In Malaysia race is viewed not as an external attribute attached to a person but rather as an innate characteristic. Starting from this foundation, race and indigeneity have featured prominently in Malaysian politics throughout the postwar era, influencing both the civil status and property rights of broad sectors of the population. Scientific opinion shapes Malaysian thinking about the subject as do stereotypes, but much of the discussion rests on concepts developed within the discipline of anthropology and by the colonial administration in a process that dates back to the early nineteenth century.
Taming the Wild examines the complex history of indigeneity and racial thought in the Malay Peninsula and the role played by the politics of knowledge in determining racial affinities, by charting the progression of thought concerning "indigenous" or "aboriginal" people. The author shows that the classifications of "indigenous" and "Malay" depend on a mixture of cultural, social, and religious knowledge that is compressed under the heading "race" but differs according to the circumstances under which it is produced and the uses to which it is put. By historicizing the categorization of aborigines and British engagement with "aboriginal" groups in Malaya, Taming the Wild situates racial knowledge within larger frames of anthropological and racial thought, and highlights the persistence of nineteenth-century understandings of indigeneity and Malayness in racial contestations in modern Malaysia.