"The United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO, (Malay: Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu), is a right-wing party and Malaysia's largest political party; a founding member of the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled the country uninterruptedly since its independence. It is known for being a major proponent of Malay Supremacy or Ketuanan Melayu and mild Islamic fundamentalism, which holds that the Malays and other Muslims are the 'definitive' people of Malaysia and, thus, deserve special privileges as their birthright."*
So the entire foundation of Umno rests upon the ethnocentric notion of Malay Supremacy. Which begs the question: how do you define "Malay"? At this crucial juncture in Malaysia's political evolution, it's important to examine these fundamental issues and see what can be gleaned. Friends have been forwarding an anonymous essay on this very topic. Not a particularly well-written piece, but it does contain some fascinating facts. I shall present it here, after putting in some of my own editorial touches:
How many of you have read the book entitled Contesting Malayness edited by a professor of the National University of Singapore? It reflects the anthropological view that there is no such race as the "Malays" to begin with.Now if my memory serves me correctly, Umno actually died 27 years ago on 4 February 1988 when Justice Harun Hashim declared the party illegal, since it had breached the rules governing political parties by failing to register at least 30 branches. According to Wikipedia:
Following the original migration of the Yunnan (southwestern) Chinese around 6,000 years ago, they moved to Taiwan and are today known as the Alisan; some migrated to the Philippines and became known as the Aeta; others moved to Borneo around 4,500 years ago and are now called the Dayak. The migrants also split off to Sulawesi, Jawa, and Sumatra. The final migration was to the Malayan Peninsular about 3,000 years ago. A sub-group from Borneo also moved to Champa in Cambodia around 4,500 years ago.
Interestingly, the Champa deviant group moved back to present day Kelantan. There are also traces of the Dong Song and Hoabinhian migration from Vietnam and Cambodia. To further confuse the issue, there was also a Southern Thai migration, from what we know as Pattani today (see Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula).
Of course, we also have the Minangkabau who claim descent from Alexander the Great and a West Indian Princess (Sejarah Melayu pp 1-3)
So is there really a race called the "Malays"? Most anthropologists DO NOT SEEM TO THINK SO.
Neither do the "Malays" who live on the West Coast of Johore. They would rather be called Javanese. What about the west coast Kedah inhabitants who prefer to be known as Acehnese? Or the Ibans who simply want to be known as Ibans? Try calling a Kelabit a "Malay" and see what reaction you get... you'll be glad their head-hunting days are over.
The concept of "Malay" therefore refers to a collection of peoples who speak a similar language. Even so, "a similar language" does not mean the words are similar. Linguists call this the "Lego-type" language, where words are added on to the root word to make different meanings and to impart tenses and such. The Indonesians disagree with this classification. They refuse to be called Malay no matter how you may define the term.
According to this classification, the concept of "Malay" must include the Filipinos, Papua New Guineans, Australian Aborigines, as well as Polynesian Aborigines. These peoples are part of the Australo-Melanesian migration from Africa dating 60,000 years back.
The definition of "Malay" should also apply to the Taiwanese singer, Ah Mei, whose Alisan tribe can be regarded as the ancestors of the "Malays." The Southern Chinese (of Funan Province) ought to classified as "Malay" too, since they are of the same stock that migrated south 6,000 years ago.
Are the Bugis "Malays"? Interestingly, the Bugis, who predominantly live on Sulawesi, do not even consider themselves Indonesians. Neither do they fall into the same group as the migrating Southern Chinese of 6,000 years ago - nor the Australo-Melanesian group from Africa. The Bugis are, in fact, a cross between the Chinese and the Arabs. They are descended from a renegade Ming Dynasty official who turned to piracy. His career as a buccaneer was so successful that Admiral Cheng Ho was despatched to hunt him down and put an end to his mischief. In effect, the Bugis were career pirates operating among the Johore-Riau Islands. The nephew of Daeng Kemboja was appointed the first Sultan of Selangor. That makes the entire Selangor Sultanate part Arab, part Chinese. Talk to the Bugis Museum curator near Kukup in Johore. (Kukup is located at the south-westernmost tip of Johore, near Pontian Kecil).
Let's not delve too deeply into the legend of the five warriors - Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekiu, and Hang Lekir - who shared the same family name as Hang Li Poh. And who was she? A Ming princess who was sent to marry the Sultan of Malacca. The elder son of the vanquished Malacca Sultan was killed in Johor, and the other son eventually became the Sultan of Perak. Do we detect any Chinese genes in Raja Azlan? Could he be the descendant of Princess Hang Li Poh?
Next question: if the Malacca Babas are part-Malay, why have they been marginalized by not being classified bumiputera? Which part of their "Malayness" is not legitimate? Whatever the answer, why are the Portuguese of Malacca accepted as bumiputera? Didn't their forefathers arrive a hundred years AFTER the arrival of the first Babas? Parameswara founded Malacca in 1411. The Portuguese came in 1511, and the Dutch in 1641. Oddly enough, the Babas were in fact once classified as bumiputera, but they were "declassified" in the 1960's. WHY?
The Sultan of Kelantan had genetic roots in the Pattani Kingdom, making him of Thai origin. And has anyone come across a coffee-table book commissioned by the Sultan of Perlis wherein he claims to be a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad? Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim is supposedly the author of the book. I'd pay good money to get my hands on a copy!
Negrito women and their babies (from the Philippines)
How many of you have met an Orang Asli? The further north you go, the more African they look. Why are they called Negritos? It's a Spanish word which translates as "little Negroes." The farther south you go, the more "Indonesian" they look. And the ones who live on Cameron Highlands look like a 50-50 blend. Take the Batek of Taman Negara, who look a lot like Eddie Murphy clones. Or the Negritos who live below the Thai border near Temenggor Lake. The Mah Meri of Carey Island look exactly like the Jakuns of Endau Rompin. Half African, half Indonesian.
There was once a Hindu-Malay Empire in Kedah. That's right. The Malays were Hindu before they became Muslim. It went by the name Langkasuka. Today it is known as Lembah Bujang. This Hindu-Malay Empire flourished about 2,000 years ago, pre-dating Borobodur and Angkor Wat by about 500 years. Lembah Bujang was a mighty trading empire, and it was built by Indian craftsmen and stonemasons. Obviously, Langkasuka was a vassal of India. This should make the Indians bumiputeras too since they were here 2,000 years ago. Why have they been dismissed as pendatang (immigrants) and marginalized?
In effect the "Malay" race is essentially an amalgamation of Asian tribes. So it's totally incorrect to call this country "Tanah Melayu." Instead we should call it "Tanah Truly Asia."
For once the Tourism Ministry got it right.
"The Tunku and former UMNO President Hussein Onn set up a new party called UMNO Malaysia, which claimed to be the successor to the old UMNO. UMNO Malaysia was supported mainly by members of the Team B faction from UMNO, but Mahathir was also invited to join the party leadership. However, the party collapsed after the Registrar of Societies refused to register it as a society (without providing an explanation)."
Two weeks later, on 18 February 1988, Mahathir formed a surrogate party called Umno Baru. Which means the original Umno established by Dato' Onn Jaafar on May 11 1946 was no longer in existence. Instead, the party became, to all intents and purposes, an extension of and a vehicle for Mahathir's own egocentricity and megalomania. And the biggest joke is, Mahathir himself once declared his own racial origins as "Indian Muslim." Ketuanan Mamak. How does THAT sound?
[First posted 22 March 2008]
*This is a verbatim quote from the Wikipedia entry on UMNO in March 2008. Somebody has since updated the entry, omitting the description "right-wing" and toning down the ethnocentric emphasis.