Sunday, June 03, 2007

Are we Kaum Pendatang?

I've just read a blog today saying that we, Malaysian Chinese, are a bunch of kaum pendatang. I won't even bother linking to that racist blog here. However, that particular blogger's sentiments are a common one among the Malays in Malaysia. I've also heard horror stories from friends here who have been told during National Service camps by the resident Malays to keluar if we're not happy with the country. They particularly like to harp about how we're the only country in the world that has given the pendatang people rights and privileges (pssst... the US is a whole nation of migrants).

Firstly, for the sake of argument, let's try to set a time line for comparison. Without question, Kesultanan Melayu Melaka was the greatest Malay Sultanate in history. Most of the existing Malay states in the region draw their legitimacy by staking claim to being descendants of that Sultanate. Even till today, many Malays still hold pride in that great Sultanate and try to draw inspiration from it on how a true Malay state is supposed to be governed. So, for the sake of the argument, let's just set the starting time line to be around the 15th century and consider people living here during that time as bumiputera and people who came after that as pendatang.

However, there is one fundamental problem with trying to do that. Our country has consistently denied bumiputera or aboriginal status to the Baba-Nyoya people. These people often speak a Malay dialect, wear a kebaya, and can trace their ancestry all the way to that particular great Sultanate. So, I find it incredulous that first generation children of pendatang are able to call themselves bumiputera and even hold high political office, when people who have lived here, paid taxes, contributed to the society for almost five centuries, are denied such a status. The only fault that this particular ethnic group has is that they are descendants of the many Chinese sailors and traders who had settled here hundreds of years ago, if that can even be considered a fault.

Now, if we were to try to look even further back than that, any student of Malaysian history will know that the Sultanate was established by a pendatang who ran from Palembang and ended up in Melaka via Temasek. So, it would be quite fair to say that the whole Malay history owes it's greatness to the race or kaum pendatang. So, we cannot possibly draw the start line any further back than this. Otherwise, all the Sultans of our existing Malay states and practically everyone else living in them, would have to be asked to leave as well. Oh, if they even try to argue the fact that at least he was from the region, I would kindly like to remind them that if Parameswara was alive today, he wouldn't be considered Melayu simply because he was Hindu!

In order to make their argument feasible, we must draw the line somewhere closer to the present. Now, if we try to draw the line at Merdeka or Independence and consider everyone else who comes after that as pendatang, we would end up with exactly what the laws say at the moment. Our citizenship laws were fairly clearly spelled out during the establishment of our country. Before that, there were probably many Chinese migrants who held Chinese citizenships. However, after that, most of us Malaysian Chinese ended up with a Malaysian citizenship, which grants us the rights and privileges as written in the Constitution. Pendatang or otherwise, once the Constitution came into affect, we were all citizens of the same nation with similar (not same) rights and privileges.

Now that we've identified the two extreme limits, I'm certain that the racists who wish to kick out all the pendatang would like to draw the line somewhere in between. But, wherever anyone tries to draw the line, they will all invariably fail many people. We must never forget that our dearest Prime Minister is of Chinese descent (shock and horror!). In actual truth, none of our other former Prime Ministers can actually claim to be a true-blooded Malay (double shock and horror!). I really fail to see how they could draw the line anywhere that will clearly mark us Malaysian Chinese as pendatang while keeping them as bumiputera of the land.

Therefore, to those bigots in Malaysia who like to scream keluar to all the so-called pendatang of Malaysia, they should realise that our country is great because of all the pendatang who have come to enrich it. It started with Parameswara and is currently being helmed by our dearest Prime Minister. So, instead of trying to claim that the Malay race is the rightful owner of the land, they should appreciate that from diversity comes all kinds of creative energies to push us forward. We need to embrace this diversity and exploit it in order to make our country great. If our people weren't so busy with our internal strife, we would easily kick ass in the region. We have always been one of the largest, stablest and richest nations in the region since the days of the great Pendatang Sultanate.

PS: If you want further proof that we are all a kaum pendatang, the word bumiputera is actually a Sanskrit word. Now, I challenge anyone who wishes to separate the bumiputera from pendatang to please mark a time-line for me. That way, we can all make things crystal clear.


Imran Yusuff said...

As Muslims we believe that we all are decsendants from Adam [same as what Christians (and Judaism?) believe], as stated in the Koran [and the Bible]... and people start colonizing everywhere. Technically all are pendatang!

I don't know what is your belief then...

Shawn Tan said...

heh.. this blog isn't about religious beliefs.. if you want to know what my religious beliefs are, you can just look it up in wikipedia..

however, i just find it incredulous that some of our politicians are sending the wrong message to the people.. that the malays have the divine right to our homeland, while us malaysian chinese do not.. that's just plain illogical and stupid..

Ida Bakar said...

Dear Shawn,

The current problem in Malaysia is the rise of the Malay-Islamofacists. These people believe that Islam is supreme (*) and all should acknowledge its supremacy. Couple that with the paranoia that Malays cannot cope without NEP and privilages, you get statements such as those from Imran above, confusing theology and anthropology; and the constant need to re-iterate this us versus them mentality.

(*) As a muslim, I too believe that Islam the best system of belief; but as a muslim I believe in religious freedom. That is why I am so het-up about the Lina Joy ruling and I am so angry that there is no govt provision for churches, temples, gurdwaras etc.

Shawn Tan said...

Hi Ida,

I generally agree with your statement but, this religious confusion isn't isolated to our Malay-Muslims. In the US, the Christian right are constantly trying to impose Christian laws and turning their own constitution on their head as well. America was not founded by Christians.

However, the situation at home is pressing. The fact that our political leaders themselves do the same, is worrying. Renaming our national language Bahasa Malaysia means nothing if they continue to promote division through actions.

Ida Bakar said...

Dear Shawn,

Definately agree on the whole God-is-USA mentality. Afterall, Dubya Bush claimed to get the inspiration to invade Iraq from God (I supposed that makes Tony Blair Bush's disciple! Just hope there is Judas to write the biography -alas, I digress).

Our so-called leaders are rather pathetic bunch, Anwar included. Everydody is so scared of dialogue and dare not thinking outside the box. There is the need to infantilise the rakyat - I don't know if this is because the leadership is TRULY AFRAID of any discourse or because they just want to CONTROL the masses to hanjer on to power.
What say you?

Shawn Tan said...

with regards to the opposition being truly lame, i've already blogged about them many times..

our political leaders are not all dumb but they know that playing the race card, and promoting fear of each other, is the easiest way to secure votes..

this problem isn't unique to our people.. plenty of people in the west are duped by their fear of terrorists..

fear makes people stoopid and easily manipulated..

chia said...

right on about "bumiputera" being a sanskrit word. perhaps someone should have reminded PAS that when they banned wayang kulit shows of Ramayana and Mahabharat because it was deemed un-Islamic. Perhaps they should also not use the word bumiputera anymore. In that case, let's also ban the words suka, duka, warna, anugerah, harta, muka, rupa, negara.... the entire list can be found here:

our bahasa malaysia is a very colourful language and should be appreciated. we should also therefore appreciate how colourful our history is!

Shawn Tan said...

Not just our language. Our whole culture and history is very unique and colourful. If only people would take a minute to appreciate it without politicising it, that would be wonderful.

I've always told foreigners that the Malay language is very beautiful. It is an emotional language, that can be used to paint vivid imagery in poetry and song.

I guess, it's partly because it borrows a lot of words from all the different cultures and religions in our past.