Tuesday 12 October 2021

" I'd love to turn you on " - A Holey History of Malaya/Malaysia BC

The title of this posting is from the Beatles' "A Day in the Life".      Here's the song, performed by The Analogues, my favourite Beatles Cover Band.    The line for the title of this posting is at 1.38- 3.43.

I have always enjoyed the irrepressible mocking lyrics in this song, especially the bit about "four thousand holes in Blackburn Lancashire."     It reminds me of the history of  Malaya/Malaysia BC (that is, Before Colonisation).   For the last 70+ years since approximately the 1950s when the Semenanjung was directly ruled by the British, we've been getting a version of  history which is scattered with ruptures and omissions and a lack of continuity.      We've been served a history full of holes.

Let me quote this extract by an English journalist and author Peter Hitchens a few years back.

A country whose young know no history (and even the Eton-educated PM seems vague about Magna Carta and seems never to have heard of the 1689 Bill of Rights) is like a person with amnesia roaming the streets, the easy target of every sort of fraud and crook, ready to swallow the stupidest propaganda.  And so we are.

If you have ever wondered how it is that modern politicians survive and prosper when they are so obviously mediocre and incompetent, now you know why.  Hardly anyone realises how bad they are because they know no better.

The person who knows no history remains forever a child, unable to see when he is being fooled and robbed.

Perhaps this explains the quality of Malaysian politicians.   But not only Malaysian politicians - also our professional historians, journalists, the know-it-alls in the social media,  and of course our bleeding-heart-liberals, indeed, most of those who pontificate on the future destiny of this nation.   Our history, especially that written in English by  British imperial offcers and by our "locals" since the end of the Second World War was a very selective, seemingly inclusive  history full of holes.



Thank you.

HISTORY of  the MALAY PENINSULA via MAPS  - before the arrival of the Christian West.

1.  The Golden Chersonese.

Map 1 - From Wikipedia

Map 2 - The Area of the Malay Race or "Gugusan Pulau Pulau Melayu".


Map 3 - The Malay River States  of the Peninsula and Sumatra.

Maps 1 to 3 refer to the period before Catholic Portugal, Protestant Netherlands and Britain ventured East to scour for spices, territory and to convert the Malays. (Sambil selam sambil minum air)

4.  The political division of the Malay Peninsula under British rule in 1933.  

Note the political divisions of (1) the Straits Settlements (or Colonies), (2) the Federated Malay States and (3) the Unfederated Malay States.

 5.  And here's a map close to my psyche - land use in Selangor, 1933.  Selangor is a state that has been excessively exploited for its resources and land-space - even till today. In 1933 there were large swathes of commercial farming, mining, and slices of padi farming.   It is perhaps "the most developed" state in Malaysia.   Today (August 2021 )it also boasts the highest number of Covid 19 infections for each and every day!

My paternal grandfather's family came from Kuala Selangor.  He then moved to Sungai Buloh (16  km northwest of KL).  I remembered his Perak style kampung house at Paya Jaras, the padi fields and the rubber smallholding.

Kuala Kubu Baru, located at the base of Frasers Hill was where I was born - at Ampang Pechah - during the Japanese Occupation. This was where my father's extended family congregated to provide for their families and to shield them from Japanese soldiers and the MCP (Malayan Communist Party)/ MPAJA.


HISTORY of the MALAY PENINSULA  - via a couple of STAMPS

And now, here are a few insight of  history from my little collection of stamps. Most of them have been pilfered from the spouse's collection, with his permission!


The Sultans of Perak and Selangor from the Federation of Malaya (1948-1957).

2. Penang as part of the Federation of Malaya.

Penang as part of the Federation of Malaya (1948 - 1957)

3.  My very special Stamp - of the FMS (Federated Malay States) - from 1895 to 1946

The Federated Malay States ( 1895 - 1947)

4.  The UFMS ( Unfederated Malay States) - 1909 to 1948.

Three Sultans from the Unfederated Malay States (UFMS) - 1909-1948 : The Sultans of Johore, Kedah and Kelantan.

Johore  was the most independent of the Malay Sultanates and were not "persuaded" to accept a British Adviser until 1914.

The Sultanate of Johore

The other two Sultanates in the  UFMS were Trengganu and Perlis.

These five Malay-Muslim Sultanates have a long sustained history, as complex and impressive as some of the pre-British Indian Maharajas, the Kingdoms in Europe and Britain before the Industrial Revolution or the Chinese dynasties before 1911.

Johore especially was the most fiercely independent and managed to stave off the British until 1914 when they had to take in a British Adviser.

