What is in a name
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What is in a name Document Transcript

  • 1. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Southeast Asia: Myth or RealitySoutheast Asia: Myth or RealityIndexIndex..................................................................................................................................................... 1Introduction..........................................................................................................................................1Background...........................................................................................................................................2Discussion............................................................................................................................................. 2Conclusion............................................................................................................................................ 5Bibliography..........................................................................................................................................7 “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2 “Words like “Southeast Asia” and “unicorn” enable us to discuss topics about which we would nototherwise be able to hold a conversation, but we should be wary of attributing any more solidity to these concepts than the facts will allow.” – J.R.E. Waddell, An Introduction to Southeast Asian Politics (Sydney: John Wiley. 1972), p. 31IntroductionThis paper is about what Southeast Asia (SEA) is and how it can be defined and if the concept isuseful as a tool, to study the region. The focus in this paper is whether or not SEA can be definedas a region. In the paper I will show some of the different ways to define SEA as a region, I willbring forward some of the implications that comes from the different definitions of the region. Iwill show that the naming and definition of the region, “Southeast Asia”, can be a useful tool whenstudying the region. To this I will borrow theories and arguments mainly from Donald K.Emmerson, supplied by a few other scholars and some internet sites.1 Both are from Emmerson 1984. Pp. 1 1
  • 2. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Southeast Asia: Myth or RealityBackgroundThe name “Southeast Asia” has an interesting etymology. If we start with the second word, “Asia”,we can track it back through the millennia till around 1235 B.C. when a Hittite king has reported,that he had conquered a place or people called “Assuva”. In the time that followed the Greeksadopted the word “Assuva”, but pronounced it more like todays “Asia” and they used this term forthe landmass across the Aegean, but they did not go to SEA (Emmerson 1984:2). If this is allcorrect, it was not until the colonization of SEA, the word “Asia” was brought back to Asia andreadopted by the people living in Asia. If we then look at the word “Southeast” it is clear that it isnot the people living in SEA, who made this name, it was foreigners. We in the Western countriesthink Southeast Asia is a logical name to give a region which is south of China and east of India2,which is Southeast Asia.Regions like “Asia”, “Central Asia”, “Southeast Asia” etc. has come into existence trough historical,political and cultural processes (Højer 2010:20) and SEA can be defined in many different ways, forexample, by language groups (families), countries, geographical position, nature life, religion etc.and the same can be said about the countries; they too can be divided in different ways. Today theborders are mainly politically constructed; many places near the borders, the people speak thesame language and have the same culture as the people on the other side of the border. Somescholars have sought to make appropriate borders inside and around the region, this time withreligion, history, ethnology, geomorphology or biogeography as the starting-point. There weremany, mostly European, authors who argued against a political definition of SEA, because it wouldhave political influence on the colonial powers.DiscussionThrough the time there has been many different toponyms which has been used for the region ofSEA and in the parentheses, their main users, are “”Further India” (British), “Hinterindien”(Germans), “l’lnde ultragangetique” (French), “Nanyang” (Chinese), and “Nanyo” (Japanese)”(Emmerson, 1984:4). These toponyms all have that in common, that they are vague; some areancient, obscure or obsolete, all are vague. These names are all defined by outsiders, who look at2 These countries were already well known at that time and people knew approximately where India and China was on the map, soit was easy to understand the concept behind naming the region Southeast Asia. 2
