Those who do not remember the past …
by Zaharom Nain. Posted on September 11, 2011, Sunday
I’M confused. Up until yesterday, I had spent my whole life believing that what is now called Peninsular Malaysia, until independence in 1957, had been colonised by the British and was commonly called British Malaya.
Now I feel a right twit. I feel obliged to apologise to my oft-mentioned expatriate colleague for blaming his great-grandfather for much of Malaysia’s ongoing malaise.
Indeed, now I feel a need to thank him and his ancestors for protecting my late great-grandfather and this country we now call Malaysia.
For yesterday, not one, but two Malaysian historians were reported by both the mainstream and web-based media – now that’s corroboration for you – as saying that only the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Melaka and Penang, were truly colonies of Britain.
The rest of us natives in the Federated and Unfederated Malay States, I’m sure because we were such savages and just couldn’t get along with each other, like naughty children, needed to be protected for our own good.
It is probably inconsequential that it was the British who established the Federated Malay States (FMS) of Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang.
Under this new, more accurate, interpretation, I’m sure the various treaties of protection that were signed then must have been proposed and drawn up by our state leaders, while the British protectors possibly just provided the parchment and ink for the treaties.
Indeed, it’s probably also just an accident, even a misreading, of history, that the British Resident General of the FMS was the one to give the state rulers advice on domestic issues, and that the states were then bound by treaty to follow that advice.
Or perhaps that’s what ‘protection’ is all about – where one is bound by the rules set by one’s protector.
But I’m sure when I look into my history books – which, I’m fearful, may be terribly outdated now due to all these revisions – I’ll discover that our British protectors were extremely benign.
Like they were in Africa, West Asia and India.
And, I’m sure, among others, the descendants of Perak’s first Resident, JWW Birch, will agree with my new look at our history.
I – and you – will now also probably have to rethink the role played by the colonialists – I mean protectors – in our economy then.
Indeed, in the context of pre-independence Malaya, the term ‘colonial economy’ will most likely have to be rephrased to, perhaps, ‘protected economy’.
And, yes, it’s beginning to sound more feasible for me now that the indentured and corvee labour systems were all designed by our wise forefathers.
Indeed, they must have designed it such to develop the tin and rubber industries, specifically for our benefit, of course, while under the caring, fatherly gaze of our British protectors.
Now, as I put all this down, the confusion, while still there, becomes less bothersome. Indeed, the more I think along these ‘new’ lines, our history becomes more involved and engaging.
First, the British only colonised the states of Penang, Melaka and Singapore, possibly because they each had strategic value as ports and trade centres to be exploited.
Second, both the Federated and Unfederated Malay States were not British colonies, but protectorates.
Yep, and the Sultans were in control but they had British ‘advisors’. I wonder if that’s the same as saying that in contemporary Malaysia the Sultans have similar control while being advised by the government of the day? Or at least dominating the government of the day?
So, because the Sultans were in control – like, I guess, they are now in the peninsula – the security forces – such as they were then – like the police, were indeed, answerable to the Sultans. Not to the British ‘protectors’ and ‘advisors’ then.
So, any attack on the police would have to be seen as an attack on our rulers and leaders, not against non-existent colonial powers.
Unless the attacks were carried out in Penang, Singapore and/or Melaka. And even then, only when they were the Straits Settlements.
Indeed, if I’m learning my ‘new’ history correctly, the Malaysian economy, civil service, political system, education system were all unilaterally and independently developed by us.
Well, our refined and wise leaders that is. All under the protection and possibly advice of our British protectors.
I’m beginning to cotton on to this new way of looking at things. And, like I suggested in the beginning, the first chance I get, I’m going to humbly thank my expatriate colleague for his great-grandfather’s contribution in protecting my ancestors and what is now Malaysia. And I’ll try to do it with Rule Britannia playing in the background.