Ethnicity and Martial Races: The Garde Indigène of Cambodia in the 1880s and 1890s

TitleEthnicity and Martial Races: The Garde Indigène of Cambodia in the 1880s and 1890s
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsWomack, Sarah
EditorHack, Karl, and Tobias Rettig
Book TitleColonial Armies in Southeast Asia

In the language of the tactics of colonialism, few phrases are as widely used as ‘divide and conquer’ or ‘divide and rule’. While it is certainly true that a policy of creating or manipulating tensions within a society in order to prevent unity was a crucial strategy of many colonial situations, the strategy itself has remained curiously uncomplicated in much of colonial history. It is as if ‘divide and conquer’ were simply a modular technology, one already floating in space, and complete in theory and practice. This chapter explores one such 'modular' practice of division and conquest. In it, the author examines both what informs the birth of a new practice and the conflicts that arise between practices as they develop in dialogue with each other. This particular evolution of images and practices of colonial control is specific to French attempts, at the outbreak of the Cambodian insurrection of 1885-6, to form a colonial military based on a similar concept of 'martial races' to that used by the British Indian Army. It serves to explain, through a discussion of the early evolution of the Garde indigène of Indochina, that this experiment was itself built on a discourse that discounted the martial qualities of Indochinese in general and various ethnic groups in particular, and that this same discourse helped to ensure that the experiment remained only marginally successful.

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