“This marvellous brotherhood”: The appropriation of the Scout Movement in British Malaya (1907–1942)

Youth in movement
By Jialin Christina Wu

Initially conceived in 1907 as a civil educational project for British boys, Scouting sought to counter the enervating impact of urban and industrial developments upon the virility and vitality of metropolitan British society. The movement soon spread quickly throughout the empire, enjoying much success among colonial and indigenous youth alike. However, the movement’s success in colonial societies was not due to its original message about the need to regenerate or to reclaim masculine and “primitive” virtues previously effaced by “modern civilisation”. Rather, Scouting captured the attention of indigenous youths and local elites because the movement offered an entry into British colonial society – notably by revealing its social norms and codes. Thus, while British youth in the metropole saw Scouting as a movement promoting the benefits of going “back to nature”, some indigenous youths in the colonies perceived Scouting as a social ladder by which they could also be initiated in the ways of metropolitan society. By focusing upon concrete examples from Boy Scouting in British Malaya, this article analyses these two distinct opinions of this youth movement in a comparative perspective. In doing so, it measures how social and political codes were reinterpreted in the process of its transmission between metropolitan and colonial worlds.

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