Today, in my late seventies, I am still studying and learning about the history of these Malay Sultanates, an aspect of history which I was denied  (and was therefore ignorant of ) when I went through a Colonial Education from 1951 to 1963. 

Let me resort to Wikipedia to present a summary of the history of Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Trengganu and Perlis.







5.  The STRAITS SETTLEMENTS - ( 1876 - 1946 )

Three generations of the Imperial Rulers of Singapore, Penang and Melaka or the Straits Settlements.

The Straits Settlements had quite an intriguing history.  They are all islands or coastal sites much sought after by the imperial Western powers especially Britain during the 18th and 19th century for setting up their forts and ports and trading stations so essential for harvesting the lucrative spice trade and later rubber and tin from the Semenanjung.  We could describe them as Des Res (a 20th/21st century estate agents' jargon meaning "desirable residence") for their commercial enterprise and political expansion.

Other than Singapore, Malacca and Penang, the Dindings (today Manjung), including Pangkor Island, Lumut and Sitiawan became a part of the Straits Settlement ( Negri Negri Selat) when they were "ceded" to the British by the Sultan of Perak under the terms of the 1874 Pangkor Treaty.  I reckon  the Pangkor Treaty is not unlike the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi when the Maoris lost the war with the British settlers and authority and had to accede to Pakeha (white man) suzerainty.  In Malaya, the Sultans of the richest states (in terms of land and natural resources), Selangor, Perak and Negri Sembilan had to "accept a British Adviser"  and open up their states to enterprising, hardworking, audacious, efficient  and smart zealots of progress and development from overseas!

But alas for the Dindings , they were "returned" to the Sultan of Perak by the British in 1935 because it turned out to be a financial disappointment. Imagine if Singapore or Penang for that matter, did not have the resource-rich hinterland of the Malay Peninsula to grease their wheels of commerce and enterprise!  

By the way, early Singapore's hinterland also included the rest of the Malay Archipelago like Brunei, British North Borneo and Sarawak and especially Indonesia.

Here's a summary.

The Straits Settlements from Wikipedia.

Let's now look at the jewel in the crown of the British in the Malay Archipelago..  It started as a territory of the Sultanate of Johore which was part of the Riau-Johore Empire.  This Empire was one of several powerful Muslim Sultanates in the Malay Archipelago before the invasions  and dismemberment  by Christian Spain, Portugal, Britain and the Netherlands and certainly by their own political squabbles and intrigues as most empires are wont to do.

Then in 1819 Stamford Raffles "discovered" Singapore.  The rest is history - that of the rise and rise of Singapore to what it has become today. Here's a simple description of its colonial history from the Singapore Annual Report of 1957.

Stage 1 - the creation of the Straits Settlements.

Singapore was originally governed by the (British) Indian Government.  What if Lord Canning had not dumped Raffles' creation? Singapore would have been a part of the Republic of India!

Stage 2 - Growing British intervention in the Malay States at the behest of British and Chinese businessmen in Singapore.

Well, you see,  we native Malays were occupying "an unhealthy, sparsely-populated and anarchic country"! We had to be reformed (the precursor of REFORMASI in Malaysia) and converted into "the most prosperous and best-developed of all Britain's tropical dependencies".

Stage 3 - Actually  the beneficiary of this civilizing mission in the Semenanjung was Singapore. She had no natural resources, be it commercial crops or tin or gold.  She specialized in being the middle man and servicing the ambitions of the British Empire in Southeast Asia. They gave this predatory-colonial function the grand name of "Entreport Trade".

Singapore - middle men par excellence.  Where would Singapore be without the tin mines and plantations in the Semenanjung?  The FMS, UFMS, the Malayan Union (fortunately for the Malays it had to be aborted) and the Federation of Malaya were hand- maidens for the development and prosperity of Singapore.

Stage 4 - Recently, we are hearing more and more claims by non-Bumiputeras and a sprinkling of Malay liberals that immigrants from China and India came to the Semenanjung to contribute to the economic development of British "possessions" in the Malay Peninsula.

The main actor and beneficiary of  this "development" was actually the British who provided the infrastructure and backup for a "colonial economy",  for employing and encouraging the immigrants who would serve to be the right kind of labour to service and develop  British imperial ambition and their coffers.  It's a perfect contrivance of management and labour to govern and control the resources of this "unhealthy, sparsely-populated and anarchic" denizens of the Malay Peninsula.

Singapore (and Malaya for that matter) is a prime example of a scenario where people do not migrate to create prosperity for the intended country.  They are there because there is already prosperity (and little competition) and the promise of more.  "Population followed prosperity"!!

Tin and rubber and other cash crops have been the curse of the Tanah Semenanjung.  It's far more palatable to be a poor man in a poor country than to be be poor in your well-endowed Tanah Air.


