‘Brown Bag’ Seminar  "Nattukottai Chettiars: ‘Private Financiers’ and ‘Network Compradors’ in ‘Colonial Malaya,’ c. 1781-1946"

‘Brown Bag’ Seminar "Nattukottai Chettiars: ‘Private Financiers’ and ‘Network Compradors’ in ‘Colonial Malaya,’ c. 1781-1946"

Date & Time

29 August 2012, 00:00


NIE 3-02-27


Humanities & Social Studies Education (HSSE)



Events Details


Research on the Nattukottai Chettiars has centered mainly on Madras, Burma and Ceylon. Not much by way of detailed research has been done on their roles in Malaya. This research identifies their roles, knowledge, skills, aptitudes and aptitudes as entrepreneurs with astute business acumen. In particular, it dispels the oft held view that they were just moneylenders or a merchant banking caste. Rather, it explores how this group of self made entrepreneurs were ‘private financiers’ and ‘network compradors’ in ‘British Malaya’ from 1781-1946. During much of this period from the late 18th to early 20th century, the administrative, financial and judicial systems in the colonies were in a state of flux. This facilitated opportunities for the Chettiars to collaborate with people from all walks of life, race and creed. Just to name a few, these included colonial officials, Sultans, native royalties, imperial banks, merchants, petty traders, shopkeepers, opium farmers, nutmeg, pepper and gambier planters as well as many others. As ‘private financiers’ and ‘network compradors,’ the Chettiars were fast, focused, flexible and friendly. These qualities saw them adapt to what may be termed as an array of differing roles as ‘credit providers,’ ‘moneylenders-landowners,’ and ‘merchant traders-financier capitalists.’ Apart from successes, this research also examines some of their failures as well as meaningful comparisons with Burma, Ceylon and Madras.

 The speaker:

Amarjit Singh is currently a PhD research scholar in History at HSSE, NIE, NTU.  His supervisors are A/P Kevin Blackburn and Dr Sim Yong Huei. Amarjit obtained his B.A. Hons. at NUS in 1988. He received the NUS History Department’s prize for being the top History student out of its cohort of 1987. After graduation, he joined the Singapore Civil Service and became an Operations Officer at the maximum security Changi Prison. In 1995, he then took up a fulltime MA scholarship in History at NIE, NTU, teaching part-time in its History Division. In 1997, he became the first MA by research History graduate at NTU, examining Nehru’s foreign policy of non-alignment. After working as a research assistant at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, NTU, he migrated to Canada for 10 years and worked at two major financial and banking institutions there. In 2011 he returned to Singapore to take up a fulltime PhD scholarship in History at NTU. He has a forthcoming article on the Chettiars in the ISEAS journal, SOJOURN, and another in the NLB’s BiblioAsia.