  • 3. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Southeast Asia: Myth or Realitythe region from their own point of view and using already known landmarks (India and China) toplace and define the whereabouts of SEA. In the West we take the name, SEA, for granted, and we will be surprised to know, that thename still is not fully legitimated by the Southeast Asians. For them to reach the same conclusionit is necessary first to compare the concept of “Southeast Asia” with its nearest equivalent, the“Middle East”, which also is an obscure and obsolete toponym, that has to be compared with theolder term “Near East” to be understood, we also see this in SEA’s relation to the “Far East”. Most who study SEA, say that they study something real, like a “rose”, in the written textsand the cultural monuments, and not something unreal, like a “unicorn”. If we follow Emmersons(1984) idea, we need to combine both “rose” and “unicorn”, and write about a “spaceship” whenwe write about SEA. Both are something that does not quite exist – but eventually would. What is now SEA, could, according to Emmerson’s “Southeast Asia: What’s in a name?”(1984), in the long run be redivided into something else, for example, “Soviet Far East” and“American Far West”, or it could be divided between “South Asia”, “East Asia”, and “Oceania”. ButEmmerson thinks, nevertheless, that SEA is going to prove somewhat more stable than the regionto which it refers: the name does not refer to someone from abroad who named it, like “Near”and “Far East” does. The name has a taste of independence and it is therefore easier for theinhabitants to use. And for specialists it is easier to be a “Southeast Asianist” than, let’s say, an“Orientalist” (which could mean “procolonial”). SEA is in a kind of “Humpty Dumpty position” (Emmerson, 1984:4) because the name isneither rooted in reality nor in fantasy; it is neither a rose nor a unicorn. The name tells us a bitabout how powerful the European colonial powers were at the time. As we can see throughoutthe history, it is the victorious that get to write history and name the places; an example of this isAlexander the Great, and he named many major cities’ Alexandria3, in SEA it was the colonialpowers, because of the long period in which they were in power and controlled the region, and inthe case of SEA the colonial powers just named the region out from its geographical location, seenfrom a European point of view. Unlike the colonial powers, Germans and Austrians where not hampered by anygeographical limits, as they did not own any territory, but still they used the term “Southeast Asia”3(http://www.denstoredanske.dk/Rejser,_geografi_og_historie/Gr%C3%A6kenland/Det_klassiske_Gr%C3%A6kenland/Alexander_3._den_Store Map, accessed on 2 December 2010) 3
  • 4. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Southeast Asia: Myth or Realitywhen mentioning the region. In later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the two Germans,Adolf Bastian and Franz Heger together with the Viennese P.W. Schmidt, travelled around in theregion making comprehensive studies. As I understand it, they were the first, together with RobertHeine-Geldern, that made use of the name SEA in the academic world. In the 1930’s it was alreadywritten by a lot of different people like, Americans, Chinese, Italians, Russians, and Vietnameseetc. Even though there were scientists using the name “Southeast Asia”, it was war that made itpopular and well known. Before 1942 and the allies warfare against Japan, SEA had just been ageographic convenience and actually it was only a few scholars, a side Heine-Geldern and hiscolleagues, which really thought of the term “Southeast Asia” as a legitimate name, but makingwar meant making maps and political decisions. Doing the war the South-East Asian Command(SEAC) made the decision of the name and which countries it contained (this was later altered a bithowever). Some of SEAs borders against China were and still are a bit blurred and the result of a“gentlemen’s agreement” (Emmerson, 1984:8). World War 2 (WWII) affected SEA in three important ways. First, the region was madevisible. There were established Southeast Asian studies at the University of London’s School ofOriental and African Studies and at Yale University, in respectively 1946 and 1947. Second, afterthe name “Southeast Asia” was legitimated, its range could be reduced so that parts of SEA couldbe left out, without needing to change its name, and there were no longer parts of “SoutheastAsia” which was also part of East Asia or South Asia, but it was a region on its own. Third,“Southeast Asia” gained a strong political connotation. Even if “Southeast Asia” was still a minorscholarly subject, it was of major political interest and still is just look at the resent political eventin Burma. In the decades following WWII, many foreign scholars disagreed about SEA’s boundaries.Because of the Theravada Buddhism4 and the old headquarter of SEAC on Ceylon (now Sri Lanka),many included this island and omitted the Philippines, this because the Philippines stood “outsidethe main stream of historical developments” (Hall in Emmerson, 1984:11) in the region. It was notuntil the late 1970’s that it finally was decided that SEA was to consist of ten nations: Burma, Laos,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines and (at that4 Theravada Buddhism was the religion of most of mainland SEA. 4
