Archive for the ‘History’ Category

On a journey with A.W. Hamilton

Sunday, November 1st, 2020
A.W. Hamilton’s translation of English rhymes reflected the community in Malaya; Georgie Podgie became ‘Awang Bawang’, Taffy was a Welshman who became ‘Ah Fi Orang China’, and some rhymes reflected his fluency in Tamil too.

A.W. Hamilton’s translation of English rhymes reflected the community in Malaya; Georgie Podgie became ‘Awang Bawang’, Taffy was a Welshman who became ‘Ah Fi Orang China’, and some rhymes reflected his fluency in Tamil too.

PEOPLE of a certain age and generation like me probably grew up reciting English nursery rhymes that took us into the world of Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty and Little Bo-Peep.

However, it was only recently that I was made aware of the translated version of these nursery rhymes into Malay by A.W. Hamilton, when a copy was given to us by the late Dr Russell Jones, an expert on Malay manuscripts and Malay language.

Another copy was gifted to our grandson last year by my Danish friend, Ruth Iversen Rollitt, whose son received it while in Malaysia in 1966.

It sounds convoluted but it serves as a preview to the story about the journey of a Malaysian researcher, Dr Haslina Haroon, associate professor in translation studies at the School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, in her quest to find the real Hamilton who embraced Malayness during his time in Malaya and Singapore from 1908 to 1932.

It is a story about how the book connects the people concerned. “It has been an amazing journey,” said Haslina who used Hamilton’s translated book of nursery rhymes to teach translation.

The curiosity had taken her to Britain, Singapore and Australia, physically and virtually, and each time with a discovery that could only be described as astounding. The author, Arthur Weddeburn Hamilton, was born in India in 1887 and had, in his lifetime, translated English nursery rhymes into Malay, the Rubaiyat Omar Khayyam, and wrote other books like Malay Made Easy, Easy Malay Vocabulary and Malay Proverbs.

He was also the author of a hilarious pantun in Malay and English called Esah Ronggeng, which displayed not only his keen observation of the Malay culture, but also his skills in the play of words in both English and Malay, as well as his sense of humour. But there’s more to Hamilton that Haslina discovered that answered many questions.

Was he the “Haji” in the title of his book? Did he perform the haj? Her research showed that the man of words was, in fact, sent to Malaya as a police probation officer, then in Penang and rose to be police commissioner in Johor.

He had helped fight Siamese bandits in Kedah as well as dealt with the Tok Janggut rebellion in Kelantan in 1915.

“It is amazing. How did he have time to write and yet execute his duties asapolice officer?” said Haslina.

In her research, Haslina stumbled across a blog by the late Susan Abraham, who wrote about the book of nursery rhymes that she bought at Kinokuniya for RM650. In the comments section was a message from a Sarah T., who said she was researching her great grandfather’s work, and wrote that Hamilton’s granddaughter, her mother, used to tell her amazing stories about him and his adventures.

Associate Professor Dr Haslina Haroon (left). Noresah Muhammad Zain, Hamilton’s daughter through his marriage with Rogayah in Singapore (right).

Associate Professor Dr Haslina Haroon (left). Noresah Muhammad Zain, Hamilton’s daughter through his marriage with Rogayah in Singapore (right). Another significant find was a comment by George Crowley in Sydney who, asa4-year-old, knew Hamilton as “Uncle Haji”.

Hamilton was his parents’ friend and had given him a copy of the Haji’s Book of Malayan Nursery Rhymes on his 4th birthday in 1941. George also had copies of Malay pan tun, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam — a Malay version, which are now in the USM library as he wanted them to be of use to people studying literature.

It was when Haslina delved into Hamilton’s work in Singapore, that she discovered his Malay side of the family are still alive and living in Singapore.

Recently, Haslina and USM hosted an online talk on “A.W. Hamilton and the Translation of English Nursery Rhymes into Malay”, an event that brought not only enthusiasts and students of translation and rhymes, but also close family members of Hamilton — his granddaughter Sharifah Fauziyah Syed Hussain AlKaff and her daughter, Sarah Taleb Shardlow (Hamilton’s great granddaughter).

Also present was George Crowley from Sydney, who is now 82. Sarah, in search of her family roots, was contacted by Khir Johari, collector and independent researcher on the history and culture of the Malay world, who told her about the talk by Haslina.

According to the family, Hamilton married Rogayah in Singapore in the early 20s, a brief marriage but they had a daughter together, Noresah Muhammad Zain/Zin. Zain was Hamilton’s Muslim name. In their possession now is the 1947 edition of Haji’s Book of Malayan Nursery Rhymes. A member of the Johor Royal family, Tunku Khadijah who visited London, met Hamilton in 1949.

Hamilton had sent a copy of his book through Tunku Khadijah with a message written in Jawi, signing his name a s Muhammad Zain. “Tunku Khadijah told my mum, your father still remembers you and loves you, that is why he gave you this book,” recalled Fauziyah. Fauziyah, 72, sobbed when she recalled asking her mother (Nor) why she never contacted her father when he left for London.

