15 Jan 2017

The Chettiar Role

Title: The Chettiar Role in Malaysia’s Economic History
Authors: Ummadevi Suppiah & Sivachandralingam Sundara Raja
Publisher: University Malaya Press
Publication Date: 2016 (First Edition)
Thickness: 180 pages (1 cm)
Market Price: RM52.00
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This book is a revised version of the doctoral thesis entitled The Money Lending Activity of the Chettiars in Malaya, 1896-1957 written by Ummadevi Suppiah and submitted to the History Department, University of Malaya under the supervision of Associate Professor Dr Sivachandralingam Sundara Raja.

This book seeks to evaluate the extent of which the Chettiars – not to be confused with Chetti Melaka – 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.

This book 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.

This book also highlights the role of the Chettiar, from indigenous money lenders to contributing toward the economic development of modern Malaysia.


The Origins of the Chettiar Community
Money Lending Activities of the Chettiar in Malaya
The Role of the Chettiar in the Economic Development of the Malays
The Role of the Chettiar in the Economic Development of the Chinese
The Role of the Chettiar in the Economic Development of the Indians
Changing Roles of the Chettiar from 1941 to the Present Day


This meticulously researched book represents a noteworthy contribution to our understanding of the ‘subaltern’ economy of Malaysia during the colonial period and to our appreciation of the changing role of the Chettiar in modern times.

Chettiar prominence as creditors to Malay peasants is well known, but the authors show here that connections extended deep into Malay society, from royal families to civil servants.

While pre-war links to plantation workers and support for Indian business were only weakly developed, Chettiar investment in large Chinese enterprises was a significant factor in supporting the activities of local Chinese entrepreneurs.

In this sense, the authors argue, the Chettiar helped lay the basis for Malaysia’s later economic development, while their contemporary commitment to nation building is demonstrated in their involvement in social welfare and concern for the well-being of their fellow Indians.

The Chettiar Role in Malaysia’s Economic History will be welcomed not only by historians of Malaysia, but by all scholars involved with the complex narratives of Indian migration. – Dr Barbara Watson Andaya, University of Hawai’i

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