Potpouri at Causeway

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Orang Asli and Malays: What is the Truth in History?

In order to propagate its Malay Supremacy ideology, UMNO-dominated educationists have forcibly implemented in school history textbooks that Malaysian history starts from Malaccan Sultanate by giving the impression that it was a no-man’s land before Malaccan Sultanate.   They proclaim unquestionable Malay Sovereignty so as to legitimize UMNO’s permanent grip on power.

On the contrary, historical facts have  shown not only that there were Malay Hindu kingdoms such as Sri Vijaya Kingdom in Northern Malaysian Peninsula before the emergence of Malaccan Sulatanate, but the first settlers of Malaysian Peninsula, Orang Asli, had already lived in Malaysian Peninsula for  millenniums long before the influx of Malays and other ethnic groups. Even though Orang Asli  are not a single ethnic group but they have one thing in common- that is, they are non-Malay indigenous people. (Dentan et al: 9). 

Orang Asli were never numerically dominant enough to establish  any “definitive government” in Malaysian Peninsula, an argument used by Dr. Mahatir Mohamad in The Malay Dilemma which provides UMNO’s Malay Supremacist ideological basis for denying not only all other later immigrants but also Orang Asli the  native (Bumiputera) status. In their perception, Orang Asli were never advanced enough to establish any  “definitive government” and hence they could not claim any indigenous status for any official systemic preferential treatment.   

Ironically, the similar  ideology was used by the White Afrikaners Nationalists  to justify their indigenous  status in contrast to the earliest known South African  settlers of Khoisan people, whom according to the White Afrikaner  Nationalists, had never established a “civilised government” in South Africa. In other words, similar to Khoisan people in formerly apartheid South Africa, Orang Asli  are numerically negligible to form a dominant political force to reckon with the Malay Supremacist    UMNO to have their aborigines status recognised and receive legitimate state assistance.
It is not difficult to draw similarities between  the two racial supremacist regimes of White Afrikaner nationalists and UMNO’s Malay supremacist.   Therefore, it is important to look into Orang Asli’s predicament so as to examine UMNO’s Malay supremacist ideology and the reason that UMNO has consistently denied   pre-Malaccan history despite the fact that Orang Asli’s ancestors had settled in Malaysia Peninsula as early as 4,000 to 25,000 years ago. .

It is an indisputable fact that they are the  “original people” of Malaysian Peninsula. The term Orang Asli was first used by the Malay-dominated post-independence government. It means literally “the original people” (Colin Nicholas: 14). A term has been long accepted not only by Malays and Orang Asli themselves, it also has been accepted by all Malaysians and  historians.  
Orang Asli have been consistently the deprived minority in their own homeland whose fate  could well be equated  with that of Australian Aborigines, Maoris of New Zealand and American Natives. Not only the Malay Nationalist regime has consistently avoid  any mention of  Orang Asli’s existence in articulating its ultra-nationalist  socio-economic policies, but also has misleadingly equated the Malays’ misfortune  with  that of Australian Aborigines and American Natives. 
 According to historians, there were evidence to show on the contrary, Orang Asli were also victims of  enslavement  by various dominant ethnic groups of Malaysia, including Malays. Despite official denials of slavery,  Colin Nicholas staunchly criticized the official denial over the matter as oral literature of Orang Asli have recorded slave raids (Colin Nicholas: 17).  Enslavement of Orang Asli has also been well documented as early as 1874 by an English colonial official, J.W.W. Birch (Yang:104).
Malay ultra-nationalist  historians have been apologetic towards  Malays’ enslavement of Orang Asli as relatively a “benign” form of slavery. Indeed, Orang Asli slaves were treated variedly from as “a member of family” to rapes, murders and tortures(Dentan et al:54-7) to refugees in their own homeland. Their past grievances and indigenous rights are yet to be addressed by the Malay Supremacist which is seen to be impossible as it is viewed a threat to shaken its single-party rule based on political ideology of racial supremacy and self portrayed past victimization by British colonists and Chinese businessmen. A paradox of
 According to statistics provided by the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (Colin Nicholas, www.coac.org.my), in  2003 , there were about  147,412 Orang Asli composed of 18 different subtypes in Malaysian Peninsula, who compose the most destitute Malaysians. They accounted only about 0.5% of Peninsular Malaysia’s population.  Many believed that they   live a nomadic life in the tropical rain forests.
According to Robert Dentan, most of them have in fact lived in a stable non-nomadic lifestyle in present days despite officials like to describe them as nomadic. Their “nomadic” lifestyle is mainly due to “regroupment” of their settlements, which have given way to forest logging, housing projects, industrial parks, airports and golf courses (Dentan et al: 7).  
The Federal Constitution has not settled Orang Asli’s definite customary and individual lands rights  They have been made to resettle and move from their ancestral lands. Out of all lands proposed for gazettement by in especially Malaysian Peninsula, only 15.1% or 19,222.15 hectares out of totla land proposed for gazettement as Orang Asli reserves had been approved as gazetted Orang Asli reserves as at 31 December 2003 (Colin Nicholas, www.cosc.org.my).
Therefore, in actual facts,  Orang Asli have been displaced form their ancestral lands by the much more dominant majority Malay-only Nationalist  rule. It is a flaw for the  Malay ultra-Nationalists’ to equate Malays’ fate with that of  Maoris of New Zealand, Australian Aborigines and Native Americans.   It is merely a part of their ultra-ultra nationalist propaganda to justify UMNO’s  race-based preferential policies. It is in no way that Malay Supremacist ideology  can justify race blind preferential policy such as affirmative action while the similar ultra-nationalist approach implemented by  former White Afrikaners Nationalists regime in justifying apartheid socio-economic  policies.
They may differ in degree of physical brutality used and being either minority-dominant or majority-dominant racial supremacy. Is UMNO’s Malay Majority Supremacy is more justifiable than White Minority Afrikaner Supremacy in similar multiethnic societies of Malaysia and South Africa? The fact is that majority racial dominance is much harder to break than minority racial dominance.  Therefore the  majority dominant racial supremacy is more justifiable. Nonetheless it is  even more  tyrannical but in disguise vis-a-vis the minority-dominant racial supremacy.

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