My Anthem

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

REcolLECtion of GOoD times 5...Keep It Simple II

The author of today's column in The Star, normally called P. Guna, was one of the few writers in MSM whom I followed regualrly, especially when he was among the top two (?) editors at the business weekly The Edge, for his well-researched and authoritative writes. Not too long ago, he moved to The Star and presto, he earned the distinction of the first editor from this more profitable daily to "accept" a speaking engagement at BUM2010 at a Media Forum (Thanks matey!) Earlier invites to the same paper had always been met with supreme elegant silence -- neither a Yes nor No. I normally would have followed wit' :) after Yes and :( after no, so that's blogspeak, K!

I still invest RM1.20 on either the NST or the Star because part of me is keenly conducting a MEDIAWATCH since I had seved some 30plus years in both MSM and online, even diplomatic, missions.

THe following article also strikes a chord with me in that I expressed strong support for Mat Sabu when he depicted the mata-mata who were killed at Bukit Kepong (1950 if I'mw not mistaken) as serving the British masters/colonialists' interests, and it's the "attackers" including the communists and nationalists who were the "patriots" to then Malaya. I premised my stand that what Mat Sabu did was to re-look history from a different perspective with changing times, although as often reminded that "History Writing Is the Story of the Past According to the Victors".

In passing, may I also refer to another controversy regarding the socalled Malay heroes consisting of the Five Hs -- Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir, Hang Lekiu and Hang Kasturi plus a female Hang Li Poh associated with 15th century Malacca Sultanate. I wrote that it was a myth perpuated by the powers-that-be until very recent years that the five were MALAY HEROES, and even Sdr P Guna also perpetuated this reference in passing.

Prof. Khoo Kay Kim -- often this very mentionof name of Malaysian historian conjures up in young Desi's mind the famous/notorious Ku Klux Khan of the great United States of America -- kicked up a ruckus again lately by dismissing the Malay Heroes as mere legendary figures cooked up by imaginary minds to spice up the Malacca sultanate history, and the good professor challenged detractors of his stand by shwoing "evidence" to any history claim of the heroes were real persons.

My article merely quoted some sources as dismissing the "Malay" part of the myth -- that the five indeed existed but were CHINESE MUSLIMS from mainland China who most likely had followed the famed admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He) in his voyages escorting many flotillas of trading ships that stopped at Malacca on their way to India and Africa. The claim by one writer of 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America (ie before Christopher Columbus) wa countered by many other historians and journalists, so the "jury" is still out whether the chinoserie preceded the Spanish discoverer (? ?? am I right -- please remind Desi of historical facts, K!)

Cutting a long story short, again this article reminds us that HISTORY SHOULD BE SUBJECT TO SECOND LOOK with passing times as new "evidence" crops up, so one day we may have a great female researcher among us that Singa-pura was part of Peninsular Malaya before a tsunami broker the little Dot away from the northern terra cota -- creating a controversy to make the study of HERstory more exciting!

Last point I sighted in P Guna's piece/peAce is his reminder to newsdogs about the famous guide of answering the Five Ws and one H in news writing, a complementary point (marked **** and thus BOLDED) to yesterday's piece/peAce by MI's .

Thanks to all comers, young&olde, new&ancient -- let's make GOoD history in creating the Malaysia we potentially can make a leading South-East Asian nation better than "Singa-pura-pura (Guna, please correct me if I'm wrong: that today Singapre's GDP per capita is about four times Malaysia's?) Yes, some sea-horse can masquerade as miniature dragon, so whay can there be a lion-in-disguise -- Yes/ No/Maybe?Mayhaps, pick from multiple choice solution if there is one...Today, the third day of the Water Dragon Year, Desi is a true democrat knot about todie.:)

Wednesday January 25, 2012

Myths, prejudice and history

Question Times by P.GUNASEGARAM

It is next to impossible to make history objective, but we must give it L a damn good shot.

LEGEND is a lie that has attained the dignity of age. – HL Mencken The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice. – Mark Twain

Remember Jalan Birch in Kuala Lumpur, near the Merdeka Stadium? It’s been called Jalan Maharajalela for many years now, Birch becoming a victim of a programme of Malaysianisation of road names.

