Monday, September 19, 2011

Now, you tell me (part 2)

This article, authored by me, has originally appeared on Malaysian Aspiration Program

In a Malaysian high school we had to study history as part of Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) [Malay: Sijil Pelajaran Malaysian (SPM)] as part of the graduation requirements. The syllabus is prescribed by the Malaysian government as they wanted us to know them, not necessarily the genuine facts we should know. What’s the point of getting a good grade in Sejarah SPM knowing that some parts of the syllabus were not the truth?

I am sure many are familiar with founding of Malacca by Parameswara circa 1400 A.D., as taught in history textbooks. If you care to look around, there exists many versions of the founding of Malacca: Wikipedia says that Sang Nila Utama fled Palembang and Parameswara was born in Singapura; Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals) makes no mention of the name “Parameswara”. Which story should we believe?

As raised by Professor Dr. Zainal Kling, Malaya was never colonised by British and remained merely as British protectorate. If the Malay states had existed as independent entities, they should enjoy the full sovereignty over their land just like Thailand did. By pointing that Malayan states were merely protectorates, Prof Zainal is right in the hair prickling terminology and semantics; however he has diverted our attention away from the essence of history – facts and reality.

The British were interested in natural resources of the Malay kingdoms and waited for a good opportunity to gain a foothold. Political conflicts involving ascension to the throne in the Malay kingdoms were really good ones. So they installed certain princes as Sultans of their respective states. In return, the Sultans were asked to sign treaties that contain certain obligations. The core of the treaties was that the Sultans agreed to receive a British officer whose advice must be heeded except in the matters of Malay customs and Islamic religion. In essence, this gave the British the colonial mandate. The British made use of their officers to exert political control over the Malay kingdoms. Wasn’t this no difference from being a colony? Do you merely call the Malay kingdoms as protectorates?

The Englishmen were more interested in the natural resources to fuel their industrialised economy but the Sultans had no say in most matters in their land. A consequence of British colonialism is parallel jurisdiction of religious and civil courts, which is overlooked in our history textbooks. This parallel jurisdiction is still causing problems today.

If Prof Zainal was right about Malaya not being colonised, armed rebellion by Tok Janggut, Dato’ Maharajalela, Dato’ Bahaman and the likes should not have happened. We would not see the reason for Tunku Abdul Rahman to lead a delegation to London to negotiate with the Englishmen. The British Parliament would not have passed a law for Malaya to become an independent nation. All struggles for independence would be in vain.

On the other hand, UMNO wants to claim all credit for nation building, especially on the independence of Malaya. Little do we know about Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya which predates UMNO, exerted a strong influence during her time. This organisation was given a mere mention in our textbooks but their role has been completely downplayed. PKMM was in fact the first organised movement to fight for independence of Malaya. An important fact that I want you to be aware of – that UMNO-MCA-MIC alliance was able to claim most of the credit for independence of Malaya was because the British had banned left wing political movement (PKMM included). This is akin to winning a race not because you can run fast enough, but the supposed winner didn’t win because he was removed for some reason. Also, not without support from the people who voted them in.

How long do we need to take to get our history right?

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