According to Fauziyah, Nor, who was 89 when she died in 2014, was too scared to travel in search of her father. Brought up in a very strict family, she was not allowed to go out.

Fauziyah also asked her late grandmother, Tok Gayah, why they divorced and was told it was fated. Fauziyah grew up reading the book her grandfather gave to the family. It was also on loan to her primary school for a year. Sarah, who has now assigned herself with the task of researching her great grandfather’s life, recalled her grandmother reading the nursery rhymes to her.

“She wrapped it in a cloth and kept it in between her clothes in the cupboard,” she said. Apparently, Hamilton never performed the haj. He had only accompanied pilgrims on a ship in 1927 as far as Jeddah and wrote reports about the living condition on the ship.

He himself had written to say he was never a haji, but a title given to him because of the way he used to dress, with the ketayap on his head and sporting a white beard. Hamilton’s translation of the English rhymes very much reflected the community in Malaya; Georgie Podgie became Awang Bawang, Taffy was a Welshman who became Ah Fi Orang China, and some rhymes reflecting his fluency in Tamil too.

Illustrations in the book by Nora Hamerton also reflected the multiracial community in Malaya. Haslina is still on her journey to discover more of Hamilton.

Just when she thought she came to a dead end,I offered her a lead with a bit of detective work and Google. We have now found Hamilton’s great grandnephew! The journey continues.

By Zaharah Othman.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/11/636937/journey-aw-hamilton

Pioneer of nation’s diplomacy

Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
NSTP file picNSTP file pic

GENERATION Z is probably puzzled and filled with questions if someone suddenly asks them about Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman. Is it a namesake of the mid-sized township in Kuala Lumpur or the MRT station?

History probably remembers him as a former deputy prime minister and the first person to be laid to rest at the Heroes’ Mausoleum (Makam Pahlawan) near Masjid Negara. Nonetheless, to readers who know the diplomatic history of Malaysia, this renowned figure is also responsible for charting the orientation of Malaysia’s foreign policy.

As the United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary this month, Malaysians should not forget the deeds of Tun Dr Ismail in rendering his services to our beloved country by building the nation’s foreign relations.

Barely a month after independence, Tun Dr Ismail was appointed the first ambassador to the United States and concurrently accredited to the UN.

When Malaya (as we were known then) became a member of the UN on Sept 17, 1957, he stood dashingly on the podium of the General Assembly, wearing a full set of Malay traditional dress (complete with the keris and traditional headgear), and gave an inaugural speech that marked Malaysia’s commitment to perpetuating peaceful co-existence in the international system.

Throughout his stint at the UN from 1957 to 1959, he played an important role in building our country’s reputation.

It was a precarious time for the world. World War 2 had just ended 12 years before, the colonial powers were gradually disintegrating, and the West had just been riven by the Cold War.

As a small and newly independent state, Malaya needed someone who could represent the country at the international platform and steer its diplomatic relations at the then bi-polar world system.

This was where Tunku Abdul Rahman made some fateful decisions about who was supposed to take up Malaya’s top diplomatic post to the UN.

The candidate must be senior enough in local politics, well versed in the dynamics of international affairs, and be a trusted ally to the Tunku himself.

Tun Dr Ismail Abdul RahmanTun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman

Therefore, Tun Dr Ismail was a likely candidate who met the pre-requisites of the anglophile and visionary Tunku. Tun Dr Ismail shared the same political perspective as the Tunku.

Both were liberals in a manner of political ideology and nationalists at heart.

Since then, Malaysia had played an active engagement in international diplomacy under the UN mandate, while standing firmly on the principles of independence and pragmatic foreign policy.

As Tun Dr Ismail was concurrently accredited as an ambassador to Washington, his appointment was vitally important in managing Malaya’s bilateral relations with the superpower that mattered the most to us then — the US.

The logic of the Cold War had rendered this small country with limited alignment choices. The Communist insurgency was tearing apart the economy and undermining the security of a fledgling nation. Hence, the only feasible choice was to align ourselves with the US-led allies.

Nonetheless, being closer to the US did not mean Malaya had to be a lamb of the Allied bloc.

As the Allied powers themselves did not adopt the attitude of “a dog in a manger”, we were free to forge relations with other countries like the Afro-Asian group.

This was where Tun Dr Ismail showed his ability as a skillful diplomat by making Malaysia a co-sponsor to the application by India to have sensitive issues like “apartheid” in South Africa to be included in the agenda of the General Assembly.

Despite his brief stint at the UN, Tun Dr Ismail had proven our ability to play an important role in the international arena. He was not only responsible for setting up the Permanent Mission in New York, he was also instrumental in positioning our country in the diplomatic realm.

To quote his inaugural speech at the General Assembly on Sept 17, 1957: “It is in the strength of our people that we shall find the inspiration to shoulder the responsibility, which membership in the United Nations bestows upon us.”

