I was looking at a newspaper called the Borneo Bulletin. It started to be published in 1953 in Brunei, but it was directed at readers in Sawarak and Sabah as well, that is, in all of what was then “British Borneo.”

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In looking at some issues from 1959, I found the advertisements to be very interesting. They were all depicting aspects of a modern lifestyle, but modernity was presented differently to the members of different ethnic groups.

To the British, modernity meant sending your children back to the UK on the planes of the British Overseas Air Corporation and Malayan Airways so that they could go to school.

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For the Chinese it meant eating Quaker Oats so that they could work better. . .

quaker oats

. . . and drinking Ovaltine so that they could play better. . .

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. . . and eating Chivers Jam so that they could have a healthy family. . .

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. . . and relaxing with the family by listening to a Blue Spot radiogram (i.e., combined radio and gramophone). . .

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. . . and getting a good night’s sleep on a Dunlopillo mattress.

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Finally, for the Malays, modernity apparently meant being able to “take it easy” by riding a Raleigh bicycle. . .

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. . . a bicycle that was strong and gave people “the highest degree of technical skill.”

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It’s well known that the British colonial system in the area of what is now Malaysia and Singapore led to the growth of inequality along ethnic lines. What I found interesting in these advertisements is that a sense of modernity was being employed in all of these advertisements to sell products.

Regardless of what people’s buying power was, someone else had a “modern” product that they wanted to sell them.