I call her Ma'cik and she has always referred to me as Che'gu because in Jai's family I am known as the teacher from Yusof Ishak Secondary School or Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak. Mariam, her daughter, was one of my students and we became close friends with Ma'cik because of our close friendship with her son Jai.
Tanjong Kling is located near the number 68 on the map. PS (just above the letters Tg) indicates a Police Station and Ma'cik Alimah's late husband was a policeman. Ma'cik and her husband come from a line of the "Orang Laut; the aboriginal seafaring people in the Malay Archipelago since an early time." There was no intermarriage with people from the Malay Peninsula, or the Bugis or the Javanese or the Boyanese or Chinese or Indians.
Tanjong Kling, Pasir Panjang and Pulau Samulun have been immortalised in this Lagu Melayu Asli - 'Nasib Panjang' :
Nampak lah dari Tanjong Kling.
(Nasib lah Panjang)
Hilang sebulan rasa setahun,
Bagailah mana hati tak runsing.
Listening to Ma'cik makes me realise - too late - about the tragedy that fell upon her people and her islands. I don't pretend to be a historian. However, as I begin to read about the pre-Raffles inhabitants of Temasek, people like the Orang Laut of the Rhio Archipelago, people like the Orang Galang (Geylang), Orang Seletar, Orang Selat and Orang Biduanda of Kallang, I soon realise just how their place and existence in Singapore's history have been marginalised and relegated into insignificance by both the British imperialists and the PAP machinery.
We care and battle for the rights of the aboriginal tribes on terra firma in Malaysia. But the seafaring people of the Archipelago, the maritime nomads of the Malay world have been ignored and denied their 'human rights'. They were always a threat to the Imperialists' trade and profit. They were conveniently labelled as pirates - as pests to be controlled and confined.
This map, however, might make us rethink our perception of the Orang Laut, of the aboriginal Malay seafarers and how they construct their world and their 'homeland'. They, like the Malays, perceive their place of origin not as a homeland ('tanah/rumah' ). For them, home is 'Tanah Ayer' - Land and Water. How do you demarcate boundaries and allocate deeds and titles of ownership over such a maritime topography?
|The Malays' 'Middle Kingdom' - the Riau Archipelago. The Southern Islands of Singapore in the Northwest corner have been circled.|
I shall write more about the demolition job done on Ma'cik Alimah's world. But first do listen to her oral history of Tanjong Kling. Jai and I are determined to draw out out as much story and history as possible from this lively lady's recollections - from this Anak Jati Singapura.
P.S. I have spent all morning trying to upload a video of Ma'cik Alimah - but it has ended in tears.
I shall try, the next session, be it in print or video.