It is a fact which our leaders will not openly admit. But such is our reliance on foreign workers built up especially over the past two decades that the Malaysian economy – and our way of life as we know it today – will be severely disrupted should these ‘pendatang’ decide not to work here or be suddenly expelled from the labour force.
This is especially true of workers from Indonesia who are to be found in every sector of the country’s economy. In a real sense the Indonesian worker today are like what the Chinese and Indian migrant population were a century and a half ago in the colonial economy – that is, as described by Sir Frank Swettenham, the doyen of British colonial officials in Malaya, providing ‘the bone and sinew’ of the economy of Malaya and Singapore. Swettenham omitted to mention that a small number of indentured Javanese labour formed part of the colonial “coolie” workforce.
But our appreciation of the Indonesian workers today toiling in the plantations, construction sites, industries workshops and other rough and dirty work places for a smaller wage than what our own Malaysian workers are willing to accept should not be limited to gratitude for helping us grow our economy or making the lives of our middle class easier by providing a ready and cheap source of household or informal economy labour – a source not available to the equivalent middle and even upper classes in advanced economies such as the United States, Australia and Japan.
It is an appreciation which also needs to be placed in the larger context of awareness and knowledge of our historical roots.
Many Malaysians are not aware or prefer not to remember that their ancestral and historical roots come from Indonesia. They include not only members of the Malay community here but also members of the Chinese, Indian and other communities who may have settled here via an Indonesian connection.
A quick search – no more than five minutes – through any of the internet search engines will uncover fascinating facts of how immigrants principally from Sumatra and Java during the time of the Dutch East Indies, especially during the 1930’s, have settled in Malaya and inter-married with the local Malays, while many others have simply seen themselves as a part of the indigenous people here.
Our historical links with Nusantara
The migration and settlement of Indonesians and their antecedent communities and ancestors, of course, go much further back in time than the two latest waves in the 1930’s and during the past three decades.
Historians and other researchers of the Malay sultanates in the country have pieced together extensive histories of the various states using Malay and European sources. Prominent in these state histories are the intertwining of the indigenous Malays with their counterparts from Sumatra, Java, the Riau islands and other parts of today’s Indonesia.
Even the word “Nusantara” used as a contemporary Indonesian term for the Indonesian archipelago connotes this long time historical connection. It is seen as originating in Old Javanese and was taken from an oath by Gajah Mada in 1336, as written in the Old Javanese Pararaton and Nagarakretagama (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nusantara).
What may be especially of interest is the way in which the various sultanates, especially Johore, Pahang, Selangor, Perak and Negri Sembilan draw their pedigree and bloodlines from families and dynasties based in Indonesia. The writings of early colonial administrators such as Winstedt, Wilkinson, Maxwell, Clifford, Linehan and others on the early histories of the Malay States, detail these roots scrupulously and with much less political baggage than our own post-independence historians, none of whom have much scholarship to add to what the British (and others) have discovered – and left us – about Malay culture, law, language, social structure, economy, and much of the present knowledge on Malays.
Unfortunately these writings now appear lost or are unread by our young generation schooled in the politically correct standards of official historiography and their pseudo-academic peddlers who generally fail to acknowledge the colonial sources of our history except when it suits them.
Celebrating our Diversity
It was by concidence that at a monthly social get-together with schoolmates from my alma mater, while swopping stories of the latest political shenanigans in the country, the discussion turned to the subject of the Bugis influence in the country. When laughingly questioned about his roots, our Malay colleague proudly pointed out that he was from Bugis stock and could trace his history to charcoal traders who came from the island of Sulawesi.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Bugis, also called Buginese, are people of southern Celebes (Sulawesi), Indonesia. Their language belongs to the Austronesian language family. The Bugis are the culturally dominant ethnic group of the island and are often linked with the closely related Makassarese (https://global.britannica.com/topic/Bugis).
Wikipaedia has a more extensive description noting that there is “historical linguistic evidence of some late Holocene immigration of Austronesian speakers to South Sulawesi from Taiwan” indicating that the Bugis have “possible ultimate ancestry in South China. Scientific studies of this migration apparently is supported by studies of Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups.
The free online encyclopaedia also notes that despite the population numbering only around 6 million, the Buginese are very powerful people and they have heavily influenced politics in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
In the 1830’s, the Singapore Free Press provided the following breakdown of the inhabitants of Singapore:
Europeans, Indo-Europeans, Native Christians, Armenians, Jews, Arabs, Malays , Chinese, Natives of the Coast of Coromandel, Ditto of Hindoostan, Javanese, Bugis and Balinese, Caffres, Siamese and Parsees.
Today our official censuses define us in different ways from those employed by colonial censuses. But whatever segmentation of racial origin is used – past and present – we should all – like my Malay colleague – be proud of our ancestral roots whilst celebrating our common nationality from our Malaysian birthplace, as well as our common humanity.
Source : Lim Teck Ghee@The Heat Malaysia Online