Construction of Ethnic Identity in
Malaysian Tourism Texts
Dr Collin Jerome
Assoc Prof Dr Su-Hie Ting
Paper presented at SOLLs.INTEC 2013, 2-3 July 2013,
Cyberview Resort & Spa, Cyberjaya.
Introduction
Identity construction has been studied in tourism
research in the contexts of culture commodification,
ethnic preservation and national identity building.
Texts such as pamphlets, brochures and travel
guides, not only present information about people,
cities, places of interests and special events for
commercial gains, but also operate as sites of cultural
and identity constructions.
Henderson (2003, p. 72)
Purpose of study
The study examined portrayals of ethnic identity in
tourism texts produced by Tourism Malaysia and other
local tour agencies.
1. Aspects of ethnic identity used as selling point to attract
tourists.
2. Categorisation of tangible ethnic markers into internal and
external types using Isajiw's (1990) framework.
3. Portrayals of various ethnic groups in tourism texts –
stereotypes versus perceived reality of ethnic and national
identities.
Method of study
20 travel pamphlets, brochures and guidebooks
numbering 750 pages were analysed.
•
•
•
•
Coding for mention of ethnic groups, including
those from other countries (e.g, Dutch, French).
Counting number of items with mention of ethnic
groups.
Identifying descriptors associated with mention of
ethnic groups.
Conducting thematic analysis to map out cultural
markers used to portray various ethnic groups.
Data analysis
Beads
The states of Sabah and
Sarawak have long been
associated with products made of
beads. In Sabah, the Rungus
people are known for their distinct
and elaborate beaded
accessories ….
Results
1. Ethnic identity markers used as a selling
point
•
•
•
•
•
•
Food
Arts and Craft
Costumes
Heritage buildings
Homestay
Festivals
Ethnic groups highlighted:
Malay, Chinese, Indian,
Dayak, Nyonya-Baba,
Iban, Bidayuh, Rungus,
Orang Asli, foreigners
1. Identity markers highlighted by groups
Ethnic markers/ Groups
Food
Arts
&
craft
CosFesti- Reli- Heritumes vals
gion tage
Buildings
Home
-stay
People
Chinese
20
0
0
1
1
14
0
1
Malay
14
5
1
0
0
2
12
1
Indian
14
2
1
0
1
2
0
0
Sarawak
indigenous
1
0
0
1
0
0
5
1
Sabah indigenous
1
1
1
1
0
0
0
1
Orang Asli
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
Nyonya
7
1
1
0
0
5
0
3
Foreigners
7
0
0
0
1
30
0
0
Ethnic mix
1
7
0
0
0
0
0
0
1. Ethnic identity markers used as a selling
point
•
Chinese – identity based on food & buildings
(temples – religion). Not homestays – homes are
for family and friends?
•
Malay – represented by food, homestay & culture.
Tourists would probably find out more about
Malaysia in Malay homestays. More likely
nostalgic representation of Malaysian life.
•
Indian – symbolised by Indian food. Hindu temples
highlighted but 1 mention of Indian.
•
Foreign influence on buildings and history.
1. Ethnic identity markers used as a selling
point
Tourism brochures promote mainly food and buildings,
and constructs ethnic distinctiveness in Malaysia
along these lines. Visual representations of identities
(Pritchard & Morgan, 2010).
Heritage buildings - glorious past creating the interesting
present. Evident for all ethnic groups. Even foreign
architectural influence is brought up to accentuate this
construction but resistance to colonialism is mostly
absent from tourism discourse (see Bandyopadhay et
al., 2008 – bravery of freedom fighters vs colonial
magnificence).
1. Ethnic identity markers used as a selling
point
Cited by Henderson, 2003, p. 74).
Careful avoidance of what Bandyopadhay, Morais, and
Chick (2008) found, i.e., “Hinduism preceded and
prevailed over all other ethnicities/religions in
representations of India’s heritage by tourism media” (p.
790).
1. Ethnic identity markers used as a selling
point
Fragmentation of ethnicities to create national identity in
heritage tourism.
Little evidence of the Malay dominance message
observed by Henderson (2003) from his analysis of
Tourism Malaysia (2002) texts and photographs –
ethnic pluralism existing alongside Malay supremacy.
Malaysia’s multiethnicity has value as a marketable
commodity (Henderson, 2003).
Results
2. Categorisation of tangible ethnic markers into
internal and external
More external (tangible) rather than internal (intangible)
ethnic markers are used to represent ethnic groups.
Food (e.g. Chinese, Malay, Indian) and culture (e.g.