We, the younger generation, thank you for your service. God bless his soul.

By Rizal Hamdan .

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/10/635860/pioneer-nations-diplomacy

NST175: ‘More than just a road sign’

Friday, October 2nd, 2020
Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur was once known as Batu Road. -NSTP/ASYRAF HAMZAHJalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur was once known as Batu Road. -NSTP/ASYRAF HAMZAH

KUALA LUMPUR: FOCH Avenue, Mountbatten Road, Birch Road, Treacher Road and Victory Avenue may be unfamiliar to many, but these are former names of arteries plied by thousands of motorists.

Throughout the decades, these roads have been renamed in honour of local figures, a prime minister and royal figures, including the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

For instance, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock was Foch Avenue, Jalan Raja Chulan was Weld Road, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman was Batu Road, Jalan Maharajelala was Birch Road, Jalan Dang Wangi was Campbell Road, Jalan Tun H.S. Lee was High Street, Jalan Sultan Ismail was Treacher Road and Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin was Victory Avenue.

In other parts of Kuala Lumpur, Parry Road was named Jalan P. Ramlee after the late superstar, and Old Airport Road was named Jalan Dewan Bahasa.

Meanwhile, Davidson Road, Rodger Road, Cecil Street, Klyne Street and Shaw Road took after Melaka warriors Hang Tuah and his four brothers.

In 2014, City Hall announced that eight roads would undergo a name change: Jalan Duta would be known as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Halim, while Jalan Khidmat Usaha was renamed Jalan Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah.

Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah was the late sultan of Kedah, who was twice the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Jalan Tun H.S. Lee used to be called High Street.

Jalan Tun H.S. Lee used to be called High Street.

Jalan Ipoh, from its Jalan Segambut-Jalan Pahang stretch, was renamed Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Persiaran Duta was changed to Persiaran Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin, while the Jalan Khidmat Setia-Jalan Ibadah link and roads were combined under the name Jalan Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin.

Lebuhraya Mahameru was changed to Lebuhraya Sultan Iskandar.

In July last year, Jalan Semangat in Petaling Jaya started to be known as Jalan Professor Khoo Kay Kim. It was changed after Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah gave his consent for the street to be renamed in honour of the contributions of Khoo, a historian who died on May 2 last year.

Recently, Jalan Raja Laut 1 courted controversy when it was renamed Jalan Palestin.

Kuala Lumpur Mayor Datuk Nor Hisham Ahmad Dahlan said the change symbolised Malaysia’s support for the Palestinians’ struggle against Israeli oppression.

Selangor historian Faisal Surani said: “If there is no necessity (to change road names), it is best to maintain the names.

“This is especially when the road and its surrounding areas are linked to respected local figures and has historical significance, value and the virtue of being a heritage site.

“Kuala Lumpur is a city that is more than 100 years old.

“Therefore, any move to change a name must take into consideration all these elements and must be done carefully,” he told the New Straits Times.

Faisal said if a change was made by incorporating a foreign country’s name, the respective embassy and the foreign ministry should be consulted, such as in the case of Jalan Raja Laut 1, which was named after the then Selangor Raja Muda, Raja Laut Sultan Muhammad Shah.

“When it comes to changing the names of a road involving someone with a royal lineage, it should not be done according to whims and fancies.

“Raja Laut was the Raja Muda in Selangor, as he was proclaimed to be in 1898.

“So if there is any change to the road’s name, the sultan of Selangor and the Raja Laut’s descendants must first be consulted.

“Raja Laut was a highly-positioned leader where he was the Penghulu of Kuala Lumpur, the founder of Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board, the Malay Agricultural Settlement president and was involved in the developments of Kampung Baru,” said Faisal.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies principal research fellow Professor Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong said there should be no more changes to road names in the future. “We need to appreciate and honour local figures and, at the same time, accept our colonial past.

“After all, it is part of our history and that was how Malaya and Malaysia came to be.

“A change doesn’t hide or erase the fact that we were colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese and for a long time by the British before we gained independence in 1957.

“Of course, there are good and bad aspects of being colonised. But we did benefit from it, in terms of education and the Parliament’s Westminster system, among others.

“We just have to take it in our stride and that will make us more resilient and stronger.”

He agreed the amendment to the name Jalan Raja Laut 1 was unwise as the town planners back then had given thought in terms of local historical significance.

“The name of a road titled after a Malay royalty should not be changed.

“In terms of nationalism, it is wrong. It is such a waste to see the name (Jalan Raja Laut 1) changed.

“It is more than just a road sign.

“It is important to retain it, instill an appreciation and raise awareness on the person, history and contributions.”

