Film: 6498

Places + Locations | 1940 | Sound | B/W


A post World War Two educational film for schoolchildren about the principal industries of Malaya and the lifestyle of its inhabitants, with constant emphasis on the interaction of east and west (implicitly, tradition and modernity) that has resulted from British colonial rule there. Although it is an American documentary, it implicitly affirms the presence of the British by portraying colonial rule as a benevolent force for economic improvement and native advancement - possibly because of the rising threat of communist insurgency in Malaya at the time? N.B. the term 'Malay' is used rather indiscriminately in this film to refer to all inhabitants of the Peninsula, not just the ethnic group.

A map of Asia, camera zooming in on the Malay Peninsula shown on it. Lines on the map display how, situated between the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, the Peninsula lies in the path of trade between Asia and the west. Singapore is highlighted on the map as being the centre of this trade, and one of the most important cities of the Far East.

Singapore River: the Elgin Bridge, many small wooden boats packed tightly on the river, shophouses and godowns (warehouses) as well as large colonial buildings, often with neo-classical façades, on the bank. Boats, ranging from flat-bottomed wooden rowboats (sampans) to motor-operated bumboats with 'eyes' painted on the bow, cruise along the river. Overhead shot of a large wooden barge, transporting sacks and crates; a man in a wide-brimmed sun hat stands inside operating a long rudder. These goods are transported by all sorts of boats to Singapore's docks, shown here as a stretch of godowns by the quay (Clarke or Boat Quay) and tens of wooden boats tightly parked on the river, paving over the water. Shots of workers - usually Chinese, wearing sun hats, transporting heavy crates suspended from ropes from deck to the quay, staggering under the weight: this is a distribution point for products from Malaya and neighbouring countries.

The façade of a large colonial building by a busy road, a row of parked motorcars and trishaws/rickshaws in front of it; a traffic warden in a bowler helmet and khakis stands in the middle of the road directing traffic. The front of the Supreme Court and City Hall, with its dome and neo-classical foyer, the Singapore Cricket Club, a smaller late-Victorian bungalow, and the side of the Victoria Concert Hall: all examples of how, in many ways, this British port looks like a European city. The front and foyer of Victoria Theatre, advertising 'THE INDIAN ASSOCIATION: MUSICAL AND DRAMATIC SECTION VARIETY: ENTERTAINMENT FEB 1ST 8.30 PM'. The dome and neo-classical façade of Parliament House nearby. A busy street, filled mainly with colonial buildings, 'modern vehicles' moving alongside 'the carts and jinrickshaws of the East.' A row of shop houses, their fronts covered in Chinese signs, next to a road with a line of rickshaws running down it. Another road, with large motorcars and bicycles; telephone wires and tramlines overhead and a large 'Tiger Balm' advertisement on a billboard.

The exterior of the Masjid Jamek (Jaime Mosque) in Kuala Lumpur. The exterior of a large colonial building (?) in Malacca. A row of colonial houses. Shots of 'native civilisation': a street market, old Chinese women in sun hats, carrying baskets of produce suspended from a pole across their shoulders, an Indian lady, Malay women walking through a crowded street market with baskets of food on the ground; an Indian fruit seller on a mat on the ground, displaying her fruit. Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Singapore are all examples of Malayan cities which contain a mixture of east and west. The contrast can also be seen in the many religious buildings in Malaya: what may be the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur with its great golden dome and many minarets. A Hindu temple, with its multi-layered roof standing at the end of a row of coconut trees. A Chinese temple also amid foliage, with an ornate carved roof, lanterns and incense burners. The steeple of a church, built with Gothic undertones.

Most cities and villages in Malaya are near the water: Indian labourers unload large bales from a boat to the quay across a single plank bridge. Chinese junks and smaller fishing boats bobbing in the sea. Shots of people rowing sampans. A man rows a wooden boat with a triangular canopy through what may be a mangrove swamp down a river: the presence of water is important to everyday native life, given the close relationship that any community develops with its natural surroundings. He rows towards shore, where there appears to be a village, as suggested by the stilts in the water and roofs: many Malays use boats to travel between villages.

A 'kampung' [Malay for village] house: thatched attap roof, single-storey wooden frame on stilts on the ground, surrounded by coconut trees. A train of Malay girls in kebaya [traditional Malay dress] emerge from inside the house, walk down the steps. Life is simple in the villages, with much of the work done by hand: a Malay man hunches over a wooden plank suspended horizontally across two stands, cutting it with a handsaw; the girls gather round to watch him use his 'primitive tools'. Two Malay women sit on the grass in the sun, making clay pottery; a basket sits between them, and finished vessels lie on the grass. Close-up of their work: such 'native craft' are used in every day life.

One of the most important crafts is batik printing: a man in a shirt, trousers and apron bends over a large white sheet laid across a table, places a wood block dipped in dye face down on the cloth and presses. He presses the block in the dye pad on the stand next to the table. A half-finished piece of batik cloth, with brightly coloured designs on it, as another block is pressed onto it. Close-up of the designs. Ladies fasten batik sarongs round their waists or hold them out for display.

Shot of mountain slopes and what are probably plantations: the land is rich in natural resources, many of which attracted Europeans. An open-cast tin mining area, possibly once run by Chinese miners: scaffolding supporting large sluice drains by a pool. The exterior of a large factory/plant, part of the 'modern methods' alluded to by the commentary used to develop Malaya's riches, one of which is tin. A move conveyor belt of buckets for dredging clay containing tin ore, mottled with earth and clay. Panoramic view of an open-cast mining area: long pipelines eject powerful streams of water to wash the gravel. The opening of a sluice box, which the gravel is washed into; a Chinese worker stands at the other end of the long drain-like structure in a sun hat.

