This article constitutes the second in a series that will draw upon letters, emails, wiretaps, contracts, bank accounts and other forms of documentary evidence that are classified, i.e. evidence that has never before been revealed to the Malaysian public. Estimated to span some nine to ten parts, the series began with an article (refer link below) that made public the impetus to Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s secret pact with Lim Kit Siang, the de facto chief of the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
In this part, I will attempt to retell history as it was seen through the eyes of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia. Much of what is written was derived from private communications that took place between the Tunku and a late historian who played a major role in drafting the early History of Malaya and Southeast Asia.
The historian, whose memoirs were never published, left behind a trove of manuscripts that chronicled events as they had unfolded, including accounts the British deliberately suppressed to mold history in a way they deemed fit. The purpose of this article and another to follow is to make public those accounts and to anticipate how history had shaped the corrupt leadership of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia.
As we go along, I shall attempt to publish documentary evidence wherever necessary to support my claims, particularly those that relate to the Maminco and Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandals, the mother of all scandals to have rocked the nation since independence.
When the aristocrats cried foul
The period between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was an era of moral renaissance for British Malaya. It was during this period that rulers began to realise how little the Chinese regard was for the eminence of the Monarchical institution. The aristocratic class was particularly concerned that the Chinese, who considered themselves traders and merchants at most, had purchased large terrains of land without the need for royal assent.
Bothered by this development, the rulers approached the British and requested that the practice of selling land to the Chinese be stopped. According to them, the Chinese were outsiders who still regarded China to be their domicile of origin and had no business owning land within the Malay states. The rulers insisted that the Malayan peninsula belonged exclusively to the Malays and expressed dissatisfaction that the British had ignored the question of heritage.
By heritage, the rulers implied that land ownership was as much a matter for the state as it was a question of Malay rights. On this basis alone, they argued that the Monarchical institution did in fact possess jurisdiction over matters of land ownership and acquisition as it was the duty of the Monarch to uphold the rights of the Malays.
But their arguments were hinged on perception. Back when the British began expanding their dominion over the western peninsula, they (the British generals) acknowledged the existence of established Malay governments within the Malay states and identified these governments with the traditional Monarchs. The British further recognised these Monarchs to be the heads of states and chose only to negotiate terms of occupancy with them.
The rulers took this to mean that the British recognised the Malayan peninsula as being the land of the Malays. But the British denied this. They argued that the peninsula was never exclusive to the modern Malays and as such, was never ‘the land of the Malays’. According to them, rulers had no say in matters of land preservation or reservation unless it concerned land customarily reserved to the Malays.
The British alluded to the fact that the rulers had welcomed Chinese traders from earlier arrivals with open arms. Many of these traders had assimilated with the locals both culturally, and in a limited sense, religiously. The British asked the rulers to decide if these groups were regarded to be outsiders, as a blanket rule against Chinese ownership of land would impinge on these groups as well. That became a serious problem for the rulers, as some of the Chinese from early arrivals had married Malays and were regarded to be a part of the extended Malay community.
So it became a question of communal rights vs Malay rights, which, in the books of the rulers, meant the same thing. But the British didn’t see it that way. To them, a Chinese was a Chinese, and likewise, a Malay, a Malay. This upset the rulers considerably. It dawned upon them that the British were being manipulative in their associations with the palace just to protect the Chinese. They began to see the British induced diaspora of Chinese towards the Malay states as being a threat to the sanctity of the Monarchical institution.
But all of this didn’t just happen overnight.
The rise of Malay nationalism
The Chinese had already been swarming around tin mines in British Malaya as early as 1865. Back then, Straits tin had come to earn a reputation in the British and European metal markets owing to its superior quality. The British needed the Chinese to work the mines. They knew that the Chinese had a penchant for hard work and were willing to slog it out under extreme conditions for a meagre wage.
Over the years, the British developed a symbiotic relationship with the Chinese that factored out a Malay presence. The nature of this relationship was such, that the Chinaman would help establish townships and businesses around mining enclaves in return for land sold to him at dirt cheap prices. The Malays couldn’t afford land within these townships as the Chinaman would offer them prices that didn’t make sense.
The fact is, by 1900, an unprecedented number of Chinese had gained enormous wealth and diversified into other business domains, some infiltrating the plantation sector and establishing schools in the Chinese medium. Within a decade or two, many Chinese had come to own large plantations and began cultivating rubber on a mass scale.
The problem with the Chinese was their greed for money. Though hardworking and industrious, many were concerned only with enriching their community and never gave a hoot about nation building. Whenever approached, a typical Chinaman would tell you that he was not a subject of the local Monarch. When asked why, he would tell you that he was in Malaya only to do business and nothing more.
These attitudes, though despicable, were ignored by the British, as all that mattered to the colonialist was the expansion of the economic pie. That expansion brought forth the development of transportation infrastructure and facilitated better communication between village elders who were spread across the Malay states. The better the infrastructure, the more frequently these elders met. By the early 1930’s, many of these elders were organising secret gatherings in villages along the west coast of the peninsula to discuss what was then regarded a Chinese threat.
These discussions spawned a number of movements centred in remote villages spread across Perak, Kedah, the inner regions of northern Selangor and areas surrounding the Linggi River in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan (a transportation route for tin traders). The leaders of these movements feared that the British were deliberately steering the Malay states towards a Chinese hegemony of sorts.
The British, however, did not think much of these movements. They did not believe the Malays were capable of organising nationalist movements that were large enough to pose a threat to their hegemony of the Malay states. As far as they were concerned, the Malays were a submissive group that could easily be bought over with sweet talk and empty rhetoric.
But they were wrong.
Towards the second half of the 1940’s, a large number of Malays had organised into various interest groups that sought a reform of the colonialist constitution. A major grouse emanating from all these groups was the ease with which the British dished out citizenships to the Chinese under the Malayan Union proposal. The aristocratic class, in particular, was pissed that the British had resorted to finding ways to curb the powers of the traditional Monarch.
While some of these groups comprised labourers who were tired of being treated discriminately, many were fuelled by the question of indigeneity and the eminence of the Monarchical institution. It is said that the palace secretly got its people to infiltrate these groups to advance pro-Monarchical stances against the British. Regardless the agenda, these groups had but one thing in common – all of them did not see a clear future with Chinese being granted rights equal to Malays.
It didn’t help that the Malays were seen to be at the bottom of the socioeconomic strata. It irked the average farmer and fisherman that the British paid little attention to their welfare and focused on developing infrastructure around ‘Chinese run’ townships instead. By 1948, the Malays began to develop a deep sense of nationalism and transformed many of their movements into political outfits. It was no longer just about preserving the sanctity of the Monarchical institution.
It was all about preserving the dignity of the Malays as a race.
To be continued…
- Malaysia Today.