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  • Exile in Colonial Asia: Kings, Convicts, Commemoration ed. by Ronit Ricci
  • David Arnold
Exile in Colonial Asia: Kings, Convicts, Commemoration. Edited by Ronit Ricci ( Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2016. xi plus 294 pp.).

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thousands of individuals from across colonial Asia were forced into exile. From South and Southeast Asia, through the expanding networks of empire, they were dispatched to places as diverse and as distant as the Cape of Good Hope, Ceylon, and Singapore and [End Page 435] beyond to West Africa and the Pacific. Some, deposed kings and royal heirs, carried privileges of wealth, status, and family with them; others lived the subaltern lives of slaves, rebels, and criminals. This richly varied and resourced collection of essays, with contributions from ten scholars, sets out to encompass and reflect upon the many variants of overseas exile under the Dutch, British, and French empires in Asia.

As well as providing detailed case-studies, focusing on specific individuals or exiled groups, the chapters address several issues of documentation and interpretation. One such concerns the intentions and legal processes of the regimes that devised exile. In this there was no commonality or consistency of purpose. Perhaps the most motivationally straightforward case of political exile is that presented by Robert Aldrich of the "last king of Kandy," deposed in 1816 and sent with his family to Vellore in south India, where he died in 1832. Exile thus spelled the end of a reigning dynasty and removed a source of rivalry and resistance to colonial rule: it precluded the martyrdom that might attend execution. But as well as seeking to physically remove political dissidents and religious leaders as far as possible from their home locale, the political motivation for exile was often compounded by the economic needs of struggling colonies. As Clare Anderson observes in her overview of the "global history of exile in Asia," the distinction between "political" exiles and "criminal" convicts was commonly transgressed since both formed part of the same transoceanic networks of colonial migration and enforced labor. This fluidity is further exemplified by two of the volume's most strikingly original essays—Jean Gelman Taylor's meticulous account of slaves and ex-slaves of Indonesian origin at the Dutch Cape of Good Hope and Lorraine Paterson's multidimensional study of exiles and convict labor in the French empire centering on New Caledonia.

Several essays enlarge upon the "exilic experience," demonstrating how exile, with its attendant sense of loss, displacement, and denial, was a state of mind as a much as a physical or geographical condition. Anand Yang explores, by means of the colonial archive, the ordeal of the exiled Sikh Maharaj Singh, sent to Singapore, where he died, unreconciled, in 1856. Yang compares his somewhat privileged experience of exile to what is known of ordinary Indian convicts sentenced to transportation. While the official archive is shown by several contributors to be a remarkably fruitful source, it also can prove enigmatic and inconclusive, a point well demonstrated by Penny Edwards in tracing the "elusive exile" of the Burmese prince Myngoon, as he slipped between British and French colonial authorities. Conversely, Taylor uses the eighteenth-century inventories of the Cape orphan chamber to show in revealing detail what became of "Malay" slaves in their new homeland, while Ronit Ricci and Sri Margana use a literary source, the Javanese babads or chronicles, to expose the private lives and cultural milieu of royal exiles in Ceylon. Language and literary idiom becomes a key to understanding exile. Yang and Paterson likewise show the importance of the language and cultural references employed by exiles in poems and letters, suggesting both their personal sense of loss and defiance and the bewilderment of officials charged with their interception and translation.

Rather than accept exile as a simple statement of deprivation and denial, several authors stress the extent to which exilic experiences created new social and cultural worlds and presented fresh opportunities. Taylor demonstrates how [End Page 436] slaves and ex-slaves in VOC South Africa were in part assimilated into the material culture and social lives of their Dutch masters. Paterson documents not just the exploitation of Vietnamese...


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