A Recruiter’s License, Malaysia, 1902

Indentured migrants accounted for perhaps as few as 10% of the total Indian migrants in the 19th and early 20th century. Far greater numbers heading to Malaysia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka were recruited by ‘Kanganis’ and ‘Maistries’.  These recruiters advanced the cost of food and passage and then recovered these costs from the worker’s wages after they arrived.

In the case of Malaysia, some of these recruiters were officially licensed to do this work and could obtain loans from the Government. Below is an example of a Recruiters License granted in Selangor, Malaya (Malaysia) in July 1902 to a Tamil recruiter named Muutucaruppan of Valaikurichy district of PuthuKottai, licensing him to recruit 25 Indians for the Kent Estate, Kuala Lumpur, owned by Mr. C.G. Glassford.

This license would have to be shown to the Superintendent of the Straits Settlement Depot at Negapatam when returning  from India.  The Superintendent would advance the recruiter funds to pay for the cost of his passage and that of his gang of workers. This advance would then be deducted from the worker’s wages and returned by his employer to the government at the rate of Malayan $3 (male) or Malayan $2 (female) per month, as specified in the license.