Thursday, September 27, 2018


Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was a massive musical influence during my teen years. I was introduced to this brilliantly eccentric Russian composer by Duncan S. Catling - a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to teach English literature in Batu Pahat High School from 1964 to 1965. I'll never forget the day I visited Duncan in his rented terrace house and he put on The Rite of Spring for me. I was never the same again. Stravinsky had the same transmutative effect on the young Frank Zappa.

The recording of Rite of Spring Duncan played for me was conducted by Ernest Ansermet, a Swiss colleague of Igor Stravinsky and only a year younger than the composer. Ansermet was a highly regarded academic conductor who could be relied upon to render technically consummate interpretations of any score.

Many years later I heard a recording of Rite of Spring conducted by Seiji Ozawa and was completely blown away by the raw, primal feel Ozawa succeeded in capturing, especially with the percussive sections. If you'd rather listen to an X-rated interpretation of Rite of Spring, go for the Ozawa recording!

[First posted 3 January 2011]

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Jens & Dominik, two Swiss travelers who hopped on the Love Bus and ended up at Magick River, take a giant leap into the Selangor Dam Lake off the Pertak Bridge. Both survived to act as British soldiers in a feature film called Hanyut ("Carried Away"). Music courtesy of Duncan Bridgeman, Jamie Catto and 1 Giant Leap. Dominik shot the brief interview with Jens; then I took over the camera.

Yup... it's all about conquering fear!

[First posted 29 May 2010]

Preface to TANAH TUJUH ~ Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos

AT THE OUTSET I wish to declare that I am not an anthropologist.
I am, however, deeply interested in mythology. What fascinates me about the mythic tradition is that it has proven to be an effective way of preserving important archetypal images and ideas for thousands of years, merely through oral transmission down the generations. Like nursery rhymes imbibed in early childhood, a myth once heard is never forgotten, even if a few minor details get added or subtracted along the way.
Nadi Empok & his wife Lumoh in 1994
In this respect I perceive myths as organic time capsules of the tribal superconscious. More precisely they are a semiotic time-travel device: “reality spores” designed to survive aeons of incomprehension or indifference, only to germinate anew as soon as favorable conditions occur. To bring the stories back to life, you only have to add the water of empathy, of emotive resonance.

Of course, it helps greatly if you also have “genetic access” to the stories. For each story, like a life, has its own specific genealogy. But in the end, all stories can be traced to a single source - the Mother Lode of Stories - which I comprehend as the deep memory of the Earth herself.
MYTHOLOGY, folklore, and grandmothers' tales are by definition non-logical story forms, meaningless to the rational mind and subject to no “scientific proof.” Characters tend to appear and disappear without rhyme or reason, and their actions and reactions are generally an unfathomable mystery - until one adds the essential ingredient, subjectivity. The fact that “mystery” and “myth” both contain the key word my is highly instructive. One has to own them, take personal possession of these transpersonal, extra-dimensional truths, before they yield their secret kernel of meaning. More specifically, one has to incorporate the mythic system into one's vision quest, so that the sense of revelation which follows the sudden flash of insight becomes an intensely intimate experience. For whom does the bell toll, if not yourself?
Halus, Titit & Kusak in 1996
In attempting to piece together the few Temuan myth fragments that I chanced upon, I have had to apply a liberal amount of interpretative glue. It is certainly not my intention to present this as some sort of “definitive” Temuan gospel. The shreds of tribal lore that have survived, at least amongst the Temuan I know, are too tattered and incomplete to reconstitute into any meaningful whole - unless one matches them with myth fragments from other native traditions. But essentially I just want to share my own insights and opinions - and the exquisite tingle of quiet excitement that each discovery brought - with whomsoever may be interested.   
The gods and heroes of antiquity are, in truth, fragments of our own mystery, our own unfolding story in space and time. We need only take the initiative to reclaim them from the myopia of our throwaway consumer culture and the self-destructive forgetfulness of our times.

TANAH TUJUH ~ Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos was published in 2007 by Silverfish Books. It's available in hard copy as well as digital format.

[First posted 16 November 2017]

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


This timely and lucid essay by AB Sulaiman was lifted from Malaysiakini as a service to those who have no subscription and therefore cannot access it...

"I do not share the euphoria surrounding the formation of Perkasa. I do not see how its claim to protect race and religion can promote Malay socio-economic progress. Ibrahim Ali's declared intentions show all the promise of repeating the mistake and are an exercise in futility."


AB Sulaiman
March 10, 2010

The birth of Malay NGO Perkasa is obviously causing a stir in the Malaysian social, intellectual and political landscape.

It has a declared intention of acting as a "shield against those who question Malay rights, the royalty and Islam," according to its founding head and Independent MP Ibrahim Ali.

Ibrahim Ali (courtesy of The Malaysian Insider)

The target and philosophy is thereby made clear - to protect and promote the sanctity of Islam, the martabat (dignity and honour) of the Malay people, and the spirit of nationalism. This falls under the ideology and banner of untuk agama, bangsa dan negara (for religion, race and nation).

But hasn't the same philosophy and ideology been used by the Malay leadership in governing the country ever since Independence in 1957? Wasn't it adopted in the interests of Ketuanan Melayu (KM) after the launch of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970?

To be sure it is the same. Yet, over the last 52 years, it has not seen much success.

So what's the idea of creating Perkasa now and making the defence and propagation of religion and race sound like a newfound revelation that must be pursued with such immediacy and enthusiasm? Against what threat is the shield designed to protect? From where does this come from anyway? It is indeed a puzzle.
The truth of the matter is that people today are tired of KM leadership. It is so blatantly racist and theological that even Malays are embarrassed by it. Today's citizens think, listen, read, travel and demand more - they are better informed and knowledgeable, and reject racism and religious extremism.

