Friday, 9 October 2009

An Island and a Peninsula (CsH)

I love maps - old and new, world maps, regional maps, atlases, topographic maps, town maps and even transport maps. Perusing them is an adventure, moving your fingers along the rivers, the hills and the various landscapes. I drew my first map or rather a plan of my school during my primary school years. It meant having to look at the world from above, like a bird on the wing, and not like an earthbound two-legged creature. It's a fascinating mental exercise for a child to visualize your surroundings from a totally different perspective, like a lizard on a ceiling. That was what I used to tell my students who had no interest in maps. So I remained forever and ever a map geek!
I have these two old books (what's new?). One is a Regional Geography of Malaya by C. Richardson (1933). The other is The Story of Malaya by W.S. Morgan (1956, 5th Impression). They are much treasured for their lovely maps.

Firstly, the map of the Malay Archipelago showing "The Area of the Malay Races".


On this map, the Malay Peninsula juts out from the mainland of Asia into the South China Sea and forms the northern border of the Archipelago which then stretches as far south as Australia and the South Pacific Islands. This Peninsula, once called The Golden Chersonese is physically linked to Asia yet historically and culturally it is connected to all the islands ranging from the larger ones like Borneo and Sumatra to the myriad of many other medium-size and smaller islands.

The next map informs us that the Malays prefer to set up their settlements, which later developed into states and empire, along the river banks and estuaries, typical of a seafaring people.

The most well-known was of course Malacca, an empire based on commerce with countries as far away as China and India. This map illustrates the relationship between Malacca and China which went as far back as the 15th century or even further.


Island hopping has always been a trait of the Malays of the Archipelago. Prior to western Imperialism or Hindu colonization, this part of the world which the former named South East Asia or the East Indies but never The Malay Archipelago - the Malays have had free passage criss-crossing this region in their sampans, koleks, prahus, catamarans (albeit a simple earlier prototype) and big boats wandering from coast to coast for trade and settlement - with some looting and pillaging thrown in. This is no different from our present day Nick Leeson crooks and carpet-baggers.
These Malay mariners set up roots wherever they liked. There was no need for immigration forms and passports. They blended in with whoever were there first and assimilation was not an issue because of a common language, Malay or a dialect close to it - and their physical similarities and later their religion made the integration easier.

I like to think that someone like me, born in the Malay Peninsula, grew up to adulthood on the island at the southern tip of Malaya and connected on my mother's side to the tiny island of Bawean and a Chinese immigrant grandmother (she was an abandoned baby adopted by a Bawean family) - and on my father's side to the Minangkabau people of Sumatra and a grandfather of Kuala Selangor Malay stock with a tinge of aboriginal blood I was told - should be able to move and settle anywhere she wanted to in the Malay Archipelago.
I grew up knowing that I belong to both island and peninsula, but identity cards and passport and politics got in the way. It was a dilemma for me to sort out what documents to hold. How can a piece of paper with your photograph and personal details written on it describe what and who you are?
After graduating in 1967, my father advised me to go back to Selangor - he could see the writing on the wall about the future of Malays in a Singapore which had a large Chinese majority. I was stubborn and also resentful that I had to make a choice because I believed I belonged to both geographical entities of island and peninsula. Why should I have to choose one or the other?
After 11 years of teaching, I left my island in 1978 when I finally realised that I had hit a glass ceiling where my career and future were concerned. A true friend of mine, a Chinese girl I shall just name as SLL, with whom I shared good times and bad times as impoverished students in London, was honest enough to say to me, "Maz, as a Malay graduate you have no future in Singapore, it's much easier if you're just a factory worker. If I were you, I would go to Malaysia."
Instead I left for Brunei where for 6 years I worked hard for my and my family's rice bowl. I knew I was a foreigner in this sultanate, just a temporary sojourner. But they rewarded me well for my services as a teacher just like any of the other expatriates and locals of similar qualifications - no favouritism, no discrimination- it was all very business-like. And I gave to my teacher-trainees the best that I could offer so that they would be able to stand on their own and not depend on expatriates like me.
I eventually settled down in UK where I lived for over 25 years - still with my island passport. There was no urgency or desire to become a British national. I cannot bear to cut off the umbilical cord with the Archipelago.
Age and the loss of loved ones do odd things to you. Like the salmon that swims upriver to where it was born, I returned to Selangor where my grandfather and father were born. And it was quite a swim for a Pisces like me.


On Friday the 25th of September 2009 I was given my Malaysian Identity Card and on the 29th I was granted my International Passport - both received with pride. At my age I am aware I have very little to contribute to my birthplace but I also know I will not be a burden or an opportunist. I could have opted for the Make Malaysia My Second Home scheme but I did not take it up. It was not because of insufficient resources. This peninsula is my home and I wanted no other way but to become a citizen. It was worth the waiting.
However, Kampung Chantek (off Dunearn Road), Pasir Panjang, West Coast Road,

Royal Road and Boon Lay in Singapore still belong to me - the repository of my history and heritage and no Immigration Authority can take that away from me.

And so Abah, I have come home like you asked me to, many years ago, to -

Malaya, oh tanah ayer ku.
Tanah tempat tumpah darah ku.

22 comments:

sunnysideup said...

Thank you for an insight -- (even for a family member). Its strange ,how ( except for Akin who didn't have the opportunity) the three of us ultimately come home to where Abah would have wanted us to.
Nah started it first. Then , I came along (thanks to you) and now you. Yes , I can see Abah in his favourite pose, folded arms and smiling away ........

anak si-hamid said...