But Birch also became a victim of Malaysianisation of history – from hero, he became a villain, and his killer, yes, Maharajalela, became a hero in the flash of a road sign change.

Few things can so poignantly illustrate the change in historical perspective as a country changes.

JWW Birch was a British resident (adviser to the Sultan) in Perak in the 19th century. The British used a system of residents to control most Malayan states. A local called Dato Maharajalela assassinated Birch.

Although the reasons why he did this are obscure, Maharajalela is now hailed as a nationalist who opposed colonialism and died in the process – he and his accomplice were hanged.

Hence his elevation to hero status and Birch’s relegation to villain, a representative of an occupying force.

I remember my early history textbooks post-independence put Maha ra jalela in bad light until years later when the historical perspective began to shift.

We studied in our history books that Sir Francis Light was the founder of Penang which is ridiculous from a Malayan/Malaysian perspective because Malayans must have known the existence of Penang long before it was “founded” by Light. To this day, Wikipedia states that Light founded Penang. How confounding is that.

When the British “founded” places, it meant they then established a system of governance with rules of law. There is a court system and a police force. Prior to their “founding” there was no such legal system among the locals.

Then, there was Sir Stamford Raffles who similarly was said to have “founded” Singapore conveniently and erroneously erasing the arrival earlier to that place by a prince from Palembang, Sang Nila Utama, some 500 years earlier.

It seems like even Singaporeans believe their history started with Raffles. I was at a performance put up by Singaporean MBA students in 1991 which started off the history of the country from the time Raffles “founded” it in 1819. How unfortunate! It was with great amusement that I read many years ago of a stunt pulled by an American (Red) Indian.

After arriving in Italy via a commercial flight, he promptly announced that he had founded Italy.

And what right did he have to make that outrageous claim? The same that Christopher Columbus, an Italian who sailed on behalf of the Spanish monarchs, had when he proudly claimed that he had discovered the Americas (at that time Columbus thought it was the East Indies) in 1492, a land already in habited by millions of others.

Now, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim has controversially raised lots of heckles and temperatures by saying that Malay warriors such as Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat were mere legends – myths invented by fertile minds for the amusement of others, much like the Greek gods.

He is, however, a renowned historian with no political ideology, racial or national axe to grind.

To his critics he has this to say: “If you don’t agree with me, bring out the sources to show I am wrong. You cannot simply say you don’t agree. I am saying that these things were not true because no reliable sources confirmed they existed.”

That is a clear indication as to how we should go about clarifying history.

History must be based on facts. It must seek to recreate - without any ideological, national, racial or any other bias - *****what happened to who, what, when, where, why and how, the journalistic five W’s and one H.

Otherwise it remains a myth and legend.

Just as in the case of Hang Tuah, one should seek to ascertain whether Maharajalela was indeed a hero by trying to establish, based on facts, his motives for killing Birch.

Otherwise it becomes a mere speculation and interpretation which is not history.

We are a relatively young country and yes, we would need to rewrite history from the perspective of Malaysia and Malaysians. No, Light had not founded Penang and Raffles, Singapore.

There may be many questions we can’t answer but we must make an effort to find them. And we need a proper system of archiving so that future generations know things the way they were.

History in school must not be a tool for nation building or used for any other agenda but to paint a true picture, as far as that is possible given all our collective prejudices, of Malaysia and of the world.

It needs to have balance, fairness and most of all truth about everyone’s contribution to nation building.

It must not seek to aggrandise one race or religion at the expense of others.

It must have enough of a mix of subject matter to ensure Malaysians have sufficient appreciation of Malaysia and how it has come to be where it is as well as an unbiased understanding of the state of the world. Anything else and it would become poor propaganda instead.

The best way towards this is to have a curriculum drawn up by historians and true educationists and to put in place a rigorous means of verification if we need to change history or at least what we learn of it.

You can interpret history but you must not rewrite it without factual basis.

It is next to impossible to make it objective but we must give it a damn good shot nevertheless, if we are not to live in and perpetuate a lie.

Independent consultant and writer P Gunasegaram ( says we need an accurate history before we learn anything from it.

No comments: