Who can be labelled as ‘Pendatang’ in Malaysia: Gerakan’s Wayang

At Gerakan’s recently concluded national conference, the Malaysian public was treated to a lonely voice of the party in the way of one of its delegates who stated his view with regard to the birth place of the various racial groups in the country. According to Johor delegate Tan Lai Soon,  not only were the Chinese and Indians pendatang, but the Malays were also not natives of Malaysia either as they had emigrated from Indonesia.

Tan said he wanted to explain the position of Malaysians in the country, as the original Bumiputeras were the Orang Asli and natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

“Except for the natives of Sabah and Sarawak and the Orang Asli, everyone else in Malaysia is a pendatang,”

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Tan also noted that “when Umno members say that the Chinese are pendatang, they obviously forgot that they were also pendatang from Indonesia,” he said.

This view is one which many Malaysians hold – whether in public or privately.

But it is one which UMNO, Perkasa, BTN and “ketuanan Melayu” supporters do not like to hear about and are trying to suppress as it delegitimizes the special privileges that they are addicted to. Tan’s statement can be said to be akin to

stating that the emperor is not clothed when he is parading around in his fine new clothes.


Damage Control or Digging a Bigger Hole 

For daring to point out this inconvenient fact of the origins of many Malaysians, Tan’s membership in Gerekan has now been suspended with immediate effect. Attempting to do damage control, deputy president Cheah Soon Hai is now arguing that Tan’s position was not the party’s stand. According to him Gerakan is a party of all races and that no Malaysian is a pendatang.

Meanwhile, on cue, a coalition of Malay NGOs called Pertubuhan Pembela Islam (Pembela) has lodged a police report at the Dang Wangi police station over the issue and has asked Attorney-General Gani Patail to charge Tan under the Sedition Act 1948. According to Pembela the ‘seditious’ statement has given rise to a tense situation and triggered anger among Malays as well as indirectly insulted the position of the Malay rulers,

Cheah said it was not just Malay NGOs who were upset with Tan’s remarks as party members too had lodged complaints over the remark by Tan in his speech. Finally, he offered a public apology “on behalf of the party to all Malaysians who have been hurt by his remark.

Gerakan may be trying to sooth UMNO’s ruffled feathers by its apology but it is digging a bigger hole for itself. “Spineless party”, “puppet party”, “kowtowing leaders”, “shameless leaders”,  “wimpering lap dog” are some of the more polite responses that the Gerakan president and vice-president have obtained from disgusted members of the public.

Tan’s statement may be politically incorrect or insensitive but he was simply saying out loud what many educated members of the public understand to be the history of migration into Malaysia from the neighbouring countries and from afar. This also happens to be the authoritative view among many scholars of Malaysia – whether they may be historians, geographers, demographers or from other discipline.

The origins of the population of colonial Malaya was the subject of much investigation and study by colonial officials and scholars. Almost all books and official records that came out during the colonial period devoted considerable attention to the subject of the origins of the Malays and non-Malays. 

Below are some sample writings on the subject from colonial scholars that will be useful for Gerekan member Tan to use in his defence when his suspension case is heard by his party leaders soon.

From R.O., Winstedt

“In recent historical times the mixture of Malay races has proceeded rapidly in British Malaya …. Old Malay Malacca was full of thousands of Javanese and many Muslim Gujeratis and Tamils, and these aliens must have left their mark on a population that was a collection of strangers from the beginning.  Selangor may have traces of old Malacca suzerainty, but the modern nobility are Bugis and there have been numbers of recent Sumatran immigrants. Negri Sembilan has been Minangkabau almost from the first. In Kedah and the Northern States there has been an infusion of Siamese blood . Again, in every State in the past there has been intercourse with the aborigines, and the aboriginal women have borne children to Malay fathers. Wavy or curly hair, dark complexions and other evidences of Semang blood distinguish the Malay of Upper Perak. South of that there is the lank-haired Indo Chinese Malay type, whose ancestry is Sakai on the distaff side.” Malaya (London , 1923) edited by R.O. Windstedt, pp. 86-87. 

From Emily Sadka

In addition to this internal immigration [Malays into the Protected Malay States] there was a large inflow from the islands of the Indonesian archipelago. In Perak, the foreign immigrants – the Bugis particularly – were the principal traders of the state; a Bugis trader, Nakhoda Trong, was a partner in the syndicate which leased the farm of the Perak river customs duties in 1874. There were settlements of Rawas and Mandelings from north-east Sumatra; a Rawa Che’ Abdul Karim went with a Sumatran to open up Selama in the 1870s, and during the British occupation of Perak in 1875-6, Rawas, Mandelings and Bugis helped the British in their military operations….In 1879, a census of the Malay population in Perak gave the number of foreign Malays as 9,274 out of a total free Malay population of 56,632. In Selangor the population was even more mixed. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the Bugis settled on the Klang and Selangor, and in the middle of the eighteenth century, a Bugis prince became the first Sultan of Selangor and established the present dynasty. There were important Bugis and Sumatran trading communities in Kuala Lumpur and Klang. It was a quarrel between them that precipitated the Selangor wars of 1866-73. In Kuala Selangor there were also foreign Malay communities; in 1875 the Resident of Selangor described the population as consisting of Mengkabaus, Mandelings, Rawas, Bugis and Chinese….Negri Sembilan…had absorbed into its clan system colonies of immigrants from Malacca, Java and Acheh; and…a Bugis chief had established a settlement on the lower Linggi ….

Note: footnotes are omitted except for this one

A Malay traveller has described the population of Klang in 1872 as a heterogenous collection of Malays, Arabs, English, Chinese, Eurasian, Eurasian, Klings, Bengalis, Hindus, and native born (peranakan) of Penang, Malacca, Singapore and Kedah – about 3,000 in all. See Mohammed Ibrahim bin Abdullah, Kesah Pelayaran [Account of Travels] Johore, 1956, p. 46

Make non-BTN History Compulsory Reading

The above are just two examples of the meticulous accounts of the population of Malaya and Malaysia during the colonial period. They also throw light on various other subjects such as the roots of the royal houses in Malaysia and the dynasties they have founded.

These and other unbiased histories and studies need to be compulsory reading material for all the political parties in Malaysia so that we can avoid further needless controversies on subjects such as   who are pendatang and who are indigenous, and on related issues that provoke unwarranted calls for the use of the Sedition Act.         

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