Malay history and theory of jealousy?
A few weeks ago, I came across on my Facebook timelime of a news story that a Malaysian historian claimed that Malaya was colonised because the colonisers were jealous of the power and intelligence of the Malays and that the Chinese migration was a historical conspiracy or an ‘invasion’ of sort (and I suppose the South Indians, too, and maybe the Bangladeshis as well), and that the Malays were already skilled miners, and rubber tappers, too, perhaps.
Interesting proposition. I did giggle silently and uncontrollably reading it.
Seriously, I thought this is coming from a new paradigm of looking at history from a school of thought that will certainly or at least challenge or replace Fernand Braudel’s The Annals Schools, Structural Functionalist of the Logical Positivists, Ibnu Khaldunian Social-Darwinism, Cultural Marxists, and even post-structuralism of Foucault proposing power/knowledge matrix.
Get serious, the Malaysian historian who made that claim. There is no point joking about interpretive modes in historicising and making the next generation believe that the traditional rulers had no part at all in this ‘colonial-jealousy’ theory.
Get serious about your perspective on the nature of colonialism and imperialism and the interplay between technological dominance, cultural change, control over resources, and human motivation in history. Better still, read the classic texts on the philosophy of history and the relationship between colonisation and class structure within the colonies.
What Malaysians need is not more and more watering down and trivialisation of themes in the study of history but on understanding of the conditions within the kingdom, principality, country, etc that made it ripe for colonisation and on the entire deep-analytical inquiry of the inner-working of feudalism and the nature of the ‘kerajaan’ (traditional statehood) and the different concepts of power (homogenous, heterogenous, carnivalesque, etc) that made kingdoms rise and fall, and later the nature of globalisation both in ancient and modern times that necessitate the advancement of merchantilism, colonisation, imperialism, and lastly modern-day globalisation.
That’s what we need as a way to look at history from alternative perspectives.
I don't know what is ailing the scholarly field of study of history in Malaysia these days - from the claims of a special Malay gene, Tanda Putera, forced and awkward construction of bumiputraism and even Malayness, and now a paradigm of ‘Jealousy in History’. This sounds like a romance of the three Malay Kingdoms, of Srivijaya-Kelana Jaya-Putrajaya; of a love triangle set in Taman Johor Jaya.
But seriously folks and historians, get serious. Respect the bodies in the field of knowledge by first mastering the basics and the classics and when you get to the frontier of these, by asking more and more questions, so that you may try to break paradigms with intellectual rigour, grace, and dignity - as how others like Ibnu Khaldun. EH Carr, Marx, Braudel, or even Howard Zinn have done.
Do this rather than use the American ‘feel-good-love good psycho-guru’ Dr Phil’s talk show to construct a theory of jealousy in the march of history. Honesty in historicising requires one to first juggle as many viewpoints of an idea or a field as it by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, and not by some fear and favour coming from the paradigm of political paymasters.
Never a dull moment
I don’t know. Never a dull moment in Malaysian academia and politics these days.
But how do we approach this argument on the ‘South Invasion’ that led to the ‘inferiority of the Malays’, as claimed? In other words, how do we ‘historicise Malaysia’? Below might be a plausible narrative most often let abandoned in the Malaysian academia.
Malaysia’s history is written by those who are paid by the feudal lords or the sultans and the bourgeoisie class who have become an appendage to the modern neo-feudalistic Malay state.
Malaysian history, a basis of the violently disseminated idea of Ketuanan Melayu, as an apology to the idea of economic dominance of the Malay-dominated National Front, favours the powerful and the wealthy as heroes of history.
Tun Sri Lanang, court writer for the Malay Annals or Sejarah Melayu, wove tales of the overblown glory of the Malacca Sultanate with phantasmagoric and avatar-like conception of heroism of Malay warriors with Chinese-sounding names, foremost among them was Hang Tuah, the epitome of a blind-follower of istana/royal court orders; one who can be categorised in sci-fi genre as a Malay drone with android characteristic created out of the need to showcase what idiotic pride means.
The narratives of Malacca was well-preserved and well-transmutated into what is now Malaysian history, claimed as ‘a body of historical facts’ embalmed in Malaysian history textbooks to be devoured by the curious young minds of Malaysians; children whose minds are like filtered funnels ready to accept whatever the State deemed necessary and ‘Official Knowledge’ not to be questioned but to be regurgitated as immutable facts at the end-of-year examinations.
Much of what is happening in Malaysian schools is the teaching of history devoid of critical historicising, let alone the reading of history written from the point of view of ‘the people’s history of Malaya’.
Missing from the textbooks are chronicles of the natives enslaved by the feudal lords, narratives of the indentured serfs from China and India, stories of the robbery of land in Sabah and Sarawak, the chronicle of the struggle between the workers and the capitalist class, the real story behind the Communist insurgency, and in recent times the voices of liberation and freedom against the excesses of the modern Malaysian authoritarian state.
History has not been kind to Malaysians. Historians have been kind to the paymasters in history.
In the end, history textbooks not only become a literary graveyard for the losers in the historical march of Capital, but as postmodern blinders - for the closing of the Malaysian mind.
Yes, we cannot be neutral on a moving train, as the late American historian Howard Zinn would say. We have to hijack the train, and steward it to a promised land that will benefit all Malaysians.
DR AZLY RAHMAN, born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored four books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), and the latest Dark Spring: Ideological Roots of Malaysia's GE-13 (2013). He currently resides in the United States.