By Dawn Chan.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/10/628999/nst175-more-just-road-sign

NST175: An entertainer beyond compare

Saturday, September 12th, 2020
Some of the 100,000 people who thronged the free mega concert by Datuk Sudirman Arshad in Chow Kit Road on April 14, 1986. FILE PIC Some of the 100,000 people who thronged the free mega concert by Datuk Sudirman Arshad in Chow Kit Road on April 14, 1986. FILE PIC

ON the night of April 14, 1986, it was, perhaps, the first time that Chow Kit Road in Kuala Lumpur was filled with a sea of people.

It was the night when Malaysia’s No. 1 entertainer, the late Datuk Sudirman Arshad, performed at a mega concert, which drew 100,000 people from all walks of life.

Those who came did not mind being sandwiched by the crowd as the show was the only time they could watch Sudirman perform for free.

Some climbed trees, roofs and signboards of shophouses just to catch a glimpse of Sudirman, who made an unusual entrance at the start of the concert.

It was reported that the mega show had led to bumper-to-bumper traffic on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Raja Muda Abdul Aziz and Jalan Raja Alang in Kampung Baru. The diminutive Sudirman charmed the audience and everyone just fell in love with his entertaining and bubbly personality.

At the three-hour concert, he performed his famous song, Chow Kit Road, named after the venue of the concert.

This was at the opening, when he made a spectacular entrance onto the stage from a fire engine’s Simon Snorkel skylift.

There were spotlights everywhere.

The singer extraordinaire also performed hit songs like Kenali Malaysia Cintai Malaysia and Apa Khabar Orang Kampung. Behind his smile and likeable personality on stage, Sudirman was serious and meticulous when it came to work.

Datuk Sudirman Arshad made a typically spectacular entrance onto the stage from a fire engine’s Simon Snorkel skylift during his famous concert in Chow Kit Road. FILE PIC Datuk Sudirman Arshad made a typically spectacular entrance onto the stage from a fire engine’s Simon Snorkel skylift during his famous concert in Chow Kit Road. FILE PIC

Sudirman’s former creative assistant, Shuib Taib, described him as a creative, compassionate and caring person.

“When it came to work, he took it seriously. He was sharp and he did not want anyone to mess around with him.

“He was the singing lawyer. He could cut you to shreds with just words. That was him. But behind all that, he was friendly, compassionate, caring and creative. He had our best interests at heart.

“He was the best boss I have ever worked for and until today, I feel honoured and privileged to have worked for him,” he told the New Straits Times.

Shuib said he knew Sudirman in 1990 and the singer hired him on May 13, 1991. Throughout his time with Sudirman, Shuib said he gave ideas for his shows and business, which was then called Sudirman Usaha Dagang Industry.

Shuib also represented Sudirman at meetings or events if the singer was not able to make it.

“Sudir told me — ‘if I cannot attend the meeting, you attend it for me and if it’s good for you, then it should be good for me. If it’s not good for you, then it’s not good for me’,” recalled Shuib, who was also a former specialist writer with the NST.

Although his time with Sudirman was relatively short, Shuib felt it was the most memorable moment in his life and he would always cherish it.

He thanked Singaporean singer, actress and entertainer Anita Sarawak for introducing him to Sudirman which led him to have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of working under Sudirman Productions.

Sudirman fell ill in September 1991 and died on Feb 22, 1992 at the tender age of 37.

By Esther Landau.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/09/623960/nst175-entertainer-beyond-compare

Region’s oldest girls’ school to become international school

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020
Southeast Asia’s oldest girls’ school here - Convent Light Street - is opening a private international school on part of its sea-fronting premises. NSTP/FileSoutheast Asia’s oldest girls’ school here – Convent Light Street – is opening a private international school on part of its sea-fronting premises. NSTP/File

GEORGE TOWN: Southeast Asia’s oldest girls’ school here – Convent Light Street – is opening a private international school on part of its sea-fronting premises.

The 168-year-old school which is located within the city’s United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) heritage core zone, is part of the Roman Catholic Convent Light Street, which was established by three French sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus Mission in 1852.

The school’s last batch of studebts are expected to graduate from the national education system in 2024.

In a statement issued today, The Infant Jesus Sisters Malaysia, the owner of the Convent Light Street Penang (CLS), said that it would be collaborating with education provider ACE Edventure to open a private international school using part of the CLS’s premises.

“The co-ed school, to start as soon as approval has been obtained from the authorities, will initially offer Year 1 to Year 10 classes leading to the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) with an entrepreneurial component,” the statement said.

CLS was the first school set up by the IJ Sisters upon their arrival in Malaysia from Paris in 1852 and has grown to be one of the nation’s premier schools.

“But due to a continuous decline in enrolment of students in the last decade and escalating costs to maintain the heritage school buildings, the IJ Sisters had asked for the return of the CLS premises from the Ministry of Education, approval of which was granted in 2018,” the statement said.

“Not forgetting their mission to provide wholesome education to children, irrespective of race or creed, the IJ Sisters had been actively meeting with a number of reputable school operators over the last one year to identify one with similar aspirations and like-mindedness, and found ACE Edventure a good fit.”

