Sunday 21 February 2010


This is a song from the 1949 movie 'Racun Dunia' sung by Rubiah. My mother used to sing/hum this while rocking her grandson Shah to sleep in his 'buai' (cradle). She looked after Shah from the day of his birth. While she dearly loved all her grandchildren this one was different. He is the son of their son and it cut her deep that her husband could not live long enough to see this child. Her husband passed away just a year earlier.

This preamble was brought on by the treasured contents of my Cadburys Chocolate Box. Amongst other badges - most of them over 50 years old - was this one which belonged to my father. This number V2811 was inscribed behind the badge.

I cannot remember how this got into my Cadburys box. But you cannot imagine how chuffed I was to discover it because I can now relate it to two photo--studio photographs that have been in my rummage case for years. This is a photograph of the first UMNO meeting - chaired by my father - in our Kampung Abu Kassim.
It must have been around 1951, judging from my brother's size/age as seen in the front row with my dad. Our house - 691 Pasir Panjang Road - or rather the edge of it is just to the right of the photograph.

I can't get over this. My old man managed to get together the Malays of Pasir Panjang, specifically in Kampung Abu Kassim and Kampung Sarhad to form UMNO, just three years after UMNO in Malaya was founded in 1948 AND three years before the Singapore Peoples Action Party (PAP) was set up in 1954!!
They must have been quite serious because they had another meeting at Kampung Sarhad. Abah is in the middle row, fourth from right.

I have no recollection of what they managed to achieve and what eventually happened to this earnest enterprise. I should have asked more questions of my mother when she was still with us.

But this I know - my father's intentions. He had a fire in his belly. He wanted and tried to awaken the spirit of Malayness - at least in Singapore - during those challenging and threatening post-war years. The events and experiences of this period and the pre-war years had left an indelible mark on his psyche.

A few years before the war, he had cut himself free from employment with the Colonial Government in Selangor and like a typical anak Melayu Minang he left for Singapore to start afresh.
When the war came he endured the flight from the Japanese invaders with his pregnant wife to return to the kampung near Kuala Kubu Bharu. He described to me what he saw on that journey from Singapore to KKB - of some people substituting the picture of Chiang Kai Shek (the Chinese Kuomintang leader) for that of Henry Pu Yi (the Chinese puppet emperor of the Japanese). There is a fine line between survival and opportunism.

Later he had the fright of watching his pregnant (with me) wife almost bayoneted in the stomach because she forgot to bow her head to a Japanese soldier. After the war, he managed to escape from a lynch mob, made up of the followers of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). He had been accused of collaborating with the Japanese simply because he was not willing to actively support the MPAJA (Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army) which was mainly made up of Chinese Communists. They wanted food from the family, but there just weren't enough to go round for the children - much less to feed these adult guerillas.

During that terrible time,about 4 related families had decided to stay together to pool their resources. The adults would, at times, go hungry or survive on a diet of the inner skin of the tapioca root as a substitute for rice. Some of them suffered beri-beri. My mother also had polio then. She recalled how my 4-year old cousin, Hamdan, was always crying for more food , leaving his mother, my Mak Long in tears watching her baby's hunger.

Then came the British Colonial Government's grand design of the 1946 Malayan Union. You could describe this as 'divide and rule' so that they could go on collecting the golden eggs from the Malayan goose. There was also a tinge of the 'scorched earth' policy, now that they'd realised how the image of the superior white man had been damaged by the Japanese. The ensuing chaos of the Union would make them still indispensable.

Never will I forget my father's words : "The British will cut the ground from under your feet and make you thank them for it."

This was followed in 1948 by the Emergency or the Communist Insurgency led by the Malayan Communist Party to create what any red-blooded Malay, like my father, could foresee as a Third China despite the adamant and myopic stand of western and other non-western historians to elevate this to the Malayan War of Independence. My father was then a Health Instructor in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), based at Pulau Blaking Mati. (Today the name has been sanitised to Sentosa and is now a recreation and gambling joint.)

He was - during this time - teaching Tropical Hygiene to National Service soldiers from Britain but mainly to Malay soldiers who had been recruited from the kampungs in Malaya into the British Army because of the Emergency. He must have been aware of and pained by the deaths of these soldiers in their battle with the communists in the Malayan jungle. He never spoke to us about this aspect of his work experience. But we were told 'soft' stories like what can happen to soldiers who ease themselves in the jungle without asking for permission from the datuk-nenek (guardians) of the rain-forest. That story always made us think twice about 'marking our territory' whenever we wandered away from home during camping trips.
About a dozen or so of those men in the first photograph were soldiers from Pulau Blakang Mati.

I know for certain my dad had no wish to be a politician or to be involved in holding any rein of power. He just wanted to inform, to create an awareness of the stakes at risk in Singapore and the Semenanjung. He had hoped to instill a feeling of Malayness, a sense of unity and purpose - to secure their heritage as well as to make a meaningful move into the brave new world - so that they can progress and look after themselves and also look out for their own survival.

My dear dad had a deep and abiding sense of being a Malay - of a wider Malay front, perhaps even a sort of Nusantara. I remembered his weekly contacts and discussions with Pakcik Rahim, a Sumatran who was once a pupil of Hamka. There was talk of the Muhamadiyah Movement (not to be confused with the Ahmadiyah)in their discussions.
But he was to learn later this was but a pipe-dream. There is something in the Malay psyche that makes it easy for them to be fragmented and cuckolded. My father described it as the attitude of DENGKI or envy with hatred especially with regards to their fellow-Malays. He came to this sad conclusion because of his experience in his life of 64 years. Of course there are those who feel otherwise and who harbour a more optimistic picture of present-day Malays.

