Tribal conflict – a legacy of colonialism

In Europe, the home terrain of the colonial rulers, nations had been created, about five centuries ago, on the basis of coherent tribalism; that is, an occupancy of the land, and a shared history, language, ethnicity and religion.

Within the unrealistic national boundaries created in the colonial territories, one or more lesser tribes became domi­nated by, or subservient to, a larger tribe. The Hindu Tamils of Ceylon, became an unequal political minority in the new nation of Sri Lanka to the majority Buddhist Singhalese after the British left; they seem to have been better off under the British. With the recent end of the claim for regional autonomy in their traditional territories by the Tamils, the Singhalese are reportedly copying the Israelis in infiltrating the lands of the minority (but without any claim that their god gave them the land in a historical past).

The breakdown of the old Yugoslavia, the devolution of political autonomy to the Scots and the Welsh within the United Kingdom, and the split of Czechoslovakia provide sufficient evidence that artificially created nations may not be durable. Pride in their ethnic heritage lead some tribes in such nations to seek independence. In the future, they may seek to merge with their counterparts in other mismatched tribal agglomerations.

For example, the southern Moslem states of Thailand might logically belong with Malaysia. Does the Buddhist nation of Thailand rule the southern states according to Buddhist teachings? Are the Moslem peoples in the southern regions of the Philippines rightly ruled by the Spanish blood-infused Christians of that nation? … …

In the case of Indonesia, with its official cultural toler­ance set out in its praise-worthy principle ‘Panchasila,’ the very wide diversity of its ethno-religious peoples spread over so many islands may mitigate against equitable and efficient governance. Tribalism can be expected to over-ride a shared hoped-for nationalism, especially if the Roman Catholic priesthood has any influence.

When one considers what the British did to the Indian sub-continent, after bringing together a great variety of peo­ples previously ruled as independent entities, one can only wonder at the seemingly unlimited capacity of the relatively tiny (and now unimportant) nations of Europe to create inter-tribal mayhem elsewhere. That their chickens are now coming home to roost, in the form of their former subject peoples now claiming a home with their former ruler, may be seen as cosmic justice. Or, will cheap labour compensate for the presence of the unrespected ‘other’ of yesteryear?

These are extracts from my book ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’