ACE Edventure was touted in the statement as “an establishment able to provide affordable learning that is dynamic, progressive and relevant and, most important of all, willing to maintain the ethos of the IJ Convent schools with their emphasis on character building.”

ACE Edventure’s founders, Anne Tham and Melinda Lim, are both CLS alumni, and currently operating three private schools – Sirius Scholar in Subang Jaya, Sri Emas in Petaling Jaya and Dwi Emas in Shah Alam.

“The IJ Sisters look forward to this collaboration with ACE Edventure and the new role CLS will play towards the advancement of private education in Malaysia.”

After establishing a foothold in Penang, the site where CLS stands today, was reportedly acquired in 1859 by Mother St Mathilde Raclot.

The land expanded over the years to include a chapel, nunnery, orphanage, school and boarding house.

It is the oldest girls’ school in Malaysia and its alumni are also known as ‘Colistrians’.

Penang is currently home to nine international schools, with another one scheduled to open its doors this month.

By Marina Emmanuel.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/09/621595/regions-oldest-girls-school-become-international-school

Protect the peace and harmony bequeathed to us

Sunday, August 30th, 2020
Tunku Abdul Rahman, being sent off on his London 'Merdeka' mission on Jan 2, 1956. - NSTP file picTunku Abdul Rahman, being sent off on his London ‘Merdeka’ mission on Jan 2, 1956. – NSTP file pic

THE crowd was burgeoning and it swelled over to the edge of Tanjong Pagar Port, Singapore, that evening on Jan 1, 1956, as men, many of whom were Parti Perikatan or Alliance party members garbed in white shirts and pants, jostled and chanted “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” while holding placards and bunting with immersive slogans.

More than 10,000 people of all races had gathered to give a rousing send-off for Tunku Abdul Rahman and his Merdeka entourage to London with a mission to gain independence from the British Empire after a series of negotiations lasting almost 10 years.

This momentous trip by these fine gentlemen with the backing of the Malay rulers and overwhelming support of the rakyat led to the birth of a sovereign nation on Aug 31, 1957.

At the stroke of that midnight, the Federation of Malaya attained independence, marking the end of the British colonial era in the Malay states.

Well, the British would rather prefer others to see them as a “protector” despite the fact they had been a colonial master for centuries.

Ever since the trading post of Penang was founded by Sir Francis Light circa 1780s, the struggle for freedom was imminent. The Malay rulers were “tricked” into entering a series of “protection treaties”.

British negotiators, who had acted as advisers (to the rulers), promised protection from any enemy attack and to make the Malay states safe havens from rabble-rousers who could disrupt peace since tin mining and rubber became the mainstay industries.

Even in the early 1940s, there was no telling that Britain would support a self-governed Malaya. The promise made by the British to Malaya was finally reaffirmed in 1946 in times of crisis.

No citizen of Malaya at that time would cooperate with the “protecting power” in the governance of the country.

The Malayan Union perished that year. Tunku and the leaders who negotiated with the British at Lancaster House in London for 20 days from Jan 18, 1956, successfully signed the agreement on Feb 8, with Merdeka permanently in sight a year later.

The British were impressed with the representation of different races that Tunku brought to the negotiating table. It showed genuine cohesiveness among the people from the start.

We achieved independence through negotiation. Tunku told a roaring crowd at the Selangor Club field (now Dataran Merdeka) 63 years ago that independence was achieved by constitutional means through mutual goodwill, understanding and trust.

“Let us not abuse this trust, but honour it so that others will honour us. A nation born with honour will tread the path of glory,” said Tunku.

These mighty fine words leave us with an everlasting impression of how a country should and would be.

As much as we want trust to be the backbone of unity for the nation to move forward in this millennium, it’s sad to see that trust among us is still lacking after 63 years.

We can’t allow trust issues to negate the peace and harmony that our forefathers had helped build. It’s our duty to safeguard this delicate balance of peace and harmony.

One good thing to emerge from the horrid depths of the Covid-19 pandemic is that Malaysians have come together to help each other out in the darkest hour. That’s what we should continue to truly practise and believe in.

By Rohiman Haroon.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/08/620528/protect-peace-and-harmony-bequeathed-us

Our colonial history and us

Sunday, July 26th, 2020

Polarising history: Red paint was splashed on the statue of Captain Francis Light at Fort Cornwallis in Penang early this month.Polarising history: Red paint was splashed on the statue of Captain Francis Light at Fort Cornwallis in Penang early this month.

OVER the recent months, the world has been struggling with what to do with icons, names and symbols of our history – from the slave trade legacy to the global colonial heritages.

Inevitably, the global discussion has reached our shores too – in an accumulation of various influences from the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, global anti-racism protests to the widespread call to decolonise education and public spaces.

Some believe the moment is here for us to revise mainstream narratives which either ignore or downplay the many problems that stem from colonialism.

