I think it would be safe to say that anthropologist Ann Stoler is one of the pioneers of the study of “mixed-race” peoples in colonial settings, and in European colonies in Southeast Asia in particular.

[See, for instance, Ann Laura Stoler, “Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers: European Identities and the Cultural Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 34.3 (1992): 514-51.]

In her numerous writings on this topic she has pointed to the “problematic” position of mixed-race people, at least from the perspective of the colonizers, as they inhabit an ambiguous space between the colonizers and the colonized.

Many subsequent scholars have studied this topic, but it dawned on me recently that not much has been researched about these same peoples during World War II or during the process of decolonization.


What got me thinking about this was an article that I read in the 3 January 1946 issue of the Straits Times from Singapore about the alleged “betrayal of Eurasian girls.” This is how the article begins:

“Sensational evidence as to how two local residents, Doreen de Silva and her husband, Manuel de Silva, employed by the Japanese Gestapo [i.e., German name for secret police], caused several Eurasian women and a man to be arrested as British spies and subjected to ‘most brutal tortures’ during the Japanese regime, was heard in the Special Court yesterday.”

Apparently Doreen and Manuel de Silva worked as a dance hostess and band leader, respectively, at the German Club at Pasir Panjang, and they were alleged to have agreed to keep an eye on other dance hostesses and the manager of the club and to pass information about these people on to the Kempei-tai [i.e., Japanese secret police].

The Japanese suspected that some employees in the club were getting information from the Germans who patronized the club about the movements of Japanese ships and aircraft, and that this information was being collected in order to eventually inform the British after (or if) they invaded Singapore.

Ultimately the Japanese arrested six dance hostesses and the manager of the club, and apparently subjected them “to tortures of the most brutal nature.”

Meanwhile, for their services, the Japanese paid the de Silvas “between $40 and $50 a month and given extra rice, sugar and cigarette rations.”


I’ve always read about how the Europeans in Singapore were interned in prison camps by the Japanese during World War II. In reading this article, I was therefore surprised to find Eurasians working in a nightclub for Germans.

This made me wonder about how Eurasians were viewed and treated by the Japanese. Did Eurasians across Southeast Asia experience the war in similar ways? Or did the Japanese treat them differently in different places?

This article also made me realize that I don’t think the issue of Eurasians in the period of decolonization has been studied in much detail (I think that a little bit has been written about the question of citizenship), but that would also be fascinating to look at comparatively across the region.