A group of sun hats from above, those of 'native workers' [Chinese, specifically] hunched over shallow pans in the ankle-deep muddy water, swilling water in their pans to find nuggets of tin ore. Two Chinese workers empty the dried tin ore into sacks, shovelling it from a wheelbarrow. A line of Chinese labourers push trolleys full of such sacks to the smelting works. A stack of pure tin bars produced at the smelting works.

A coconut plantation: Indian labourers, with towels/shawls round their heads, drag a large train of coconuts by a rope down a stream/canal, dug to facilitate the harvesting of the nuts. Indian labourers work among mounds of coconuts, each standing over an upright spearhead. Close-up of the outer husk of the nut being ripped off expertly and roughly by a worker, on a spearhead. A man squats on the ground, hacking at the husk of a coconut, as it is the inner meat that's important. A mound of coconuts hacked in half, showing the white meat inside, which becomes copra when dried in the sun. Close-up of dried nuts, now copra, from which the oils used in the manufacture of soap and glycerine are extracted.

A rubber plantation. An Indian worker tears off a thin strip of bark from a 'V' cut in the bark of the tree, cut with the herringbone method, to reveal white sap (latex) which trickles into a pot below. Close-up of a bucket full of latex being emptied into another. Indian workers in a factory operate rollers which produce sheets of crude rubber. Many sheet of rubber, hanging from racks, being wheeled out.

A Chinese farmer in a sun hat and a boy in shorts and tee-shirt lead a water buffalo through a rice (paddy) field: rice is a product that is not exported. A wooden plough attached to the water buffalo is dragged through the ground. Bundles of rice plantations are planted in ankle-deep muddy water, near the ploughed earth. Chinese farmers stand barefoot in the muddy field, sticking small handfuls of rice shoots at spaced intervals. Adult rice plants, with much longer leaves, in the watery fields. Ripe rice plants, grains hanging off, ready for harvest after about six months. 'Rice is to Malays as wheat is to us.' Malay workers, scarves round their heads, harvest rice. Close-up of a 'curious little hand knife' - a small crescent shaped blade - used to cut the grains. A worker stands on a mat placed over straw, threshing rice grains under his feet. Close-up of his feet, as rice kernels are separated from the straw, in one of the most ancient methods in use. Workers narrow the grain by placing it in a rattan sieve suspended from a triangular frame over a mat; the wind separates the chaff and straw from the kernels. Close-up of the rice kernels collecting in a pile on the mat.

Indian women in saris pick tea leaves in a plantation, collecting them in baskets on their backs; tea is a relatively new industry in Malaya. Close-up of the tea leaves being hand-picked. Close-up of containers of dried, much more shrunken, tea leaves. Malay women pack tea leaves into small wooden boxes on tables outdoors at a 'tea factory'. Close-up of the boxes being wrapped and sealed for shipment to 'our tables'. A box reading 'PERAK TEA'. Commentator points out that Europeans, in developing these natural industries, brought in 'not only modern methods, but something of their own way of life.'

One example is British-established schools: a row of simple long wooden buildings with a field, amid coconut trees with hills in the background: schoolchildren file out of the buildings. The sign: 'CHANGKAT KINDING ESTATE TAMIL SCHOOL' and its Tamil translation: a school for 7-14 year olds. Children sit two at a desk in rows outdoors on the grass, at lessons. A girl stands up preparing to read from an open book. Close-up of the textbook pages, written in Tamil, with pictures of animals, the human respiratory/cardiovascular system. Children run and play in the school field. Three young boys slide down a long water slide into a small pool as a trio: they are no different from their counterparts anywhere else in the world.

Female Chinese students at a secondary school. A Caucasian lady teacher stands at a blackboard, pointing to diagrams of a geometric triangle and words in English. Chinese girls sit outdoors, writing pads on their knees; they do not wear uniform, and are learning about 'us just as we are learning about them.' Girls in school uniform - cross-backed pinafores and blouses - play netball (called 'basketball' by the commentary) in a court after lessons: 'Malay girls [these are actually Chinese and Indian girls] playing an American game are a kind of symbol of Malaya: a mixture of east and west.' The girls, now on their bicycles, wave and ride off.

The lessons of the documentary are recapped...
Panoramic shot of a beach, the sea, hills in the background and coconut trees in the foreground. A sailboat cruises down a body of water, foliage on the shore in the background. Two wooden row boats with young bare-torsoed men inside: water travel is very convenient on this peninsula. An old Indian man in a sarong rows a sampan. A Chinese junk lingers near a pier, with other fishing boats bobbing nearby. The Singapore River, filled with boats, a quay with its godowns and shophouses in the background. A bullock cart with large wheels and a thatched roof passes alongside a large colonial façade. A tramcar rolls down a street filled with Chinese shophouses and signs, alongside cars and rickshaws. More boats in the harbour: Malaya is a mixture of east and west. It is also a distribution point for 'valuable products of Malaya'. Shots of workers moving and unloading barrels, crates and sacks. Tin bars. Rubber sheets. Coconut husks/copra. A smiling girl holds up a small box of 'PERAK TEA - ORANGE PEKOE' . 'Primitive and modern' methods of production are used: a water buffalo ploughing the rice field. Indian workers making sheets of rubber on mechanised rollers. Young schoolgirls at desks outdoors being taught by a Chinese lady teacher who points to a sheet with the names of birds (hens, owls, etc) on it: native ways of life are continually subject to western influence. Smiling schoolgirls at desks.

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