Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Monday, 18 February 2008

Celebrating the Malay diversity

I have read many writings exhorting Malaysians to look beyond race and consider ourselves as an entity, whereby progress through meritocracy is the goal instead of being handicapped by a preoccupation with skin colour. Nonetheless it is even stated in the Quran that humans are made of many ethnicities, but not to divide ourselves but to celebrate our diversity by getting to know our different complexities. Thus to me someone’s ethnic background is more important in realising one’s cultural identity, as racial definition is no more than a political classification to lump many ethnicities that may share some cultural heritage into a homogenous grouping. Can anybody show me which race can really claim there are homogenous in ethnicity, be they Indians, Chinese, African or Caucasians. If there is truly a homogenous ethnic race, why then the supposedly Caucasian island stronghold of Britain holds people of Saxon, Norman and Celt stock.

As such it behoves me to say, at least for the Malays, that in order to return us to a state of enlightened racial relationships that our forefathers had, we should look beyond Malay as a race. Historically there has never been a Malay race, it is just a classification created under a colonising divide and rule policy, therefore we so called Malays has never been really comfortable with such an identity tag. How can we when at the back of our mind there is a nagging feeling that the source of who we actually are , are actually our ethnic roots that originates from the location of our migrant forefathers. Take my personal ethnicity where I am a pureblood Mandailing. However to me as a Mandailing, what is the worth of this purebloodness as my ethnic group itself has a very diverse blood source. I still remember reading an account of the Mandailing historian Abdur-Razzaq Lubis who visited his ancestral homeland when a village elder said in response to his question of what makes a Mandailing, he is asked to look around at the faces in the village. What he saw was a gamut of features that hints at origins of various ethnic groups, from skin colour of many hues, hair that is jet-black straight to curly red, and facial features that can be aboriginal to outright Caucasian. This truth bears itself out in my own siblings, from the eldest sister that can pass for a Japanese, the second sister a Chinese, I myself a Punjabi and my brother a dark Caucasian. Thus the elder’s gentle reminder that we Mandailings are the result of a melting pot of various ethnicities, whereby our own adat or custom edicts itself encourages marriages out of the clan by disallowing intra-clan marriages without penalty, thus diversifying the bloodlines.

Thus if we realise that this Malay race of ours is a non homogenous entity made up of the Minangs, Rawa, Banjar, Java, Achehnese and so many other indo Malay ethnicity, would it then be difficult to look beyond the artificial Malay race divide and accepting the other ethnicities in our society. Why shouldn’t we if we realise our first PM has Siamese blood, our third Turkish, our fourth Indian and the current one Arab. Should we still pigeonhole them as Malays when their ethnic stock itself is so diverse? If we refuse to recognise that the origins of this hybrid Malay race are of forefathers of various ethnicities migrating here to escape strife, poverty, repression and other difficulties in search of a better life, then we shall continue to be lulled into passivity by artificial racial guarantees. In this new fast paced world of comparative advantages, such protection is just a fleeting fortress of deck of cards that can be blown away anytime, yet it can also be easily strengthened by celebrating our diversity and moulding our own comparative advantages into a juggernaut that can raise all of us into a better future.

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