However, his daughter and his sons also went through the same 'baptism of fire' in Singapore and Malaysia. Now that I'm two years older than him and have gone through the mill of teaching in Singapore, Brunei, and Penang, I cannot help but share his sentiments. Little has changed. There's now a growing group of vocal and articulate 'self-loathing' Malays. They are not unlike the WOGs (Western Oriental Gentleman) of 50 years ago except that these are very savvy sycophants, faithful to their western 'liberal' hang-ups, almost whore-ish in their desire to be un-Malay and accommodate the latest 'flavour of the month' agenda because there's no better way to shine and prosper.

But dear Abah, there are also the antics of another group of Malays. There are quite a lot of them - the smug, modern, materialistic Malays - who have realised their dreams of being 'numero uno' with or without the need for brains.
They are conditioned to the self-serving disposition of what the English describe as "I'm alright Jack and to hell with all the rest".
In your time , you wanted awareness, freedom and dignity for your people. Now their mantra is too often "bread (lots of it) on earth and paradise for the hereafter". And it is possible to have your cake and eat it - at least for some Malays if not for all of the time.

But for those like our two street cleaners, Osman and Aisha - their world is no different from their forefathers' two or three generations ago. The middle class Malays look down on them and the Corporate Malays exploit them.

Sungguh Sayang. What a shame.

Ibarat Kapal tidak berhaluan. Like a rudderless vessel.


imsunnysideup said...

Thank you for the post on Abah. Yes , we always knew that he was a man of vision. Remember the 'Khairat kematian' of which he introduced so many 'new' idea , which was thought of as ridiculous by those around him ? To the point he was 'ignored' by the likes that couldn't take his view ?

Much later when he died, the very 'khairat kematian' that he 'modernised' actually used the facilities that came out of Abah's suggestions for him.

Yes, I remember Pak Cik Rahim. It was ritual for those two to meet after the Hari Raya prayers, and we were not supposed to interupt their discussions.

I know I laways wondered just what those two okd friends were talking about !

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you sunnysideup,
We had a unique father, didn't we?He was not meant for his time or our time. He is as you've said a man of great vision - wish there are more like him among our malays.

Anonymous said...


anak si-hamid said...

Thank you for your kind comment and welcome to this GOW's (grumpy old woman) blog.

Helas木村 said...

hey ASH.. how are u.. hope u fine..

so long didnt read ur post... i dunt have so much time reading long post actually plus i have to open dictionary to help me understand ur post =)

while read.. its like ive been reading a history teks books during my secondary school.. Gossh.. emmm its hard to find Malay spirit man like ur dad.. nowadays among Malay aslo fighting each other.. huhu..

Al-Manar said...

I am glad to have stumbled here to read something that brings back memory; memory of the Malays’ very special spirit of the 50’s. Umno of 1951, you reckoned. I remember then. The spirit of ‘merdeka’ ran high in many young Malayans, especially Malays. It was inspired by fiery speeches made by Soekarno which could be heard over Radio Indoenesia. I had goose pimples hearing his very magnetic voice.I remember writing on the plank wall of our house the word ‘merdeka’ in jawi, repeated several times in chalk. You saw those days and you see today and you wonder why that special value has to a large extent disappeared. You wonder why and you keep wondering. Your dear father was one of them. Alfathihah for your father.

anak si-hamid said...

I'm fine thank you, but each time I get into your blog my anti-virus alarm starts ringing. You're a hitech nerd, do something please.
As for having to look into the dictionary, better late than never, yah? If you had been my student you would have found yourself UNDER the table.
But thanks for the comment. At my age I'm still learning about our history - that bit which the colonial (and Singapore) educationists didn't want us to know. Luckily we had a marvellous father to fill in the gaps.
Next time we see you, I will give you a test on the 'long posts' , otherwise you will not be allowed to enjoy my lasagne yum, yum.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear al-Manar,
What can I say? Thank you for your contribution. I can just picture you writing on the wall with pride and hope - what's happened to that spirit?
I see the Malays today as a broken people - we have squandered all that those of my father's and your father's generation worked for.

One other story he told us about his soldiers' experience was of an occassion when they were lost in the jungle and they were helped by an old man who showed them the way. Then this old man disappeared. The soldiers believed it was Hang Tuah???

kamal latiff said...

that song, that tune, just listening to it brings all the past back to now - how amazing a tune can do to one - thank u ash, at least i know now there is a minang blood running there, that go getter and sharp words i used to get from my aunts.....just love your post.

Helas木村 said...

eh.. seriously my blog got viruses?Oh my Allah. i dunt know.. seriously ..

emm.. nice to know the true story from the the people who were experience it, rather than reading it the books rite.

oh bout the test,, just give me the TIPS hehe.. sure i can score hehehe.. for the lasagne . i'll do anything for touu~~ wee hehe

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you kamal latiff. I have always been regarded as a tyrant by my students - must be due to a mixture of minang and bawean and chinese and Kuala Selangor stock. But the independent and stubborn streak is certainly inherited from our minang Abah.

Indeed Helas, I've had a virus problem twice and after that I got scared to go into your blog. pssst......actually I also feared looking at the photos of the blogger ha ha.