The Chettiar Role in Malaysia’s Economic History is a revised version of the doctoral thesis entitled “The Money lending Activity of the Chettiars in Malaya, 1896-1957” written in Malay by Ummadevi Suppiah and submitted to the History Department, University of Malaya under the supervision of Associate Professor Dr. Sivachandralingam Sundara Raja. The Chettiar Role in Malaysia’s Economic History seeks to evaluate the extent to which Chettiars were instrumental in the economic development of Malaya during British rule. Since the formation of the Federated Malay States in 1896 until Malaya gained its independence, the Chettiars emerged as one of the major financiers in the economic development of Malaya through their role in helping the Malays, Chinese and Indians to progress in the economic sector. However, the Chettiar role affected each of the three races differently, depending on factors such as the economic position of the respective races and British policy.
The Chettiar Role in Malaysia’s Economic History is essential in assessing the Chettiar role in the economic development of Malaya especially when the British failed to provide sufficient capital aid for local and foreign capitalists comprising the Malays, Chinese and Indians to develop the economic infrastructure and commercial economic activities such as rubber and tin mining. The Chettiar Role in Malaysia’s Economic History also highlights the role of the Chettiar, from indigenous money lenders to individuals who have been successful in various professions and are actively contributing toward the economic development of modern Malaysia.
There are seven chapters in The Chettiar Role in Malaysia’s Economic History. The first chapter entitled Origins of Chettiar Community in Malaysia traces the origins of the Chettiar community and their role in Malaya from the 15th century to Malayan independence, with focus on socio-cultural aspects and trade relations with Southeast Asia that can be traced to the classical period of South Indian history.1heir dominance in money lending and other business activities are attributed to a sociocultural support system centred on the institutions of both the temple and the family, as well as to value systems and ethnic solidarity. This support system has contributed to the accumulation of property which provided the main financial springboard for the Chettiar community to embark on their money lending activities in South India and Southeast Asia including Malaya.
The second chapter deals with Money Lending Activities of the Chettiar in Malaya. These activities were important, as the demand for credit was vital for the economic growth of Malaya. This chapter focuses on the scope, operation and importance of money lending activities as well as factors that have influenced these activities in various phases of Chettiar money lending activities from the 19’h to 20lh centuries.
The third chapter, the Chettiar’s Role in the Economic Development of the Malays explores the role played by the Chettiars in the economic development of the Malays. This was evident, as many Malays including working class people and members of the royal family borrowed from the Chettiars for socioeconomic purposes such as festivities, marriages and to maintain their lifestyles. The indebtedness of the Malays to the Chettiars prompted the British to formulate policies to protect Malays and this move, interpreted as a reaction against Chettiar activities, led to the emergence of British policies that supported the economic development of the Malays. Indebtedness also led to the establishment of cooperatives by the British to help the Malays. It is within this context this chapter will discuss the relationship between Chettiars and Malays in the economic development of the latter.
The fourth chapter entitled the Chettiar’s Role in the Economic Development of the Chinese looks at the role of Chettiars in aiding the economic progress of the Chinese in Malaya. Most of the existing research on the history of the Chinese in Malaya records their economic success in the tin mining industry but their credit assistance from the Chettiars has never been highlighted. Thus, this chapter encloses situations reflecting how the Chinese borrowed from the Chettiars to develop their economic ventures. The Chettiar extended loans to Chinese businessmen who were traders, dealers, wholesalers, revenue farmers, tin miners, planters (rubber smallholders) and contractors including many reputable Chinese entrepreneurs such as Loke Yew. Evidently, this chapter reveals the relationship bertween the Chettiars and the Chinese community, regarded as the most advanced community and has had strong and stable economic standing from the British colonial era to the present day.
The fifth chapter, the Chettiar’s Role in the Economic Development of the Indians explores the role of Chettiars in the economic development of the Indians comprised of labourers in the estates and urban areas, businessmen, as well as civil servants. The history of the Indians in Malaysia records that Indians in Malaya were mostly poor plantation communities whereas the status of the Chettiar community as a credible capitalist class among the Indians has never been highlighted. Thus, this chapter will discuss the relationship between the Chettiar and other ethnic Indians who belonged to various economic/working classes and the extent to which the Chettiars were instrumental in the economic development of the other ethnic Indians during their presence in Malaya from the late 19th to the mid-ZOth centuries.
The sixth chapter considers the changing role of the Chettiar community across a transitional period from the Japanese occupation to the present day. This chapter will discuss the exclusive role of Chettiars prior to independence and how they adapted to changing circumstances after independence up to the present day. The Chettiars continue to play roles in the economic development of Malaysia as professionals, entrepreneurs, businessmen and real estate developers.
The conclusion chapter evaluates the Chettiar role in the economic development of Malaya.