Malaysian Government’s Culture Confusion

21 Aug

This is a topic I’ve long avoided, but it just keeps coming up.
To my friends in Malaysia, please do understand that this is not me being angry at you, not me insulting or giving negative sentiments about you or other Malaysians.
This is directed to the people in your government and tourism board.

Since 2004, before Malaysia launched “Malaysia, Truly Asia”, the country intended to boost its tourism revenue. It couldn’t compete with Singapore as a mega-polis, even with the world’s tallest building in their backyard, so they invested in their diversity, taking advantage of its commonwealth status. Displaying all traditions from around Asia in their country, the country went with the slogan “Malaysia, Truly Asia” that a certain advertising agency came up with.

The campaign was a hit. People liked the idea and made their way to Malaysia for holiday. This success however brought a startling revelation: “What’s Malaysia’s own traditional culture?”
Yes, this was the question on every tourist’s mind. In fact, on a business trip back in 2004, I asked my taxi driver to take me to an authentic Malaysian restaurant, and he took me to this restaurant which main course and specialty was white Tom Yam. If you know me and my epicurious sense, you’d know that I would always ask the servant or anyone working at the restaurant about the food, and they said it was Malay Tom Yam. “Its different!” they said. But it was the same to me.

Does Malaysia have a culture? Sure they do.
One of the negative side of any British occupation is that the British brought in their own culture to the table. Everybody would be speaking English and behave in a British like manner. Unlike India, Australia, & New Zealand, Malaysia was full of spice and controlled by Monarchs. Just like the Mangkunegaran kingdom in Solo, this made it easier for the colonist to infuse the country with the British ways and made sure there is minimum resistance. Many-many tradition which is not suitable to the colonist were made out to rot and disappear.

What makes it different from other British colonials? Well, name me a handful of Malay tribes, heroes or kings that defy the colonialist and is noted as a hero? I went to a lot of museum in KL and found none.

Cultures survived the British Imperialism because of resistance. Cultures exist as a way to unite the people. India have many small tribes and cults that resisted the Imperialism, The Samoans of New Zealand are amazing people who traveled to the Micronesians and Hawaiian islands by small boats, these made them strong to their cultural roots. The Aborigines lived in the most uncomfortable places in Australia which colonialist wouldn’t touch, this made their culture survived. Canada and Australia even had to invest millions in research of their culture to get it back.

Malaysia’s culture?
Believe me, they had plenty. But now most of it has gone. Only some survived, most came from Borneo which the colonials didn’t touch because of the dense jungles and the fierce warriors (BBC Education’s : Elizabeth’s Kingdom). Yes, this was startling revelation indeed. If the Malaysians continued their Truly Asia campaign without showing that their culture was a majority of the cultures present in their country, they are afraid that people will leave and think less.

A Resolution!
Years back, Malaysia claimed and announced to the world that Satay was part of their culture. They even tried to make it legal by having it patented and claimed as sole owner and creator. Now, how could a food that belonged to many cultures and countries be made into a sole ownership claim??
The Japanese have Robatayaki, the Chinese and all the way up to Bali have a dish like it. All meat in a stick. That move made all of those meat on a stick Malaysian. Being a commonwealth, they had great access. The one who made it first official was the Encyclopedia Brittanica in the 90s.
The Malaysian government soon started with food, claiming one by one food that are present in Malaysia as their own.

Now then, if they could do it with food, why not culture?? Who better to take it from? Why their friendly neighborhood cousin across the strait of course. Indonesia has millions of traditions, lets go get some.

At first, I didn’t give much thought. Malaysians and the Melayu do share many traits and culture. Still, claiming it as the sole owner of that tradition does bug me a lot. But then they gotgreedy, and absurd.

The Malaysian Government claimed that Angklung is a Malaysian culture. What?!?? That doesn’t even make sense. Bamboo instruments that are in the Melayu/Sumatra area resembles nothing like the angklung. After that, batik. Not the motives of Melayu, but the motives of Java. Those motives have historical relevance and how it became that way, but the Malay government still put a claim on it. After that Reog, Kuda lumping, Jali-jali and the song “rasa sayange” which from a Pangea point of view made it impossible to be connected what-so-ever to the Asian continent, because Maluku was connected to the Papua and Australian plate.

Reog and Kuda Lumping?? Yeah sure, the Malaysian ancestors belived in self whipping, sacrifice, homosexuality and black magic (ingridients in a Reog dance). And then Jali-jali, a song that is closely tied with the Dutch occupation. It gets even absurd…

Pendet. A welcoming dance from Bali. There is no dance like this in Java or Sumatra, no way that it would influence upwards (if you study history, cultures spread through Pangaea downwards and evolved individually after the ice age ended and the sea level risen). If any of these tradition are claimed by Malay, it should be present in an almost similar form in either Sumatra or Borneo.
To completely insult us, the Pendet was claimed on Indonesia’s Independence day through yet another one of Malaysia’s tourism program “Enigmatic Malaysia” on the Discovery channel.

A Malay artist who is a friend of mine, on his blog posted about Kuda Kepang (Malay’s version of Kuda Lumping), about how the tradition was brought by Javanese workers who migrated from Java…

Well lets see here, I don’t think the Dutch ever traded slaves with the British. An Indonesian would move out of Indonesia was during the PKI era in the 60s. I don’t really see it becoming a tradition unless its out and recognized as a culture. So is Tom Yam a Malay food? I mean, the Thai immigrants brought it in longer before kuda lumping came to Malaysia?

What ever the outcome, over the years this has been a big cause of the degradation of Indonesia-Malaysia relations. Most people here have negative sentiments about Malaysia, and its growing. Malaysians living in Canada with their Anti-Indonesia websites are helping fuel the fire. I just hope the Malaysian people are aware of their governments actions and take a stand to stop it. I really hope the relations between our countries will get better soon.

Once again I apologize to Malaysians everywhere. I didn’t mean to offend you, but your government actions on my favorite day of the year, Independence day, offended me. If you have never heard of these tradition, dance, etc, please make it known. Write it in your blog, protest your government. Malaysia has many lost traditions, instead of taking, why not digg those cultures up from the past.

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