Why Malays lack an spirit of capitalism in colonial singapore?

Essay by jkanUniversity, Bachelor's March 2005

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Examining Malays' Lack of Capitalist Spirit in Colonial Singapore


The absence of prominent Malay entrepreneurs is apparent in the history of colonial Singapore. To the contrary, the Chinese, Indians and Europeans have had no lack of famous businessmen. Names such as Tan Che Sang, Hoo Ah Kay, Naraina Pillai and Alexander Guthrie are just some of the more well-known figures. Tham Seong Chee in his book Malays and Modernisation noticed that there was an absence of high level Malay workers such as employers and managers. For example, Malays were often absent in occupational categories such as those of being foremen and over-lookers. Instead, Malays tended to cluster around occupations that did not require any knowledge of management or organisation ability with regards to men or financial resources, such as being drivers of horse carriages, drivers of motor vehicles, bullock cart drivers and office boys. The Malays' lack of entrepreneurial development and the slow emergence of a Malay capitalist class during colonial Singapore are issues that this paper seeks to answer.

"Malay", in Singapore's multiracial context refers to a social group who practice a culture (customary law or adat), speak a particular language (Malay) and adhere to a particular religion (Islam). Theoretically speaking, the Malays are a diverse group comprising the indigenous orang Seletar, orang Gelam, orang Lauts, and the immigrants such as the Bugis, Javanese and Baweanese. However for the purposes of this study, my focus will be on the indigenous and less business oriented Malays (e.g. the orang Lauts) rather than the more business oriented groups such as the Bugis Malays. This paper begins with the discussion of the cultural argument, one of strongest theories in explaining the relative underdevelopment of Malay entrepreneurship in colonial Singapore. I will then proceed to discuss the weakness of this argument...