Us vs. Them. This sentiment is no stranger to us. We see it in our daily lives. In the Borneo partners of the Federation, it is even stronger. Since coming together with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak barely saw the benefits of Malaysia – or so we like to say.
I do not deny since 1963, the development – especially commercial, educational, technological and infrastructural – has always been focused on West Malaysia, i.e. Malaya. In the time of our fourth Malaysian Prime Minister, numerous highways sprouted from Johor Bahru to Kangar, from Melaka to Kota Bahru. Yet we see only a two way trunk road spanning whole of Sarawak – liberally covered in potholes. It is ironic that a man once had control of the Ministry of Finance, the Budget and was several times Acting Prime Minister, complained about the state of Sarawak’s roads in the elections of 2006. When in office, that same man never did anything about our budget and petroleum royalty.
Here’s where I have departed from my previous line of thinking – thinking I held to back in my early 20s. Sadly a thinking still held by many today.
Yes, I distrust Malaya and the general Malayans. No doubt I wish to see justice returned to Sarawak and Sabah. Wishful thinking is that in the next 50 years, all of Malaya’s development budget be funneled to Sarawak and Sabah instead. Yes, when I was much younger, I borderlined anti-Malaya. Until I went to Malaya.
After spending years in Malaya, I conclude that most of the communities there have not left the Feudal Age. They are still stuck in the era of undivided loyalty to local lords. An era that the British tried to reform, but failed.
A Feudal Age Refined
Did you know: Malaysian history books still condemn the British’s efforts to restructure the taxation system of the 1800s? “Freedom fighters” like Tok Naning, Tok Janggut, Dato’ Bahaman, and Dato Maharajalela of Perak? The murder of J.W.W. Birch is still celebrated as a symbol against oppression and colonisation. In the 1800s, the British Intervention came in because the warlords kept on fighting each other – threatening the trade in Malacca, Penang and Singapore. Going back to the taxation system, under the customary system, the local rulers & feudal chiefs appointed by the respective sultans collects the tax on the Crown’s behalf. But instead of surrendering a large portion to the Crown, they gave only a fraction to their king. What the British “colonialist” did was taxes would be collected directly by the governments. The money will be centralised and be used for the administration of the state. When this happened, a minority lost a large portion of their income. So they gathered their loyal men and began an uprising. Notice that the “resistance” are lead by people who lost the privileges of tax collection, not by people who actually toil the earth to pay those taxes. And this point – British changed the tax system – is forever immortalised in the current syllabus in school.
The British tried to ring democracy to Malaya. Sadly there are those who became a bottleneck. Democracy there is only achieved through a warlord and kapitan mindset that exists till today. There never was a proliferation of thoughts, ideals and ideology. It shows in how History is taught in schools. It is almost blasphemous or sacrilegious to suggest that the authors of the textbooks are wrong.
And if you take a peek into our History books – the official one that is – you notice a trend, a cycle. From the fall of Malacca to the surrender of Singapore to Sir Stamford Raffles, to as recent as the early 1900s, i.e. the fall of Johor into ‘colonialisation’, it involves warring factions.
Coming back to my point. In Malaya, it is the culture and mindset that the government is totally responsible for the people’s future and well-being. Should a person trip and fall, it is the duty of the government to pick that person up and carry him on his journey to become a multimillionaire. However if the government tries to regulate anything, the people has the right to cry wolf.
Let’s take road safety. It is the duty of the government to reduce the rate of accident in our roads. That includes increasing the number of lanes in Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley and to do away with speed limits. However the Government may not conduct checks along the roads to ensure compliance. If the Road Transport Department holds a roadblock, they are accused of wanting bribes. Or because an MP has interest in the speed trap cameras set up. When a driver is pulled over for speeding or running the red light or failure to wear their seatbelt, the government is being racist and abusing its powers. I find it stupid: drive responsibly to reduce accident rate. It is that simple. It’s common sense.
An Identity Lost
Why is West Malaysia at the stage they are in today in terms of politics and discord? I suspect and speculate that this is because they have no identity to hold on to.
I do not blame the masses. I look at those who benefit from it. People who want power. These men and women hungry for power have used every means necessary: race, religion & character assassination. They only become united because they are against something – maybe against Christians and Jews, against non-Malays, against the United States, against people who do not agree with them.
The masses are merely complying with the modern day feudalism attitude. Only a few exceptions exist of people who support components of the current system but having a completely different thinking, mindset and approach.
In Sarawak – I cannot speak for Sabah – we have been looking at one entity since 1840. No, Sarawak is not the oldest state in the Federation. And Sarawak has its share of rebellion as well. But the people of the land of the white rajahs have been united with one another consistently since Brooke came. Ironically Sarawak has more races and ethnicity than any State of Malaya; and Sarawak’s land mass is larger than all of West Malaysia!
In a rebellion against the Brooke that resulted in the Battle of Beting Maro, the opposing forces were multiracial and multi-religious. Sadly no rebellion in West Malaysia transcends race or religion.
Even while being made the “stepchild” of Malaya, Sarawakians continue to stay united. But to West Malaysians, this form of unity is primitive, uncivilised, stupid and misled. Why?
Sarawakians are united for peace and because we want to enjoy peace. We are not united because we want dominance or united for the sake of unity.
In West Malaysia, the mindset is really: you are either with us or against us. No compromise in between. No means of navigation. Clearly you can see that the world is not just black or white. Clearly you can hear that sound is not just vowels and consonants but also notes and percussion? If you follow the Masterchef franchise, you will know that good food is not just sweet or sour but also a symphony of taste, aroma and sight.
I am not saying we are not racist in Sarawak. Compared to Malaya, Sarawakians are more racist! We have more races to deal with man! But we accept the points of differences and accept them. Unlike Malaya, we do not try to impose our cultures, norms and beliefs unto others. As racist as we are, many of us speak more than three languages: English, Malay (both Malaysian Malay and Sarawakian Malay) and our native tongue. I know a relative who speaks one of the many Bidayuh languages, Iban, Hokkien, Mandarin, English, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Sarawak, Bahasa Melanau all flawlessly!
It is not that we lack religion here. I know many who are devout Muslims, Animists, Shenists, Buddhists, Christians (and we have lots of those) here. There is more pantang larang than you can imagine! Varies from beliefs as well as longhouses and kampungs, and ai or rivers.
Keep to Our Roots
I’ve pointed out the differences between Sarawak and West Malaysia. Ironic how you will find me ending this entry.
On June 5th, 2015, Sabah was rocked by an earthquake recorded at 5.9 (Mw). Unlike the Nepali earthquake, the Kelantan floods of 2014 or the Rohingya flight, Sabah did not receive similar attention in the social media. Maybe because it is Sabah.
As if it is not enough, you hear some pitiful comments, or suara sumbang, saying the Sabahans deserve it because there are many non-Muslim inhabitants who consume port and alcohol, and encouraging free sex and aurat exposure.
Men and women lost their lives in this disaster. Many are displaced. Shame on you who pride themselves as devout and modern, but lack the sensitivity or the heart to be a human being.
Shame on you for not having common sense.
Shame on you.
And to those in Sabah and Sarawak, this is a time for us to come together. It is a painful time. Before talking about those people thousands of miles away from our homes, you are our closest neighbour. You should be given more attention first. Ignore the suara sumbang.
Don’t let a handful of ‘Malaysians’ sow the hate – there are 23.9 million of us in total. Yes, that includes the other West Malaysians who are emphatic of your plight, sorrow and pain.