In Cambridge University, a decolonisation campaign to expand its curriculum from being dominated by a white, euro-centric lense has gained momentum.

There is also the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, which seeks to remove the veneration of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

Of late, other voices have come up to show another side of former British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and his role in the mistreatment of millions throughout the British Empire. Often hailed as a hero in the West, the perception of Churchill by the Commonwealth, less heard than that of the United Kingdom, is not quite as rose-tinted. The debate in Malaysia has not reached the same levels as those abroad, but it is still significant. Earlier this month, the statue of Sir Francis Light in Penang was vandalised with red paint and the ensuing response has been polarising.

The matter of renaming St Paul’s hill in Melaka is, however, more complicated as the factors in the debate do not just concern colonialism but also represent important ethnic and religious identities of today and their deep roots in the area.

In general, Malaysia’s approach to colonial history is mixed. One on hand, our Sejarah textbooks are very clear about the negative repercussions brought by the “penjajah” (colonials) who imposed rule over us. But on the other hand, we also exalt elements of colonialism – hotels, developments, and cafes often capitalise on colonial heritage in both its themes and designs. Some take a more positive view by representing the olden days an age of “culture and class” while others use it as a form of acknowledgement of our varied history. Regardless, there is no consensus, and the debate is far from settled.

A complicated matter

Colonial history should not be erased, and colonial injustices should not be forgotten, says Penang Heritage Trust vice-president Khoo Salma Nasution.

While history is complex and nuanced, the discourse can be easily oversimplified and hijacked by the politics of the day to exacerbate divisions instead of healing divisions, she warns.

Generally, Khoo is not in favour of changing street and place names, but she clarifies that there are no strict rules on this.

“If we want to change our street names, a strong justification must be given against the old name and for the new name. It should not be due to a politician’s whim or fashion of the day, ” she says, adding that all stakeholders who live and work along the street should be consulted.

While she agrees that instead of removing colonial names and legacies, we can use them as points of discourse to raise better conversations about the darker side of colonialism, Khoo can also understand why some people insist on defacing or taking down statues.

“I hope that people will discuss and find out more before taking drastic action. There should be a public discourse. What is just as important is, what are we doing to preserve the heritage which we want to remember, that we are losing through sheer neglect?”

Heritage activist Jo Chua prefers not only to maintain colonial era names, but to also make it clear that there were previous names associated with the places.

“We can correct mistakes in the recording of history to reflect the facts but it would be sacrilegious to change it to suit the whims and fancy of the moment. It is from the layers of history added on from our local rulers to the various foreign powers which formed our heritage and gave our country its distinct character, ” she says.

Preserving history?

Prof Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong, a Principal Fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) is against reviewing or changing the names of our colonial sites.

“This is because they are our “full” history, that we were colonised for a long period of time, ” he says, pointing to the hundreds of cumulative years of colonialism by the Dutch, Portueguese, Japanese and British all the way back from the 16th century.

“For all the effects of colonialism on us as a nation, the good, bad and ugly, we should take it all in our stride, ” he says.

This means, says Teo, that all colonial memories, whether pleasant or otherwise, that have impacted us socially, culturally, economically apart from the political realm, should not be shunned.

Therefore the maintenance of names of colonial sites and the sites themselves should be supported on historical grounds, mainly for their heritage, since they are our “full” history, he says.

“Changing names of colonial places and removing or demolishing colonial sites would definitely defeat the purpose of history, especially the importance of history and historical records, in this case names and sites, ” he says, while adding that keeping relics of colonial heritage is not about glorifying colonial powers.

“For me, it is about us, how we evolved and how (colonial) history develops an awareness about ourselves as a strong, independent nation, ” he says.

Case by case basis

Architect and heritage historian Ahmad Najib Ariffin is of the view that colonial names could, not should, be reviewed and changed according to the merits of each situation.

“It goes without saying that this is a complex, even loaded, question and the answer is not a straight yes or no as it depends so much on context, ” he says.

However, Ahmad Najib believes that there are some universal principles that should be adhered to.

“A prime principle is when a native population who were already residing in a place that was then colonised and had its name change by occupying forces.

“The native communities then retain the right to continue using its original name and even change it back officially, ” he says, giving examples of Myanmar (from Burma) and Mumbai (from Bombay).

“Having said that, there are numerous issues around each, for example what or which ‘original’ name to use, or whose name to use as there could be many current parties involved, each with a different name or variation. That’s another set of complex arguments, ” he says.

Delicate matter: The issue of renaming St Paul’s hill in Melaka is complexDelicate matter: The issue of renaming St Paul’s hill in Melaka is complex

According to Najib, the best manner to preserve history is for all parties to practice mutual respect and fair attitude on the subject of history; from the former “colonial masters” who must respect the sovereign rights of now independent nations, to these nations having to be strong in their current identities and achievements, particularly Malaysia which has done well since independence, and not having to erase everything of the colonial past.