Thanks sunnysideup.
It's just a history lesson for the young ones.

sabear said...

Gua suka lu punya story.

Kama said...

simply beautiful... and october 25 is my birthday :)

anak si-hamid said...

Salam to Kama and thank you for waking me up to realise I've made a boo boo. It should have been September and not October! So hurry on to October 25th and many happy returns to a lovely lass.

anak si-hamid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BB said...

Congrats...at last you've got it. A convoluted journey to rest your traveling soul where it belongs.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear BB,
Thanks. The NZ saga is also part of the journey- especially Hoani ha ha ha!!
But dear Josh is just as wonderful.

Zendra said...

Dear anak si-hamid, Hi it's my first time here, I think hehe. Though I've never had to face the cross-roads like you did, this posting really tugged at my heartstrings.

Congratulations on the passport. Will there come a day when we all could travel within the archipelago like our nenek-moyang used to do, without having to present our passports?

anak si-hamid said...

So glad to meet you Zendra,
It's so good to find a kindred spirit who feels the same about our Archipelago. We needed at least 500 years of sorting out our connections before the Imperialists came and jettisoned the Malays into a world not of our making. Now the seas should link us but western politicking in this region, minority groups that control the economy, different govt and political systems are dividing us.
Perhaps in another 500 years??

sicKo^ said...

yeah.. map do amazes me as well.. thousand of things can be seen through a map...

Anonymous said...

have you heard of lembah bujang?

anak si-hamid said...

Anonymous Oct 12,
Yes. I visited it in 1992.

anak si-hamid said...

Hello sicKo^,
If you like maps, come over with Helas one day and I can show you other beautiful ones.

sicKo^ said...

ash..
hehe.. sure..

Awang Goneng said...

Salaam Sis!

I knew it, that you'd come back one day. The pull of the tanah air is indeed strong. I was never happier than when I was last home last July/August, largely because of the company of very good friends, but also because of the watani.

What you say about island hopping in the Nusantara tugs at my heartstring too. I am saddened by those who are planning to tear the relationship asunder, that of Nusantara people, with trivial things like old songs and common dishes and burnt kuih. It should all be taken in good humour, but some (for their own reasons) are stoking it up. But to cleave, in the English dictionary, means both to adhere and to divide. Perhaps there's some hope there.

Once standing outside the railway station in Den Haag I asked of an Indonesian the time of day. Yes, he gave me the time of day, but in the convoluted Indonesian way which caused this simple, straightforward Malay to laugh. I nearly missed my train listening to his mini discourse on the meaning of time. We have so much to say to each other, in a normal tone of voice, not several decibels higher.

But I came to congratulate you for yet another milestone in your life, not to ramble on about Indonesian men and keretapi. Tahniah, Sis, Singapura's loss is Malaysia's gain. We can benefit greatly from your ilmu.

[By some coincidence, the title of my next buku - Insha Allah - has the word Map in its title too. I too am fascinated by maps, especially if they have the insert "Here be dragons" in them dark corners]

Love to you both.

Word Verication is: 'disivi'. Divisi?

anak si-hamid said...

Dear AG,
I'm touched by your kind words and knowing you and Kak Teh is like forging another link in the chain of our Archipelago.
Why are our youngsters and the older ones who should know better bent on being Arabized and Westernized? We should be trying to build bridges or koleks - revive our seafaring skills and join hands across the seas. Just think what the Malays in this Archipelago could achieve - like the European Community. I'm not just thinking of material aggrandisement but the enrichment of the Malay world and culture.
I think there are others who are thinking of this too and 'Divide and Rule' always works.
And stop playing with the cats- get on with the new book. I can't wait.

Hazalee_Hassan said...

A journey to the past always have something to learn about. For myself, I always wanted to know about my relatives in China if I have one. But in the end, a home is where the heart is. Correct me if I'm wrong.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Hazalee,
Indeed home is where the heart is. But a journey to discover your Chinese background is very laudable. It will be a fulfilling journey. That is what being a Malay means. 'Dimana bumi dipijak, di situ langit di jinjung.' But there are also other 'langits' and other landscapes that are a part of you.
Good luck in your self-discovery and by the time you reach my age or maybe earlier you will find the answer.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Hazalee,
Indeed home is where the heart is. But a journey to discover your Chinese background is very laudable. It will be a fulfilling journey. That is what being a Malay means. 'Dimana bumi dipijak, di situ langit di jinjung.' But there are also other 'langits' and other landscapes that are a part of you.
Good luck in your self-discovery and by the time you reach my age or maybe earlier you will find the answer.

drbubbles said...

Puan,

I love your story! It reminded me of the lyrics of an Indonesian song,Tanah Airku by Ibu Soed,

Tanah airku tidak kulupakan,
Kan terkenang selama hidupku,
Biarpun saya pergi jauh,
Tidak kan hilang dari kalbu,
Tanah ku yang kucintai,
Engkau kuhargai,

Walaupun banyak negri kujalani,
Yang masyhur permai dikata orang,
Tetapi kampung dan rumahku,
Di sanalah kurasa senang,
Tanahairku tak kulupakan,
Engkau kubanggakan.

anak si-hamid said...

drbubbles,
Thank you very much for your poem. It's touching and sweet. I hope I have your permission to use it for some other time.