Journal article

Like a child with two parents: race, religion and royalty on the Siam-Malaya Frontier, 1895-1902

Group identity Nationalism Religion Ethnic communities National identity Malaysia

Abstract: Since 1957, Malaysian public life has been organized around a historic conflation of three important political themes: “race, religion and royalty”, or “3R”, all of which are purportedly championed and defended by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). This article explores how this conflation of themes became so important to this postcolonial nation-state, specifically by investigating its influence in shaping Malaya's territorial limits. The 3R conflation has deep historical roots which stretch much further back than the moment of decolonization, as shown by a series of approaches to Britain made by Malay Muslim rulers between 1895 and 1902—the period in which a boundary between Malaya and Siam was first negotiated. During these years, these rulers—all of whom ruled over Siamese tributaries—appealed to Britain to colonize their polities to prevent their incorporation into Siam. Their appeals were framed in terms of 3R, giving momentum to the idea of a “Malay Muslim” geo-body in Malaya, in which a transformed monarchy should preside over a modernized sacral sphere of racial and religious identity.

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