Malay). If food is the most retained aspect of external
ethnic identity (Isajiw as cited in Kuo & Raysircarsodowsky, 1999, p. 83), food is the most salient external
ethnic marker used to represent ethnic and national
identities in Malaysian tourism brochures.
Internal aspects of ethnic identity (Isajiw, 1990):
1. Cognitive – ethnic self-image, knowledge of ethnic
group’s heritage and history)
2. Affective/Cathartic – sense of belonging to and
sympathy and associative preference for same-ethnic
group members
3. Moral (CORE) – sense of obligation to one’s ethnic
group – help them get jobs, marry within group, support
group causes, want children to speak ethnic language)
(as cited in Kuo & Raysircar-sodowsky, 1999, p. 83)
Cognitive –
internal aspects
of ethnic identity
Possibility of highlighting affective and moral – other
internal aspects of ethnic identity through interviews
External aspects of ethnic identity (Isajiw, 1990)
– observable social and cultural behaviours
* Ethnic language retention (as mother tongue, frequent
use, reading and writing the L)
* Ethnic group friendships (no. of friends of same ethnicity
vs out-group friends)
* Participation in ethnic group functions (churches, school,
vacations, dances, picnics, rallies, voluntary
associations, clubs)
* Ethnic media (TV/radio, reading materials)
* Ethnic traditions (eating ethnic foods, practice of
ethnic customs, possession of ethnic articles)
(as cited in Kuo & Raysircar-sodowsky, 1999, p. 83)
Results
3. Stereotypes versus realities of ethnic groups
and national identity
Various stereotypes (i.e. idea, image, characteristic
traits, or normative collective behaviour) are used to
portray and reinforce ethnic identity. E.g.
Indians = roti canai
Chinese = Hokkien mee, Teochew Temple
Malay = kampung, keris, pencak silat
Indian Muslim = Nasi Kandar, Mee Goreng Mamak
Iban & Bidayuh = longhouse, manok pansuh
Stereotypes of national identity
e.g., Malaysian = hospitality, festivals, culture and
traditions
Tourism brochures do not portray the realities of
ethnic groups and national identity.
Ethnic identity construction:
A myriad of factors: “Gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race,
class, religion, age, and place all intersect at the
crossroads of identity” (Thompson, 2007, p. 15).
National identity construction:
“People’s stronger ethnic, religious, and regional
affiliations” continue to have pervasive influence on
notions of identity and sense of belonging in the
modern Malaysian nation-state (Verma, 2002, p. 40).
Stereotypes are used in the brochures to create:
1. a sense of ethnic authenticity and nostalgia to
be consumed by tourists, including the colonial
past.
e.g, Rendang Tok...flavoursome Malay delicacy
A salad made of raw fish or prawns, hivana, is especially popular
among the Kadazandusun
A tranquil Malay village that sits prettily amidst swaying palms
and tropical vegetation.
Be entralled by the granduer of royal Malay customs and
traditions.
Centuries of Portugese, Dutch, and British rule
Fraser's Hill...akin to Scotish village...nostalgic charm
Stereotypes are used in the brochures to create:
2. a ‘unified’ or ‘integrated’ sense of national
identity through ethnic fragmentation.
e.g, country's colourful ethnic mix of Chinese, Malay,
Indian, Nyonya and Thai
The East Malaysia region is made up of an
ensemblage of ethnic groups. The ethnic groups differ
greatly in terms of...
Sabah... consists of over 30 different ethnic
communities.
Tourism brochures do not represent the realities (e.g,
peoples’ lived experiences of ethnic groups and
Malaysians mainly because they do not sell. It is the
created homogeneous stereotypes which sell as the
‘authentic’ tourist experience.
(Davis, 1997, p. 104)
The dissonance between projected image (food,
homestay, heritage buildings) and perceived
realities of ethnic and national identities may
provoke “nostalgia rather than critical thought by
romanticizing the past and hiding from visitors
current social inequities and their real historical
source”, states Blundell (2002, p. 39) who
analysed Canadian tourist brochures.
Conclusion
Biased impressions of others on Malaysia:
…indah khabar dari rupa (what’s there in a name?). It
may not be a 'beautiful' (idealized) country after all
because peoples' everyday lived conditions and
experiences are often concealed in travel brochures (e.g,
poverty in Malaysia, recent political turmoil, street rallies,
rising crime rates in major cities).
… a ‘touristy’ nation which is appealing to tourists but
lacks authenticity because things are recreated and
ethnicity is commodified for their consumption (e.g, Mini
Malaysia & Mini ASEAN in Melaka, Kampung Budaya in
Sarawak).