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'Tense Pasts, Present Tensions': Postcolonial Memoryscapes and the Memorialisation of the Second World War in Perak, Malaysia

MUZAINI, HAMZAH,BIN (2009) 'Tense Pasts, Present Tensions': Postcolonial Memoryscapes and the Memorialisation of the Second World War in Perak, Malaysia. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis is concerned with how the Second World War is memorialised in Perak, Malaysia. It considers memoryscapes (or memory practices and sites) within the state dedicated to the war, established not only by state agencies but also grassroots actors. In terms of findings, the thesis first highlights how the Perak state has sought to ‘postcolonialise’ (read: ‘nationalise’) public representations of what was an event that took place when Malaysia was still part of ‘colonial’ Malaya, and the issues associated with it, particularly how, despite efforts to make the war (and its attendant memoryscapes) something its people could identify with, the state has been criticised as exclusionary of ‘local’ war stories and partial to a ‘foreign’ audience, thus alienating its population and reproducing much of how war commemoration in Perak was when Malaysia was under British rule before. Generally, the thesis demonstrates the fraught nature of memoryscapes and how there can be fundamental limits to which such ‘postcolonialising’ projects may be successfully realised on the ground.

The second concern of the thesis is on the ways in which war narratives of the war that are marginalised within official representations may still survive in other forms and on other sub-national scales. In interrogating these memoryscapes ‘from below’, the thesis reveals that, while some locals prefer to mark the war in a more private fashion so as to covertly resist state tendencies to be exclusionary, or out of fear of reprisals from the state (due to remembering controversial aspects of the war past), the most widely-cited reason is still the simple desire to remember according to local customs, religious beliefs and socio-cultural norms. In doing so, it showcases alternative forms of memory-making that problematises traditional understandings of war commemoration common within prevailing literature, and highlights ways in which contestations against elite memory and heritage practices may not always emerge in oppositional fashion or enacted in clearly overt and public ways but also through the absence of voice. Additionally, the thesis also challenges the tendency to celebrate grassroots practices of memory-making as necessarily ‘recuperative’ of official exclusions of the past. As the situation in Perak exemplifies, these too can be just as political and exclusionary, where, in many cases, the locals themselves may represent barriers to emergent war memories as much as they can be the champions.

Lastly, the thesis touches upon the ways in which ‘the material’ may be appropriated towards forgetting the war, not only officially by the state but also by those who went through the war as ordinary civilians. It then illustrates how, despite efforts ‘to put the past behind them’, sometimes memories of war can still ‘emerge unbidden’ to involuntarily force individuals to confront the war past even when they would rather not recall it. In doing so, the thesis demonstrates how material legacies of the war can be utilised not only to presence, but also to absence, the war, although at times ‘the material’ too can undermine efforts to render the past passé. More broadly, the thesis thus contributes not only to debates about postcolonial memory-making and politics, and the complex nature of grassroots remembrances, but also the role of materiality within processes of forgetting, specifically in showing how ‘the material’ can at times exercise agency on humans as much as the reverse is possible. The thesis is based on data collected via textual analysis, participant observation and interviews.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Postcolonial Memoryscapes, Memory, Scale, Grassroots Resistance, Public Silences, Materiality, Forgetting, Immanent Past, WWII, Perak
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2009
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:04 Dec 2009 14:50

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