“With this constructive attitude, we can all find a practical balance in respecting the combined pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial histories, ” he says.

What’s in a name?

This region of the world in particular still holds on to a colonised, eurocentric history and we have yet to deconstruct that colonial narrative, says Professor Datuk Dr Ahmad Murad Merican of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC – IIUM).

“Colonial powers robbed our land, identity, and even the names of our places, but we should not erase those names completely. Instead, we should re-narrate our history, ” says Ahmad Murad, who is also Penang Malay Heritage and Historical Society (Pewarisan) president.

Ahmad Murad favours the selective renaming of places. His criterion being that places which had a native name, but whose names were replaced by colonial powers, should return to their original names.

“Bear in mind that the issue is not about changing colonial names, but reverting to an earlier name which has been erased, suppressed or hidden, ” he explains, adding that selecting which places ought to be renamed is dependent on the context and sentiment of the people of the time.

Names are not just names, they reflect the interpretation and the representation of the past, and contribute to the national narrative, says Ahmad Murad. And so, there is inherent value and weight to what we choose to call a place of significance.

“In Malaysia many names of places have reverted to an earlier name – Teluk Anson to Teluk Intan, Port Swettenham to Pelabuhan Klang, ” says Ahmad Murad, who believes that places like Georgetown should revert to its former Tanjong Penaga and Butterworth to Bagan Tuan Kechil.

“If the colonists can just easily change a name, what is stopping us from ‘changing’ it back?” he asks.

Local authorities must be careful in distinguishing between colonial and Eurasian names, says Ahmad Murad.

“Eurasian road and place names are local, just like Malaysian Indian and Chinese names. The main issue is colonial European names. And to this we have to trace the person that we are naming in public places, ” he explains.

Ahmad Murad is also against destroying statues of colonial figures.

“Don’t deface them. We should not vandalise like how they vandalised us. They should be moved to more suitable places like museums and renarrate their crimes accordingly. The future must know who they are, ” he says, adding that injustices carried out by colonial figures in Malaysia like the plundering and robbery of our land should be made known alongside the effigies.

“We have to reappropriate and renarrate our past in terms of who Francis Light was, same as Cecil Rhodes or Stamford Raffles. They were not benevolent.”

By DINA MURAD.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/focus/2020/07/26/our-colonial-history-and-us#cxrecs_s

Activist: Don’t change name of historical site based on anecdotes

Sunday, July 19th, 2020
MELAKA: Efforts must be made to unearth the remnants of the Melaka Sultanate on St Paul’s Hill or historical sites before changing their names, says an activist from the Portuguese community.

Save The Portuguese Action Committee chairman Martin Theseira said remnants or relics relating to the Sultanate were crucial to strengthen any proposal to change the names of heritage sites in the historic city.

“We can opt for technology like high-tech scanners to recover these relics if the items are buried underneath the earth.

“As a Melakan myself, I really would like to support any attempt to recover the remnants of the palace or artefacts linked to the Sultanate even if we have to comb the seabed, ” he said in an interview here on Friday.

Theseira was responding to a proposal by the Melaka Museum Corporation (Perzim) to change the name of St Paul’s Hill to Bukit Melaka.

“Any move to change the identity of historical sites should be based on solid historical facts.

“I guess Melakans would have no qualms if the proposal to change the name is supported by historic documents and not based on anecdotes, ” he said.

Theseira said from facts he had garnered, the site was known as “Malacca Hill” as only a point of reference by the Portuguese in the 1500s.

He said Melaka elders had shared the stories of the Sultan’s palace at the foothills of St Paul and the garden stretched to a hockey field that no longer exists at Bandar Hilir.

“We need to locate the remnants before pursuing any attempt to make changes, ” he said.

For instance, Theseira said, the name Strait of Malacca was known since time immemorial and its history was well documented.

“I urge Perzim to initiate an in-depth research on heritage sites together with reputed historians as well as Unesco researchers on St Paul’s Hill, ” he said.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/07/19/activist-dont-change-name-of-historical-site-based-on-anecdotes#cxrecs_s

Re-imagining the future of George Town’s heritage

Monday, July 13th, 2020
Pic: NSTP/RAMDZAN MASIAM Pic: NSTP/RAMDZAN MASIAM

LETTER: George Town was THE place for Chinese medicine and orh kueh (yam cake) when I was young. Both shops are not there anymore. Today, they serve latte and cempedak cheese cake.

This year’s July 7 marked the twelfth year of George Town’s inscription as a Unesco World Heritage Site. There has been a contest over the interpretation of the inscription, couched in phrases from the humanities.

When new businesses replace under-performing ones, it’s labelled “Disneyfication”. When properties receive new tenants, it’s scorned as “gentrification”. When heritage buildings are refurbished, it’s castigated as “Unesco-cide”.

Marco D’Eramo epitomises these schools of thought. “UNESCO’s ‘World Heritage’ listing,” he writes, “is the kiss of death. Once the label is affixed, the city’s life is snuffed out; it is ready for taxidermy.”