  • 5. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Southeast Asia: Myth or Realitytime) to-be-independent Brunei. This mean that Ceylon, Formosa (Taiwan), the Andamans etc.were no longer considered part of the region. Because the region is not defined by the inhabitants, it is not fully legitimated, this can beseen in the disagreements around in the region, about borders and what should be consideredpart of SEA. Nevertheless the overall line of the borders are set, this mean that the disagreementsare somewhat limited and it means that even if multinational organizations as Association ofSoutheast Asian Nations (ASEAN)5 go out of existence6, its ex-members are not likely to ceasebeing SEA.ConclusionAs a conclusion I will say that, “It makes no sense to project SEA back in time” (Platt, Verbalcommunication, September 7th 2010), since SEA is a new name, which doesn’t have a comparativehistory, or consist of a comparative people. It has many different histories and many differentpeoples, and the borders around SEA and the borders within SEA tell us more about politics andeconomic matters, than they do about culture or language, but if we go inside the region and look,we can see that the present SEA is a region made out of nations, the people in the differentnations, do not see themselves as Southeast Asians, but as Thais, Indonesians or whatever countrythey are from. Since the start of the colonization, SEA has been a topic in Western politics; some of thereason for this is explained in 1943, when Heine-Geldern said, “Research on the region’s culturesand languages… was a matter of “urgent practical necessity”.” Because even though SEA““outwardly [was] of purely academic character”” it provided the decision-makers in Europe andAmerica with the basic knowledge and information, which “’we are now so frantically striving toimprovise’.” (Heine-Geldern in Emmerson 1984:4). Knowing what is SEA and what is not, is important in time of war, as we see SEAC onlyoperated in SEA, so they needed to know the borders of the region and thus they made them, and5 Founded 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand. It is mainly an economic organization with the aim to accelerate the economicgrowth and cultural developments in the region, to promote Southeast Asian studies and promote regional peace and stability(http://www.aseansec.org/about_ASEAN.html accessed on 1 December 2010).6 This could happen if ASEAN do not come to an agreement with the Indochinese countries; this could very well be in a far future,since ASEAN is ruled by capitalism and Indochina is ruled by communism. 5
  • 6. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Southeast Asia: Myth or Realityas I said in the discussion, the name SEA has a taste of independence and is therefore easier forthe inhabitants to use, and it is easier too, for specialists to say they are an “Southeast Asianist”than “Orientalist”. Furthermore the name does not refer to an outside name giver like “Near” and“Far East” does. As Emmerson notes, “[n]ations come and go – why shouldn’t regions?” so why fight oversomething that is only partly real, the political and by foreigners set borders should not stop any ofthe governments, inside the region, from cooperating, reality should matter more than a namethat’s half rose and half unicorn. SEA is a region of “’awaking and emerging nations’.” (Heine-Geldern in Emmerson, 1984:9), so I think that only the future history of SEA will show us if theexternal definition of the region can become truly meaningful to its inhabitants and I also think it isimportant, when studying SEA and its borders around and within the region, and the differentterritories, then to listen to both “scholars, indigenous people and external actors alike.” (Højer2010:20). ASEAN show us that there is a growing consciousness of unity; through the name alone“Association of Southeast Asian Nations”, they acknowledge that they are one region, and byjoining together they stand stronger, politically and economically7. If I follow my own theory for amoment, I will say that the five countries, which joined and made ASEAN in the beginning, notnecessarily had to join together; they could eventually have joined with countries from outside theregion, for example, Indonesia could have joined with Australia, and Thailand with, but insteadthey joined together inside the region, which was defined by foreigners, and by that theyacknowledged that there was a bond. “Southeast Asia” can be envisaged as a dynamic and ever-changing part of “Asia” and the world, with no fixed boundaries, because there is a constantredefinition of the territories (Højer 2010:20). In conclusion, the concept of SEA is useful, when one wants to study the region and need torefer to it and I think there might be a growing consciousness about being a unified region, a bitlike the EU. However still the people have not fully accepted the concept, so for studying thepeople one cannot really say: “I study the people of SEA.” because it is many different people, notyet one.7 This is a good thing, when looking at the location between two really strong economies, China to the north and India to the west. 6
  • 7. Bastian Friborg040788-1907Southeast Asia: Myth or RealityPersonal noteI know that, I have some contradicting conclusions, but this I have chosen because SEA has manycontradicting elements and I don’t think one can take one of them and make it the truth. We needit all to understand. Even though I didn’t have any hope for being able to connect all the differentelements in SEA, I want to make it clear that it can be a contradictory region.BibliographyBookEmmerson, D. 1984. “Southeast Asia: What’s in a Name?” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies,15(1), 1-21.ArticleHøjer, Lars. 2010. “Asia – borders, territorialisation and regionalization”. Profile/Asian Dynamics.Pp. 20.Verbal communicationPlatt, Martin. 7 September 2010.Websiteshttp://www.aseansec.org/about_ASEAN.html, accessed on 1 December 2010.http://www.denstoredanske.dk/Rejser,_geografi_og_historie/Gr%C3%A6kenland/Det_klassiske_Gr%C3%A6kenland/Alexander_3._den_Store, map, accessed on 2December 2010 7