint except for Chapter 9 which is narrated by Lebai Hanafiah, Siti Sara’s father and Chapter 15 by Dahlan a lawyer. Sara’s father has certainly becomes instrumental in shaping her into a liberal, tolerant and accommodative woman ( ). Although described as not having a “unitary, parochial sense of identity” like her lover Yun Ming, nor adopt a “monolithic model of nationalism” like her husband Omar ( ), Siti Sara’s character is used to realise the author’s philosophy of fellowship and understanding among multi-racial Malaysia ( ). Fernando tries to promote a tolerant, selfless “Bangsa Malaysia” in this novel through the depiction of the characters of Yun Ming, Siti Sara and Lebai Hanafiah. Through the story, Fernando not only shows the effect of explosive and intractable racial riots on the entire nation but also on the band of closely linked individuals and how their relationships are affected by the event particularly by their contesting views of the nation. The interpretation of nation or “imagined community” according to him would be a community that is open- minded, receptive and tolerant towards each other just like the relationship of Siti Sara and Yun Ming. Even though Panglima’s “single set of values” may be necessary as a reference, it is wise to allow for some freedoms for the multiracial society to practice what they believe to be right and appropriate without letting their contesting views affect their judgments and relationship with other. As Quayum, (2007) puts it, as long as we consider love as the base of all metaphysics and humanity and as the highest principle in life, we can never go wrong in self-refashioning ourselves as a nation or a society.

Fernando enunciated his firmly-held belief in the integration of races and religions in his two novels Scorpion Orchid (1976) and Green is the Colour (1993) while deftly criticising communal and divisive politics which inevitably result in intolerance and destruction. These two novels provide an insight into the state of belonging and nation-formation as well as the understated realities of racial-religious segregation and politics which are regarded as sensitive but anyhow still relevant to be discussed up till now (Ng, 2009). Even though Fernando seems to rely on the incidents of the 1969 racial riot to construct the ideological backdrop of the novel, it is however inaccurate to generalize it as depicting the realities of the tensions. Instead, a careful reading will reveal that the novel is in fact depicting the ideological state of affairs in Malaysia of the 80’s and 90’s, a situation which Fernando views as dire to the nation’s health due to the communal, prejudicial agendas of certain political groups. Fernando tries to bring to attention the dangerous direction towards which the nation is heading, a direction that is increasingly forgetting its multicultural makeup in the move towards racial-religious homogeneity (ibid. p.118-119).

Although some critics feel that the portrayal of women characters in both Fernando’s novel Scorpion Orchid and Green is the Colour is rather bias

Mohammad A.Quayum who reads Siti Sara as a metaphor of a nation argues that her rape by Panglima is especially significant:

“…she is at the centre of the novel and associated with the countryside and the natural beauty of Malaysia from time to time. The author’s worst fears about the future of Malaysia would be realised if corrupt politicians and bureaucrats like Panglima were allowed to remain at the helm and rule of the country” (Shaping a New National Destiny with Dialogic, p. 170)

The novel reveals what would happen to Malaysia if megalomaniac, bigoted and close-minded politicians were to come into power and threaten to divest other racial groups of their rights to religious and cultural affiliations (Andrew Ng, 2009, p.119)

Fernando articulates the dangers of deploying religion for selfish, politically-invested ends echoes precisely the socio-political situation in Malaysia during this period. (Andrew Ng, 2009, p.119)

Other character include Dahlan, a renegade Malay lawyer who persistently questions Malay supremacy and privileges resulting in him being rejected by his community (Andrew Ng, 2009, p.119)

Racial harmony cannot be reinstated by force. Panglima who represents the corrupted leader of the country and Ustaz Bahaudin a leader of a religious extremist have their own way to forward their homogenising, monolithic agendas. Panglima constantly talks about an ominous strategy for nation-building. According to him in order to maintain the order in the country everybody must follow one way of life and has one way of doing things. Tuan Guru Bahaudin and the Panglima endorse the view that a nation comprising many religions cannot become united and only through a single faith at the (potentially violent) expense of others can function as the adhesive for a people that is otherwise racially segregated (Wilson in Andrew Ng, 2009, p.123)


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