Taking a step back, I wonder if this is a form of nostalgia fossilisation? I understand the concern to preserve the “identity” of George Town. But, can we say that today’s collective identity is the progeny of George Town’s past?

This is iffy, is there is such an identity in the first place, not least a collective one? There is sympathy for tenants who are affected by rising rentals. But isn’t rent-seeking a problem happening elsewhere too, not confined to heritage sites?

Community changes are associated with a string of factors. But when it happens in George Town, enthusiasts label it “gentrification”? What then do we call rent-seeking that occurred in 2007 in George Town, before the city was listed by Unesco?

Like most trades, traditional trades in George Town have no guaranteed immortality. The Chinese medical hall that my family frequented had shut before the Unesco appellation came. As Dr Ang Ming Chee, general manager of George Town World Heritage Incorporated, observed: “[If] the craftsmen don’t want to produce and the locals do not take these products as a part of their identity, then you’re stuck as well. For it to be sustainable you have to look at it in the long term. There’s supply and demand; and there’s the availability and cost of the raw materials.

“Take rattan weaving for example – it might be harder or costlier to obtain raw materials due to factors such as urbanisation and deforestation. Rattan weaving is a skill, but most of the weavers we interviewed who decided not to continue their craft said it was because weaving is too painful – if you look at their hands, you can feel the pain. They work hard to send their children for higher education so that they don’t have to do physical work; it’s an achievement for them, whereas we want continuity – we are selfish.” (Emphasis added.)

Is the pain of rattan weavers a characteristic of George Town’s heritage and must therefore persist?

Fossilising nostalgia may be a hobby to enthusiasts but George Town gained prominence as a trading port. People from surrounding regions came here to trade. New businesses were formed to serve them, and many made their home here as a result.

Changes haven’t stopped in the past 300 years. Instead, can George Town’s future be re-imagined as the heart of 21st century trade? Start-ups creating unicorns in a 19th century shop?

The potential of the heritage buildings in George Town is not confined only to serving latte and cempedak cheese cake.

by JOSHUA WOO.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/07/608229/re-imagining-future-george-towns-heritage

Historian’s mark on Rukunegara

Monday, July 6th, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim has been gone for a year but his deeds live on.Like a tiger that dies leaving its stripes, he died leaving his name.

Khoo, who died on May 28 last year, was a historian whose contributions were a source of reference to many, especially in matters concerning Malaysian history.

And with the July 9 celebration of Rukunegara’s 50th anniversary in conjunction with the Merdeka Month and National Day, his name comes to mind as Khoo was one of those who had drafted the principles of Rukunegara before they were declared on Aug 31, 1970.

Khoo was also known as a nationalist and a patriot.

“My father was always proud to introduce himself as a Malaysian,” his son Eddin said.

“As the eldest of three siblings, I was close to my father. When I was five or six, I used to follow him to schools and other places across the country where he engaged in information programmes.

“Indirectly, he introduced me to Rukunegara and told me the history of the places we went to, which at the same time built my interest in the Malay language as my father had a very good command of it,” said Eddin, who is a writer, cultural activist and patron of Pusaka, a cultural organisation,

Eddin, 51, said he and his siblings were raised to be polite and respectful of others, besides being open-minded to embrace ethnic, racial, cultural and religious diversity.

“No racial pride and prejudice allowed in our house.

“My father was a Peranakan Chinese from Kampar, Perak. My mother (Puan Sri Rathi Khoo) is Tamil and (when I was small) I was cared for by a Malay aunt who lived with us.

“It was indeed an extraordinary experience to have three major races in Malaysia living in the same house, practising their culture and religion in peace. It was that peaceful environment that made me hesitate to leave the house because I knew things were different outside,” he said.

Rukunegara was introduced as a result of the meeting of Majlis Gerakan Negara which was set up following the May 13, 1969 incident.

It was formed with the main purpose of forming a strong unity for the country’s success and stability.

Sharing his experience of interviewing his father in a programme which focused on Rukunegara, Eddin said what impressed him the most was his father’s open-mindedness in hearing the opinions of others.

“The discussions were rather heated as they were talking about the first principle of Rukunegara, which is Belief in God.

“What was concluded was that most people have their own religious faith and they believe in God.

“But my father did not dismiss those who didn’t, such as the atheists. This (open-mindedness) is the trait that was needed to enable such a topic to be discussed in greater depth,” he said.

Eddin said through his observation after being involved in cultural programmes at the grassroots level for almost 30 years, Rukunegara had indeed been well accepted by every Malaysian.

“However, there is still a lack of observation and appreciation for the Rukunegara on the people’s part,” he said.

As such, he expressed hope that more efforts would be taken to nurture the spirit of and respect for the Rukunegara, especially among the younger generation.

by Bernama.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/07/06/historians-mark-on-rukunegara#cxrecs_s