All rivers run to the sea

24 May 1998

I have always understood why the British colonialist described the Malays as lazy on whatever grounds even when they were wrong

Their stereotype Malay is inherently laid back, leisure and fun loving and dull The British colonial administrators both in Kuala Lumpur and in London were rudely shocked and shaken when Datuk Onn Jaafar first fought and won against the Malayan Union in the middle forties but only to embrace Whiteshall rather warmly six years later in 1951 when he left UMNO which he had founded to fight the British scheme to turn British Malaya into a unitary state.

My ancestors were not lazy. Kampung life was not dissimilar, pace wise at least, to that of rural Britain a century or more ago. There was little to do. After food (plentiful) and shelter (cheap and unelaborate), my great grandparents devoted their time to leisure - top spinning, kite flying, wayang kulit (shadow play), the Thai-Malaya opera Mak Yong and Menora, silat. other forms of entertainment, and even hobbies such as fishing, hunting, stalking birds and traveling

The religiously bent among them devoted much time to religious duties. Many married and remarried and had large families. My grandfather sired 13 children with my maternal grandmother. She - Hajjah Fatimah - survived all but two of her children. She dies three years ago aged nearly 100 years old!

My grandparents had little reason to spur on to acquire great wealth since life was easy and undemanding. My father had to work harder because he did not want me to follow him.

Would any fair person, white or coloured, describe Malay peasants who engaged in strenuous labour in the scorching sun planting padi in the bendang (wet rice fields) or on the hill sloped, lazy? Or the Malay fishermen indolent?

Lazy, they were not! They did not pursue other economic activities or professions because they knew not how to go about them until well into the first quarter of this soon-to-end century. Today, the bumiputras are represented in all professions and national activity although their level of representation is low in many professions, moderately acceptable in one or two and by and large over represented in the security force.

The Malays have often been described as nature's gentlemen. This is a cleverly contrived statement, an ambiguous "compliment". A good example of doublespeak by Colonial Master. Whatever. My ancestors had a lifestyle which was simple, charming, happy, gracious and ethical.

World War 1 awakened them from their slumber. World War II, the Japanese victory and occupation, the return of the British Raj, the Malayan Union and the communist revolt stimulated them to fight for the independence.

The Indonesian confrontation, the bitter separation of Singapore, the May 13, 1969 riots, the emergency when the country was ruled single-handedly by Tun Abdul Razak, the return to parliamentary rule the following year, the advent of the New Economic Policy, the establishment of the National Front or Barisan Nasional - of all which helped to consolidate the nation.

Now we Malaysians are facing the economic rundown but together we will overcome it. I am confident, together, we will prevail as long as we do not devote too much time politicking among our selves. The danger is not out yet. As Japan, the earth's second largest economy, languishes, it may threaten to cause an economic slowdown all over the world; even the United States will not be able to escape it. Every observer seems to agree that paradoxically the fundamental reasons are not economical but political.