Traces of Colonialism in Southeast Asia: Why Is Nationalism So Popular?

Traces of Colonialism in Southeast Asia: Why Is Nationalism So Popular?

Many countries in Southeast Asia experienced colonization and eventually became independent in the 20th century. This wave of independence was triggered by the nationalism movement that developed in Southeast Asia. But do you know why nationalism became so popular in the region?

In the 16th century, Europe began trade relations and religious missions in Southeast Asia. European countries such as Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands came to the region with the aim of making profits from trade and spreading Christianity. The Portuguese became the first European country to open trade relations in Southeast Asia in 1511 through the Sultanate of Malacca. Later, Spain and the Netherlands followed in the Portuguese footsteps and succeeded in defeating Portuguese power in the region, thus making them the main power in Southeast Asia.

The Dutch captured Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641, while the Spanish controlled the Philippines in the 1560s. The Dutch then established the VOC as a trading center in Nusantara (currently Indonesia), while the British took over Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar through the British East India Company. The British even managed to seize Dutch colonies during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1819, Raffles chose Singapore as his base of defense in an attempt to face competition with the Dutch. Only Thailand was never colonized by a European power, although it remained influenced by the Western powers' practice of power politics in Southeast Asia.

The growth of nationalism and anti-colonialism in Southeast Asia was influenced by the suffering of European colonialism. Social oppression, trade monopolies, racial injustice, and political and legal domination led to social change in Southeast Asia. As a result, in the 20th century different nationalist movements emerged in Southeast Asian countries with the aim of fighting for political and human rights and achieving independence from European colonialism. These movements eventually succeeded in driving the Europeans out of the region.

In Southeast Asian countries, nationalist movements were spearheaded by different figures and had different patterns of struggle. In Vietnam, for example, Ho Chi Minh formed an anti-colonial network and opposed European rule with a strategy that involved a global revolutionary network, which even fought the Americans during the proxy war period. Ho Chi Minh also previously petitioned the Treaty of Versailles.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, José Rizal led a propaganda campaign to fight for Philippine independence. Rizal was also a contributor to La Solidaridad newspaper, the main media of the Filipino student propaganda movement in Europe. Then in Indonesia, apart from Soekarno, there were Moh. Hatta, Tan Malaka, and many other figures who also played an important role in the anti-colonial movement and nationalism.

Basically, the colonialism phase was common in Southeast Asia because most of the countries there had experienced colonization. Broadly speaking, the nationalism movement that emerged was an attempt to expel the colonizers from their territory. However, there were differences in political patterns and other internal factors that influenced the formation of nationalism. In addition, the intervention of external forces has also built the awareness and spirit of nationalism in the region.

The nationalism that emerged in Southeast Asia was not a nationalism that was formed naturally due to cultural, ethnic, racial, or linguistic similarities, but rather due to a shared awareness of the fate and suffering experienced due to colonialism by foreign nations.

Nationalism became popular because it arose from resistance to colonial occupation. Although many nationalists died in the struggle against the colonizers, their spirit to achieve independence and nationalism still lives on in society and led their countries to independence. This important message about colonialism was expressed by Rizal in El Fili, where he expressed his views on the ideal nation and nationalism. He believed that the people alone are capable of determining their destiny and that sovereignty should be fought for by the people, even if it means sacrificing lives. Rizal also believed that independence could be achieved through the intellectual and moral foundation of the people. Finally, he also emphasized that there can be no good governance without respect for justice and humanity.

Today, nationalism is becoming stronger in the context of global politics. Countries are also starting to prioritize their domestic policies so that they are no longer influenced by colonialism. This then indicates that nationalism is now increasingly important and requires consideration in determining policies by the state.


Susanto, Heri. (2016). Kolonialisme dan Identitas Kebangsaan Negara-Negara Asia Tenggara. Jurnal Sejarah dan Budaya, 10,. 2

Reid, Anthony. (1999). Dari Ekspansi hingga Krisis, Jaringan Perdagangan Global Asia tenggara 1450-1680). Indonesia: Yayasan Obor Indonesia

Sena, Wildan. (2014). Patriot Ekspatriat: Imajinasi dan Aksi Anti-Kolonialisme dan Nasionalisme Asia Tenggara. Jurnal Kajian Wilayah, 5, 2, pp. 172-182

Thank you for reading until here