They are also more aware of the situation around them. They are aware of the abuse of power, abuse of the NEP, corruption and the breakdown of institutions of governance. Civil society movements are agitating and demanding liberty and respect for universal human rights.

All this does not bode well for the KM leadership, considering the realisation that KM has not really fought for Malay dignity and honour. It has been fighting more to fill the pockets of a few and to protect a small number of politically-connected individuals.

The disenchantment was amply demonstrated by the results of the 2008 election, leading to BN and Umno - the latter being the most active front for KM - losing the two-thirds majority in Parliament, and the Opposition gaining control of five states.

The influence of Umno is waning. Malays are running away from Umno, as are Chinese from MCA and Indians from MIC.

In other words, BN is in tatters. This is why Perkasa was hastily created - to stem this erosion of support.

Inherent illusions

This quick analysis and conclusion may or may not be right but, to me, it is entirely consistent with the facts and situations surrounding the formation of Perkasa.

I question why it is re-using the religion, race and nationalism card when this has been proven to be obsolete and irrelevant in bringing progress and change to Malay social and economic development. My scepticism is based on the following observations on KM-based thinking and its inherent prejudices and illusions:

• It claims to hold the monopoly on truth. Such thinking holds the view that Islam is the only religion approved by god and that other religions are false. This perception of exclusivity is, of course absurd, for religion is a matter of faith between an individual and his or her god.

• It caries the illusion that the Malay culture is the world's foremost culture, with its pristine budi bahasa and sopan santun coupled with a high sense of morality. Again this is an absurd, unilateral claim, for any culture has its etiquette and morality, no better nor worse than any other. It can be seen therefore that the KM norm is decked with hyperbolism - that being Malay and Muslim is the luckiest draw in the lottery of life.

• It can also be arrogant and has little or no tolerance for alternatives. Indeed its parameters have no avenue to realise its own mistakes. In short, it is black-and-white thinking: 'I am right therefore you are wrong. If you are not for me then you are against me.'

• It is a world of collective delusion of the superiority of the Malay culture and the uniqueness of Islam.
Well, the record of Malay governance has shown fairly conclusively that the religion- and race- based philosophy of governance has not worked. This is hardly surprising for any economics textbook will explain that the factors of economic production (or the creation of national wealth) are land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. Of late, knowledge has been included. Further factors favouring the development of a civilisation are secularism, materialism and intellectualism.

Of these eight factors, none refer to race or religion. In concept and reality therefore, the KM formula for social and economic success is way off the mark. Indeed it has been a colossal mistake. The failure of the NEP is proof enough of this sobering contention.

I do not share the euphoria surroundimg the formation of Perkasa. I do not see how its claim to protect race and religion can promote Malay socio-economic progress. Ibrahim's declared intentions show all the promise of repeating the mistake and are an exercise in futility.

Given that this philosophy is no longer viable, it is still a wonder why Ibrahim still resorts to it. Can there be any reason for this? I have a hypothesis explaining his loyalty to a failed philosophy and ideology.

DPM Muhyiddin Yassin (courtesy of The Malaysian Insider)

There is a denial syndrome inherent in KM thinking, particularly since it lacks an avenue for self-realisation of mistakes. It will go on thinking that it has been right all along, and that other alternatives are figments of the imagination of anti-Malay elements.

KM brooks no dissent. Liberal and liberated Malays are quickly branded as ungrateful and 'mudah lupa' (forgetful). Non-Malays are also branded as ungrateful for not appreciating the hospitality of the Malays in giving them citizenship.

KM then states that non-Malays wish to deprive Malays of their rights, hence the birth of Perkasa.

Hidden agenda

Perkasa has claimed an immediate membership of 5,000, with another 50,000 ahead. It has the direct support of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad and incumbent deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin. And barely a week ago, the Home Ministry issued a permit for its newsletter.

Based on all this, the suspicion is growing that Ibrahim may have a hidden agenda. As to what this is, only he can say for sure.

In any event, Perkasa's future terms of reference are to recapture and nurture yesterday's status quo:

• Develop a herd mentality among Malays.

• Delay or deny the sense of individual from developing in Malay psychology.

• Promote the prevailing dependence mentality among Malays.

• Nurture the sense of insecurity normally felt by the KM polity, namely political leaders, the ulama, civil servants and officials in government agencies such as the police, military, customs, immigration, and even the police and AG's chambers.

• Make all of them feel that the Malay ethnic group is still not ready to compete against the non-Malays and the rest of the world on a level plain.

With all this revitalised, Ibrahim can put his secret agenda into action.

All said and done, Perkasa's birth reflects the real or perceived sense of desperation and paranoia of conservative and orthodox Malay thinking. Or, it is the rebirth of the spirit of 'Malayness' that has apparently dwindled over the past few decades due to the process of change.

It is the rebirth of the religion and race-based KM demon that does not know its game is up. And sad to note, in the name of religion and race, the KM demon does not want to learn from its own mistakes.

AB SULAIMAN is an observer of human traits and foibles, especially within the context of religion and culture. As a liberal, he marvels at the way orthodoxy fights to maintain its credibility in a devilishly fast-changing world. He hopes to provide some understanding to the issues at hand and wherever possible, suggest some solutions. He holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences (Leicester, UK) and a Diploma in Public Administration, Universiti Malaya.

[First posted 11 March 2010]