Thanks to our Ramadan and Hari Raya revellers, our happy shoppers and diners, and our "patriotic" factory and business owners, a total lockdown is upon us again. In the streets around our house, a so-called "elite area" as claimed by our well-heeled middle class neighbours, every night for almost the whole month of Syawal, there were crackers and loud fireworks galore . Most of the time, out of respect for prayer times (bless them), the show did not begin until after Isyak, from 9.30 pm to 11 pm!! Good night, sleep tight, Setiawangsa!
I am in awe at the guts of these Malays. They scrambled over highways and ratways to "balik kampung". The ones remaining still had money to burn for crackers and fireworks. And I thought this country had to tighten its collective belts to see it through this Covid-19 struggle over life and livelihood.
Of course, because of our seasonal happy abandon, our medical facilities and frontliners are at breaking point. But never mind, for most Malaysians it's business as usual.
Our Immigration appointment for this Friday was "rescheduled" to heaven-knows-when because of the lockdown. But we count our blessings. The stallholders on the streets around us have, once again, lost their means of livelihood. There are many, many other distressing stories - but who wants to know?
STOP IT ASH - you are beginning to foam at the mouth. So let me take a much-needed break. I usually find this video very therapeutic when I'm angry......
[Kev and Perry are two typical badly - behaving teenagers. This video was during the era when Oasis from Manchester was the rage. By the way, Perry is played by Kathy Burke, one of my top favourite comedians from the '90s ]
So now on to the point that I really wanted to make:
In anticipation of the start of the lockdown, I decided to fiddle around and about my room, to find ways to keep me sane. I was not disappointed. I have enough junk here to keep me occupied. In one corner .....
|A Cosy Corner|
....... I came upon this book.
|An Anthology of Malay History|
When I was 7 or 8 years old, while playing or resting in the afternoons at our kampung house at Lorong Abu Kassim in Pasir Panjang, my mother would often tease me; "Kau bukan anak Mak. Mak pungut kau di tong sampah," (You are not my child. I picked you up from a dustbin ). I did not know how to feel or to respond.
I half-believed it, because our relatives and friends, and even my teachers and colleagues, would look at me and say, "Kau ni muka Cina?" (You look like a Chinese?) People still say it today. In Aeon supermarket, not long ago, a Chinese lady said to me in English, "You sure you not adopted ah?" So I thought I'll jolt her a little and replied, "Wa bue hiao, lah" in Hokkien, which means "I don't know lah." She looked so flabbergasted and I smiled and said, "Sudah makan banyak blacan, mesti sudah jadi orang Melayu!".
Sometimes I get annoyed at these rude busybodies, but most of the time I just have to laugh.
How did I deal with my Mak's teasing? One day, I had a little tiff with her and I retorted, "Ya lah. Nor tahu Nor bukan anak Mak dan Abah. Nor dipungut di tong sampah." ( I know why. I am not your or abah's daughter. You picked me up from a dustbin.) My Abah overheard. He looked shocked. He went to my mother and they both left the room. I never knew what happened. But my mother's teasing stopped altogether from that day on!!!
During my mid-teens, Mak revealed that her mother was an adopted Chinese girl from the island of Bawean. I later read that at the turn of the 20th century, the Chinese who came to settle in Bawean and the local Boyanese too found that eking a living in Bawean was hard. That was why many of the latter moved to Singapore to find themselves a living (after all, moving around was a way of life in the Malay Archipelago). My maternal grandfather was one of them. As for the Chinese, what they tended to do was to give away their daughters because daughters were not as useful as their sons. My grandmother was one of those daughters - and I'm guessing my Mak must have had a bit of teasing in her growing up years in Singapore about her non-Bawean mother. Her teasing of me was probably what she had to go through as a child. She certainly had no happy memories of her own mother who left Mak with her ex-husband and took with her the two elder daughters and her son. Mak was brought up by her stepmother who she loved immensely. Every Ramadan, towards the end of that holy month, while we were helping her to stir the dodol or halwa maskat, I could see a smile on her face as she said, "Aaah, your Nenek is here." They were that close!
|Nenek & Tok Malik|
And why am I remembering all this? Because of this page on "Hamba Hamba di-jual di SIngapura" in the above book "Tawarikh Melayu".
|The First Part|
|The Second Part|
In blue are the victims, the slaves. In red are the purchasers. The Bugis were the slave traders. And the venue is Singapura the great entrepot hub created by Raffles and today one of the richest countries in the world.
When I read this page, just like Abdullah, "Maka aku pun meleleh ayer mata-ku sebab terkenangkan hal anak-bini siapa-kah ini?"
Many questions came into my mind.
Do these tormented slave-women look like this?
|How the West caricatured Malay women in this 1931 postcard "Malay Natives. Penang"|
I can picture the torment of these slave-women. If they were lucky they might have ended up as wives and concubines of those purchasers of many colours. Many would have been maltreated and raped and their children would have been lucky to end up as family members of their owners. Although more likely they'd end up as work horses for their masters - the same fate as the black slaves in USA.
I can understand why Mak vexed me about my origin as she must have had the same dose of mockings about her own mother who did not originate from her culture. But this did not stop me from having difficult (to put it mildly) bouts of figuring out just who and what I was!
I can imagine what the children of these slave women must have gone through in trying to understand why they didn't have the same physical configurations of either of their parents, where their mother came from, and the whole sorry predicament they found themselves in. Surely, whether they "made it" in life or didn't, some of those women would have talked to their children about where they came from and how they were taken away from their homes and villages - what would the children have felt? Would those women and their children and grandchildren wish to affirm such a heritage? Or would it be put in the back of the mind - as a shameful episode to be blotted out?
History poses some troublesome dilemmas.
As an afterthought: for such heinous crimes like Corruption and Slavery, we always condemn the one who takes the bribe and the trader who sells the slaves. However, I think justice is better served if the corruptor, the one who gives the bribe, and the purchaser who creates the market for slaves do not go unpunished.
And all I wanted was a little escapade into my books to see me through the lockdown!!