Friday, January 15, 2010

Blurred Lines

I've been following the news on the protests againsts churches using the world 'Allah' in their Malay language publications. The latest count I read that the count is now up to nine church attacks because of this issue. Not many people here seem to be aware of familiar with the situation, so I've posted up two videos featuring this current contention in Malaysia.

The alarming thing for me is this idea that anything Malay = Muslim, therefore all things Muslim = Malay, and Malay = Bumiputera, therefore Muslim = Bumiputera. Which must be confusing for many people who have not lived in or experienced the mixed bag of people in Sabah (and probably Sarawak as well).

On this other side, things are not as clear cut as that equation. Not all Bumiputera = Malay, therefore not all Bumiputera = Muslim. Furthermore, because not all Bumiputera = Muslim, it brings in more dynamics of mixed marriages, multiple faiths in one family etc. etc. etc. (Bumiputera = natives of the country).

In Sabah, there's not a necessarily clear division between Chinese, Malay, Indian and 'Lain-Lain' (others). In Sabah, the 'Lain-Lain' actually makes up a significant part of the population. And sometimes it’s easy to confuse or even equate the Bumiputera ‘Lain-Lain’ people to Malays. Moreover, to these Bumiputera 'Lain-Lain' people, Bahasa Malaysia or Malay IS their Lingua Franca. Also remember that not all Bumiputeras = Muslim, which is why it’s relatively common to see inter-marriages between the ‘Lain-Lain’ with people from other groups.

I remember in school, sometimes we had to stand up and state our ‘race’ for the record (can’t remember why we had to do it). And almost every third or fourth person will state their race as ‘Sino’, which means they are mixed Dusun/Kadazan (Sabah Native) and Chinese. They state it very proudly too. It was considered pretty cool if you were a Sino. Sometimes I used to wish I could say I was Sino-Kadazan too.

Actually my friends used to ask me, “Are you sure you are not Sino, you look like you are?”. Because I did have that kind of look, a lot of people did anyway. In fact my paternal great grandmother was Kadazan. But apparently you only get to say you are Sino if you are 50% Kadazan. In my case, it was more like 12.5%. But like I said, a lot of Kadazan had Chinese blood, and a lot of Chinese also had some Kadazan blood. We were all perfectly comfortable living among this varied blend of races and blood… everything chapalang together.

However I was never actually fully conscious or aware of all this, until I came to Australia. When I first started attending a church here which had many Malaysians and Singaporeans, I was frequently confronted by comments and teasing like “Assamualaikum!!!”or “Eh, are you Chinese or Malay?” or “No you cannot eat, isn’t it puasa time for you?” or "Malai moi". All this in addition to the "Do you Sabah people live in trees?" jibes. It seemed like people just couldn’t place me in a particular category, and it just threw them off a bit… never in any malicious or mean way of course.

So this dispute around this current point of contention in Malaysia on ‘ownership’ of a word due to religion and linking it to race… the world will not always be split into clean lines. Where then will we draw the line?

1 comment:

  1. thanks for posting these. with what is going on in Haiti, the news in the states are focused on the earthquake right now.


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