British North Borneo




Why, you may ask, did I put Brunei in this list of stamps?  

There's this book ....

...... which I found in Chowrasta Market, Georgetown in 1992.  As someone who appreciated geography in University, I just love maps and charts and graphs.

This here is a beautiful chart by Jan Pluvier on the history of Southeast Asia. But more interesting, he showed the history before the imperial West arrived in Southeast Asia!


Chart for Burma, Indo-China, Thailand and Federation of Malaya from 1784 to 1965.

More fascinating, the chart below succintly outlines the pedigree of British North Borneo (known as Sabah today) and Sarawak.

Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah) from 1784 to 1965.

Here is an extracted, close-up, horizontal view of the historical time-line of Malaya and British North Borneo (Sabah) / Sarawak.  It clearly indicates the 'genealogy' of the states that became Malaysia in 1963.

Genealogy of Malaysia.

As I have said many a time, the history of the Malay Peninsula did not begin with the invasion of Malacca by the Portuguese, or the arrival of the the adventurer-fortune hunter Francis Light in Penang or the Liberal, English grocer Stamford Raffles in Singapore, or the sly Pangkor Treaty of 1874, or the acquisitiveness behind the creation of the Federation of Malaya in 1948 and the self-serving agenda in forming Malaysia in 1963.

And certainly the genesis of British North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak located in Asia's largest island and third largest in the world - did not begin with the swashbuckling adventurer Brooke or with two business men Crocker and Treacher or the British Crown Office!

This is from Jan Pluvier's "A Handbook and Chart of South-East Asian History" which outlines the details, including the Sultanate of Brunei.

Close-up view of the black square above.

The history of present day Sabah and Sarawak has a long ancestry and it stretches back to the Malay-Muslim Sultanate of Brunei and the Sultanate of Sulu (for Sabah and the Philippines as well)

On their part, the British did not attempt to garb their history for only as far as the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, the conquest by the Roman Empire or the Norman conquest of 1066. They even stretch back to the Stone Age!

So perhaps Malaysians should not just moan about the lack of inclusivelness in the school textbooks for Malaysian schools today.  As Malaysians they should express a broader and wider concept of Malaysian history that spans way, way back to recorded time before Spice and Christianity lured the West to this "unhealthy, sparsely-populated anarchic" Malay Archipelago.  Do step outside the box of British rule, the MCP insurrection and the 'pioneers' and movers and shakers of economic development in Malaya/Malaysia post 1511 and especially post 1786 when Francis Light took over Penang.  The history of pre-Islamic Malaya would be in the picture as well because we should not focus only on the religion of an ethnic group but of that particular ethnic cluster, the Malays.  

The history of Indians in India/Pakistan did not begin with Robert Clive and the 1757 Battle of Plassey when the British Empire stamped their foothold on the Indian sub-continent.  Similarly, the history of the Chinese should not be viewed merely from Sun Yat Sen's 1911 Revolution when China became a Republic or Mao Tse Tung's establishment of Communism in 1949.

Certainly the history of Malaya, as a part of the Malay Archipelago, has to give due recognition and application to the history of the Malays and their rise and fall, their triumphs and disasters, their challenges and follies.  This is no bumptious  demonstration of their Ketuanan, only their Keturunan, only an acknowledgement of the womb they came from.  The Malays should not be denied that. 

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.  

H G Wells (1866 - 1946 )


Addendum 1.  Here's an interesting recent perception on Imperialism and Immigration.  Now that the British are extending immigration rights to the Afghanis who have been "co-operating" with them (after smashing their country into pieces); they are also making certain that these immigrants  will "integrate" into British society and British culture so as to ensure the dominance of their racial and cultural suzerainty and avoid having to deal with a messy and toxic demographic scenario - like what they left behind in their former imperial domain like Malaya!

The imperialists created a legacy of unviable states and toxic demographies.  They (Britain) now spout human rights, equality, freedom as the panacea for the poor benighted people (that is, the host country like the Malays in Malaya) who were left to cope.

Addendum 2.  Failed Government!  Kerajaan Gagal!

Singapore has a population of 5.45 million.  Malaysia's population is 32.7 million, that is, 6 times that of Singapore's.

At its worst, the daily cases of Covid 19 infections amounted to about 24,000 per day (around August) in Malaysia.

For Singapore, its highest per day was about 3,400 (7 October)

As a percentage of the population, Singapore and Malaysia's rate of daily infection would hover around 0.6 %  to 0.7 %.

