Monday, December 02, 2013

Lembah Bujang ruins

These are half-baked thoughts, or more accurately, barely gelled together in the mixing bowl.

It stemmed from the news that the ruins in Lembah Bujang, which is written in our school history books, has been destroyed by a housing developer… and that the authorities couldn’t care less.

This struck me as hugely ironic.

All the calls to claim our identity and to protect our culture against contamination rings hollow when you don’t even try to understand and preserve what and how Malaysia came to be. Instead, they seek to follow the short-term materialistic goals, and THEN complain why Malaysians don’t have national pride.

Because we have a very thin and vague idea of what our ‘budaya’ is. What is it? What makes Malaysia “Malaysia”? When our identity seems to be rolling along what our colonial masters (all but in name) has set forth. The narrow idea of what Malaysia is – unconsciously ingrained and accepted.

Our neighbouring countries, with the exception of Singapore, has an identity … but when questioned about my Malaysia, I’m stumped. What sets us apart? Yummy food? The division of three races? What's there to see? Er, perhaps, you could go to Indonesia instead...?

In neglecting the preservation of historical sites (even the old part of KL), we are effectively taking another piece away from our identity as a nation. Bricks, cement and shiny greedy eyes for potential durian runtuh over the heart of a country. On a bigger scale, it isolates us from the rich interwoven history that is the Malay Archipelago, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The irony is that, in denying/neglecting our roots, we’re instead driven to adopt Eurocentric outlooks, and even those who oppose that vehemently, are sometimes merely REACTING to it, rather than having a more solid ground. (So it becomes that, whatever they do, we must do the opposite, rawr!)

Solid ground? Where? You can’t have a solid fertile ground to grow on if what we have of Malaysian history is a narrow interpretation and a lack to desire to preserve historical places. What could we get from haphazardly reconstructed jigsaw pieces that only inform us of a ‘white-washed’ version of how Malaysia came to be? It’s not about kowtowing to them, but acknowledging our roots and learning from it. Hell, we would probably take pride from it.

It took me 4 years out of school to learn how wonderfully deep my own country’s history is, via Farish A Noor’s “What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You” , as well as the profound effect that colonizers has on us, via  Syed Hussein Al-Attas’ “The Myth of the Lazy Native” . After reading those books, I had an immensely strong desire to buy a truckload and chuck them into schools.

I honestly think that by not being aware and well educated about our past, it will bear bad fruits in the future. Not that it isn’t happening already…

(on a personal note: After recently visiting the Cambodian temples and the My Son temple in Vietnam, I wanted to check out Malaysia’s own, recalling that we do have that too, albeit to a smaller scale. Further fueling my interest in how borders and cultures were historically fluid was Farish A Noor’s show ‘Across the Borders’, that is currently airing. So when the news of this gross neglect came, it was just.... unbelievable.)