Many people may be surprised to learn that the rise of rattan furniture has a lot to do with Southeast Asia’s colonization. As Western power colonized most of Southeast Asia during the late 19th century and early 20th century they needed furniture to sit on.
When colonizers came to the new countries, they found materials that they were not used to working with, such as rattan, palm, and bamboo. They used this to create something that can bring comfort to their home, such as chairs to sit on. Many of the places they colonized did not traditionally use chairs to sit on.
Many of the same colonizers lived in the countries where most inhabitants have traditionally slept and ate on the floor.
Issue of Chair Sitting In 1856 Japan
As many of us know, the Japanese traditionally have sat on mats. It caused a problem in diplomatic relations when foreigners came to Japan to negotiate or talk to the present Japanese government.
When foreign powers first came to Japan, they were always asked to sit on the mat. The foreigners who are used to sitting on a chair wanted to sit on a chair. Japanese who are used to sitting on a mat wanted to sit on the mat.
As was the protocol for the day, you did not want to have the foreign leaders looking down upon the Japanese rulers. That would have been unacceptable.
Eventually, this forced a compromise as the Westerners insisted that they could not sit comfortably on the floor and the Japanese needed to find a compromise. The Japanese allowed foreigners to sit on the chair as long as the Japanese counterparts could sit on a stack of mats of equal height of the chair.
These little nuances show the problems of diplomatic relations between a country used to sitting on the mat and those used to sitting on chairs. And many of the same countries, you do not want to have a foreigner come in to negotiate with you looking down on you. This would be culturally unacceptable. To ensure diplomatic equality they want to be of the same height.
Colonization in Southeast Asia
It is well known that foreigners colonized many of Southeast Asia at one time or another. The only Southeast Asian country that was never fully colonized was Thailand; if you ask any Thai, they will proudly tell you this fact.
Here are some of the places in Asia and Southeast Asia that were colonized by foreign powers and governments.
In the mid to late 19th century, the French colonized many areas in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Like many of these colonists, suddenly, they were thrown into a completely different kind of environment that they were not used to living in Europe.
What kind of houses they built, what kind of clothes they should wear, and what type of furniture they could make from readily available materials. These are all things that we don’t think of when we think of colonization.
The reality is that the colonist, who came from a very different type of environment and culture, had to deal with these changes daily. They had to learn to adapt their housing, furniture, food, and clothing to fit into what’s locally available.
Japanese Annex Taiwan
In 1895, when the Japanese annexed Taiwan, there was one question about how the Japanese would flourish in an environment like Taiwan. Taiwan has more of a tropical climate than Japan.
Many questions arose, such as what type of clothing they would wear, what type of houses they could build, and how they would manage life and health in the tropics. The Japanese found themselves in the same situation as many European colonists in Asia and the tropics they were not used to.
The British colonized Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Borneo, and Burma (Myanmar). They also colonized present-day Hong Kong.
Like the other foreign conquerors, they also had to grapple with what type of furniture they could make, what clothing they should wear, and what kind of houses could be built out of locally available materials.
In speaking of how many colonizers saw their role in the colonies, George Orwell said this in his famous book, Burmese Days.
Dutch East Indies Company
The famous Dutch Indies Company occupied what is now present-day Indonesia. Before the Dutch arrived, the Indonesian archipelago had various states and islands that were all divided up.
The Dutch came and traded in many kinds of products as nutmeg, peppers, cloves, cinnamon, coffee, tea, tobacco, rubber, sugar, and even opium.
Americans in Philippines
Many Americans do not realize that the Philippines was a colony of America from 1898 to 1946. During this time, there were many Americans that were living and working in the Philippines. The Philippines, like the other colonies, was under American rule during this time.
There is so much intermarriage between Americans and Filipinos that there is a term called “Amerasian.” In 2012 it was estimated that there are close to 200,000 to 250,000 Amerasians living in the Philippines today.
When these colonizers came to their new lands, they also had to work with materials they were not used to working with. They wanted to have the comforts of home, but they had to find a way to have them with what was readily available to them.
Southeast Colonies And Furniture
All these colonists had in common was dealing with different types of material to make the furniture than what they were used to. Material such as rattan, palm, and bamboo are among some of the most abundant plants in Asia. It just so happens that these plants are also some of the most versatile for human use.
But these plants are also very different from the woods that colonists used to work with for their furniture. Plants as rattan and bamboo are closer to grass than a tree.
In many parts of Europe, they were using cane seating for chairs and other furniture. That is because split rattan was carried to Europe by the Portuguese and Dutch ships.
But all of these new materials also translated to new forms of furniture. European colonists were used to sitting on chairs but were living in many parts of the world where sitting on a mat is preferred.
Even today, in many parts of Southeast Asia, it can be expected for a family to bring out a woven mat for them to put the food on the floor, and everyone sits around on the mat and eats the food.
So when the European and others conquered this part of the world, there was absolutely no way that their women or children would sit on the floor to eat their food. They insisted that they needed to sit on a chair.
So this is the story of how a lot of the rattan, woven, and other furniture that we use today came about. . It started as a necessity for the colonizers in the tropical climates to find a way to be as comfortable as possible, just like they were at home.
Next time you look at a piece of rattan furniture, think of these many colonizers who blazed the trail and created chairs, furniture, and other items from materials they had never used before. Through them, we owe these excellent handwoven and handcrafted rattan, bamboo, and other natural pieces of furniture.
If you are interested in seeing how Mondoro can help you with your Rattan Furniture – we would love to talk to you to see how we can help you.
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If you are interested to find out more about this, we suggest you read Tropical Furniture and Bodily Comportment in Colonial Asia By Jordan Sands (Duke Press).
Care & Maintenance Of Outdoor Synthetic Rattan Furniture
The care and maintenance of the outdoor synthetic rattan furniture are pretty straightforward. Use mild soap and water and a soft brush to clean your furniture at least once a year. With proper storage, you can be sure to add to the longevity of your outdoor synthetic rattan furniture pieces.
You can discover more by reading Care & Maintenance Of Outdoor Synthetic Rattan Furniture by clicking here.
Rattan Vs Bamboo – The Differences Between the Materials Explained
Rattan and bamboo are not the same material as they have very different characteristics and uses. For example, bamboo is hollow and grows straight as a tree would. Rattan is a solid material that can be easily bent and grows in the rain forests as a vine.
You can learn more by reading Rattan Vs. Bamboo – The Differences Between the Materials Explained by clicking here.