In Singapore, there were no black-shirted citizens yelling "Failed Government", no Opposition voices questioning the efficacy and credibility of the Government's efforts.  Very little came from the local social media to tear the MOH, the Government, the Police, the Hospitals to pieces over what they reckoned was a scandalous failure.  Even Mr Goh Chok Tong, the former Prime Minister of Singapore kept a respectable, understanding distance.  

So, so unlike Malaysia's previous and wannabe Prime Ministers.  

Singapore's PAP rule OK!

Lucky ole Singapore.

Thursday 7 October 2021

In Loving Memory of KT

Dear KT.  It took your sad passsing for me to discover that you were 12 years older than me!  In all those two years when I was your colleague and lunch companion at Jurong Secondary School from 1975 to 1977 and during our lunch-revivals when I was teaching in Brunei from 1978 to 1984 and after I left Singapore for good as of 1985, you were the epitome of youthful liveliness and good cheer.

That memory of our times together as colleagues and good friends have lit up my life and times all these years since we were separated by our changing and changed directions in life.

I am so grateful that sometime during 2008 or 2009 those dear former students of ours from JSS (Year 1977) managed to put us together again.  By then life and circumstances have changed drastically for both of us and our girls as well.  But you retained that effervescent personality and gentle graciousness that have always been your hallmark for as long as I have known you.  What I would give to catch that warm and sweet smile again.

I remember two occasions when we were teaching at JSS when I saw a  Miss Lim Keow Teen that so endeared you to me and I felt that here was one good person and friend I must treasure.

It was sometime during my first week in JSS when I encountered my first dose of the incorrigible spirit of these kids from the backwaters of US or Ulu Singapore.  No middle class parents would deign to enrol their offspring in JSS - a den of working class kids from Jurong Industrial Estate.  

I was on my way to the Teachers' Common Room when I saw a little commotion in one of the classrooms.  There was a bunch of 14 year-old boys pushing something into the class cupboard.  I put my head in and asked if there was a problem.  They were startled and as a result, several boys fell out of the cupboard, the littlest of them was the first one to descend.  I still remember his name, Suhaimi.  The puzzled (not angry) look on my face made one of them explain: "We are trying to find out how many (boys) can be stored in the cupboard."  What did I do? The normal thing was to call in the Discipline Teacher and bundle them into the Principal's Office.  I put on a  straight face and told them sternly, "Just be careful".

As soon as I got into the TCR I broke out in laughter at the antics of these scalawags .  They've got spirit I said.  But some of the teachers frowned and said they should be punished.  Only one teacher shared my glee. She was Miss Lim Keow Teen who became from then on my very special friend.

I found it strange that the ones who disapproved were younger than KT and I!

KT was a brilliant English Language and English Literature teacher.  She could extract the best out of those kids even though they think she's rather old-fashioned and quaint because of her hair style and her dressing.

She was later relegated  to teaching English as a Second Language in the Chinese stream of JSS.  As she was not a graduate she had to give way to someone who was.  KT and I often recall this graduate's excuse for not being too happy to teach one of Shakespeare's plays.  I can't remember which.  It was because she did not study that particular play when she was in University!

So KT went to her  ESL lesson for Secondary Two, Chinese stream. When she greeted them with the usual "Good Morning Class", they responded with grumpy mutterings - almost hostile.  Then one of them, a girl,  stood up and haughtily asked KT, "You are Chinese, why do you teach English?"  For a moment, KT was stunned, She simply told them.  " I am here because I was given this duty by your Principal.  Whether you like it or not, English is an important language for you to learn."

A few days later as KT was walking past these Chinese stream classes the students had prepared another greeting for her.  They snapped shut very loudly one by one, the series of louvred windows as KT walked past each classroom.  She was assailed by the sounds of snap, snap, snap, snap  from the louvres of each window as she walked along the corridor.  There was no one to be seen - just that serial clattering of snaps.  KT kept calm and when she got into the Teachers Common Room, she broke down in helpless tears.  How cruel, these snaps of bigotry and terrorising from such young souls!  All said and done, the Principal tried to assuage KT's anger and explained to her why these Chinese stream students did what they did, blah, blah, blah and all they had to do was to make a curt apology to the 'sen, sen'.

KT and I knew if the situation had been reversed and the English stream students did that to the Mandarin Language teacher, they would face the full wrath of punishment and discipline from the Nanyangian top hierarchy of Jurong Secondary School.

KT, I salute your bravery and your professionalism. I remembered you saying, "They are just kids, Maz.  Some adults  put them up to it."  

Your graciousness is so inspiring.

I shall never forget you dear friend.  Have a peaceful journey and may flights of angels wing you on your way.

                                          "Just Like Yesterday" by James Griffin (of Bread)