- Women in Southeast Asian Nationalist Movements ed. by Susan Blackburn & Helen Ting
Susan Blackburn & Helen Ting (editors)
Singapore: Singapore NUS Press, 2013. xi, 333 pp. ISBN 978-9971-69-674-0
Susan Blackburn and Helen Ting, who edited the twelve chapters (including the introduction and conclusion) of this book, have succeeded in highlighting the roles of women in nationalist movements in Southeast Asia. They and other researchers who wrote the chapters concerning selected women personalities in their individual states manage to bring out the different roles, approaches and motives they used to achieve their ultimate aims through their struggles that these women themselves (or the writers) perceived as nationalistic or even feminist. These women—Daw Sun of Burma, Nguyen Thi Giang from Vietnam, Suyatin Kartowiyono and Rasuna Said from Indonesia, Salud Algabrae from the Philippines, Shamsiah Fakeh, Aishah Ghani from West Malaysia and Lily Eberwein from Sarawak, Manivanh and Khamla from Laos, Rosa de Camara (Bisoi) of Timor-Leste and Zipporah Sein from the Karen state (Burma)—struggled for the independence of their countries or states and for the uplifting of women’s equal rights through social, political and military movements.
The women studied fought for the independence of their states or ‘nations’ from the colonial powers. Yet the term ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ varied, as depicted by the subjects themselves. Personalities like Daw Sun (Burma), Suyatin and Rasuna (Indonesia), Shamsiah and Aishah (Malaya) struggled to free their countries and nations as a whole from the colonialists. For the first time their understanding of ‘nation’ included the territories that they believed to have common similarities in their culture and traditions, such as their religion or customs. Daw Sun addressed the people of Burma as a whole irrespective of the presence of different ethnicities in the country. As did Suyatin and Rasuna in Indonesia, a large territory formerly governed by individual states and rulers, and who began to recognize only one language, Bahasa Indonesia, as the common factor that could bind the people, and used it as the official language for ‘Bangsa Indonesia’ (Indonesian nation). Similarly, Shamsiah and Aishah fought for the independence of Malaya, which was placed for the first time under one government. On the other hand, Salud Algabrae, Lily Eberwein and Zipporah Sein fought for specific entities. [End Page 111] Algabrae fought for the peasants (Sakdal) against landlordism in the Philippines, Eberwein fought against the cession of Sarawak to Britain and Zipporah Sein for the minority ethnic Karen (and the state/territory) vis-à-vis the greater Burma. Their struggles were fired up by nationalist movements in their respective countries.
To all the individuals studied, nationalist struggles were to free their nations from the colonial powers. But their understanding of ‘nation’ and motives for their struggles differed. Shamsiah, who was a member of the Malayan Communist Party, believed that the Malayan nation should include all communities across ethnic boundaries. Not so with Aishah, who was a member of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and who felt that the ‘nation’ should be focused only on the Malays, while the non-Malays were considered as immigrants. However, Lily Eberwein—a Eurasian from Sarawak—fought to retain the Brooke family as rulers (although the Brookes themselves were British), against the state being ceded as a British colony. In Burma, Zipporah Sein, who was the Secretary General of the Karen National Union, deemed that her nationalist struggles were for the freedom of a Karen State from the Burmans whom she considered as aliens. On the other hand, Daw Sun, who believed in a greater Burma, thought that independence for her country also meant freedom from Christianization and modern Western education. To her the revival of Buddhism would protect her nation from colonization. In Timor-Leste, Rosa de Camara joined the guerrilla resistance to free the people from the colonialists as well as traditional power structures that had fossilized the people for centuries, especially the women, and blocked them from any kind of progress or development.
This book also gives us further insight into the motives of the women who participated in nationalist movements. Nguyen Thi Giang’s motives were straightforward, that is...