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Rice in Malaya: A Study in Historical Geography

R.D. Hill

Publication Year: 2012

Rice is a staple part of the diet of virtually every Malaysian, to the extent that in each of the major languages used in Malaysia, rice means food and food means rice. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Rice in Malaya opens with an examination of the often fragmentary evidence of rice-growing in prehistoric South-East Asia and then considers the great changes that followed the rise of commercial agriculture in the region before and during colonial times. A pioneering work when it first appeared in 1977, Rice in Malaya successfully combined the area-by-area approach of the geographer with the period-by-period approach of the historian to give a well-balance picture of rice-growing. The comprehensive use of evidence in several languages made the study the definitive work in the field. This re-issue of Rice in Malaya makes a classic work of scholarship available to a new generation of readers. The book remains of great importance not only to geographers, historians, agriculturalists and economists but also to anyone with an interest in South-East Asia, for it explains in great measure many of the deeply-etched patterns of life found in modern Malaysia.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix


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pp. x

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pp. xi-xiii

The importance of rice in the life of the great majority of Asians needs no emphasis. For most, rice is literally “food” and other comestibles are something to be eaten with food. Thus for Malays, nasi is food in general as well as cooked rice in particular. Moreover, the great majority of Asians not only eat rice as the staple food, but most of them, except in the north-west of the Indian sub-continent and in northern China, also grow it. In this the peoples of Malaya, now Peninsular Malaysia, are exceptional in that the descendants of the Chinese ...

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pp. xiv-xv

To my wife go thanks for her forbearance with the inevitable stresses generated by my major preoccupation over a long period. My periodical absences in the field and whilst doing archival research cannot have made things easy. She was also a cheerful companion during travels in Sabah, Thailand, central Luzon and many parts of Malaya. In addition she assisted in the location of the innumerable place-names mentioned in the sources and finally brought her editorial expertise to bear on successive drafts of the manuscript.


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pp. xvi-xvii

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A Preliminary Note

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pp. xviii

Throughout the work the term “Malaya” has been used to denote that portion of the Malay Peninsula south of the Isthmus of Kra, and especially that region comprising the former British Malay states, together with Penang, Malacca and Singapore which made up the Straits Settlements. “Malaya” does not therefore carry any political connotation.

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Introduction: The Making of Rice in Malaya

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pp. xix-xxvi

Of the many strands that have gone into the weaving of this book, the longest has unquestionably been an enduring interest in both agriculture and its history. Both of my grandfathers were agriculturalists in their, and my, native New Zealand. My maternal grandfather Joseph Gwyn had been an itinerant labourer, but after he married he was allocated a section of heavily wooded land in South Otago from which he was expected to make a living. There he built a house, raised dairy cows and a family, and became something of a community ...

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1. Rice in the Prehistoric Cultures of South-East Asia

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pp. 1-13

It is a measure of the scattered nature of archaeological and “proto-historical” research that few generalizations can be made concerning the place of rice in the economies of South-East Asia, which in early times must be extended to include South China on grounds of ecological and cultural similarity. The most that can be claimed is that rice culture spread relatively slowly, that its displacement of the older tuber- and seed-based cultures proceeded most unevenly in both space and time, that this process was not complete until the twentieth ...

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2. Rice in Early Historical Times

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pp. 14-29

From around the second century b.c. in northern Indochina and several centuries later its southern portions and in the Peninsula and Archipelago, there was a major social and economic transition marking the beginning of the period of conflicting states. In Tonkin, then Annam, then in the Mekong delta, later again in the Chao Phya delta, and on a smaller scale in the Peninsula and Archipelago, this change seems to have been accompanied by an increasing sophistication in agriculture and importantly, by the beginnings of large-scale ...

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3. Towards a Colonial Economy: The Peninsula North and South to c.1800

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pp. 30-51

On the whole the irruption of Western powers into the waters of South-East Asia did little to influence the production of staples. Although country traders occasionally engaged in the rice trade and the supply of rice to essentially non-producing areas such as Patani, Johore and Malacca (at that time not a production area) was a matter of strategic importance, there is only indirect evidence that ships’ victualling and the needs of trading centres promoted the production of rice. A major exception was Siam, an exporter by the seventeenth century (Tachard, 1686, 199). Both Arakan and Java were rice-exporting ...

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4. The Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: The Northern Malay States

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pp. 52-77

In this and the two succeeding chapters the northern centres of rice-growing are discussed. These include Kedah and Perlis on the west coast of the Peninsula and Kelantan and Trengganu on the east. Penang and Province Wellesley were out-growths of the Kedah region and are treated in Chapter 5, while Perak, in part a minor traditional centre and in part a major area of pioneering, is considered in Chapter 6. The following chapters are concerned with the southern centre of cultivation in Malacca and Negri Sembilan and finally the remaining portion of the Peninsula in which rice-growing was not the sole ...

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5. The Northern Centre: Penang and Province Wellesley

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pp. 78-104

If the burgeoning production of rice in the Kedah-Perlis plain were the child of imperial interests, then these interests were no more than fosterparents. In contrast Penang and the Province were their natural children, both being virtual wildernesses at the beginning of British control. Superficially, rice production in the colony was much the same as in the northern Malay states, but this similarity went only as deep as the landscape. The institutional milieu was quite different.

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6. The Northern Centre: Perak

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pp. 105-134

Although the name “Perak” means silver, it was not silver but tin which was the major product (Wray, 1886). In this respect Perak was unlike its northern neighbours. Some degree of regional self-sufficiency in rice probably existed, though this is a question upon which it is difficult to reach a firm conclusion because information is scanty. Nevertheless a few major facts can be ascertained, partly on the basis of Anderson’s report (Anderson, 1824, 169–90). Along the mangrove-bound coast, settlements existed only on terra firma at the heads of ...

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7. The Southern Centre: Melaka and Negri Sembilan

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pp. 135-162

The southern centre of cultivation was separated from the northern centre by a large intervening tract of marchlands in which rice cultivation was of only local importance (see Chapter 8). Although the southern region comprises two political units, their boundaries do not coincide with geographical realities. Two sub-regions may be distinguished on the basis of distinctive landscapes and on occupance by contrastive social groups. The first may be denoted Malaccan and the second, Minangkabau.

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8. The Marchlands

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pp. 163-194

Between the unsettled forests of the mountain ranges and the established areas of wet rice cultivation lay a large fringing zone. In these marchlands settlement was more or less permanent, except on the flanks of the ranges and in the south of the Peninsula, but the cultivation of rice was largely temporary. This is not to suggest that all rice was grown by shifting cultivation, but only that extensive areas of permanent rice-growing were lacking. Each settlement, whether more or less permanent Malay village or temporary cluster of aboriginal huts, was ...

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9. Pattern and Process

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pp. 195-230

Rice growers, whether Malay or aboriginal, by no means uniformly benefited from changes during the period in which imperial control became established. Change would seem to have by-passed remote areas almost entirely. Had the population of such regions increased, and even this cannot be established, a slow extension of the cultivated area presumably ensued; but the economy remained subsistence and local in orientation. For “foreign” Malays, it is likely that life was materially easier in the Peninsula than it had been in their homeland. Why else would they have migrated? Yet for some, the toil of the ...


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pp. 231-236


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pp. 237-256


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pp. 257-265

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696108
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971695774

Page Count: 292
Illustrations: 19
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Reprint