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Treacherous Translators and Improvident Paupers: Perception and Practice in Dutch Makassar, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

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Translator/interpreters in (pre)colonial settings were gatekeepers, capable of shaping both perceptions and policy. Their ability to bridge cultural divides was crucial, but consequently their identities could appear ambiguous and their loyalties uncertain. This case-study analyses the changing character of official translators in the East Indonesian port of Makassar in the 18th and 19th centuries. It considers the fluctuating fortunes of the mestizo families who dominated the role under the VOC and until the mid 1800s. Subsequently the Dutch East Indian state was increasingly able to subordinate personal networks to professional administrative criteria, marginalizing the mestizo and consolidating the colonial bureaucracy.

Les traducteurs-interprètes qui ont été employés dans un cadre précolonial et colonial peuvent être considérés comme des véritables gardiens à cause de leur habilité à traduire des perceptions et à formuler des stratégies. Leur capacité d’établir un rapprochement entre des mondes culturels divergents était crucial. Cependant, cette même aptitude leur valait des fois une réputation d’identité ambiguë et de loyauté douteuse. Cette contribution traite des traducteurs officiels du port de Makassar (l’Indonésie orientale) aux XVIIIe-XIXe siècles, et en détaille la transformation de leur statut social durant cette époque à travers l’analyse des fortunes instables des familles métisses qui exerçaient un rôle dominant sous la VOC jusqu’à la mi-XVIIIe siècle. Par la suite l’État colonial des Indes néerlandaise s’est montré de plus en plus capable de soumettre les réseaux personnel en les remplaçant par des critères relatifs à une administration professionnelle. Il s’ensuivit que les traducteurs métis furent marginalisés tandisque la bureaucratie coloniale fut renforcée.


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