ALSO BY

By Cynthia Ong

A Suluk-Sabahan's perspective

I considered being silent so as not to add to the noise. My loyalty to my ancestry calls me to speak. I speak as a Sabahan, a Malaysian, a South-East Asian, and a proud bearer of Suluk ancestry.

My pure Suluk maternal great-grandfather came to British North Borneo in the late 1800s. He was adopted by Sir William Pryer and his wife Ada, and became a key person in the administration.

This was likely the reason he was beheaded by the Japanese during World War II, and along with him, two sons and three sons-in-law including my grandfather who were involved in the liberation movement in some way. The women buried their dead men and somehow survived to raise the children alone. There are now six generations of us, in Sabah, in Malaysia, in South-East Asia and throughout the world.

No matter how distant we’ve travelled, Sabah has been home, where our roots are deep, where our ancestors are buried. Although I studied, worked and lived in Europe and the US, those roots and the cause of my ancestors called me back. I was very close to my half-Suluk grandmother who gave me an ongoing oral history lesson, of everything, through my childhood including stories of family relations to the sultan of Sulu.

Over the last few days, as I read articles, Facebook and Twitter posts on the Internet, I questioned why I am here. The black and white anti-ness and hate towards what felt like ‘Sulukness’ grew deeply personal and intense. I do not in any way condone or support the manner in which Jamalul Kiram’s people invaded Sabah, and if they’d asked me I would have advocated a different course of action! That said, a part of me feels deep compassion for their quest for sovereignty.

We bemoan the race politics that our leaders espouse, and yet I saw us snap into what felt like a racial grid so quickly it was scary. What do they say about getting the leaders we deserve? I was disturbed and hurt that Suluks who are part of the rich racial tapestry of Sabah suddenly became an Other.

I know the Suluks as proud, strong, loyal, warrior people. A lot of why I am who I am comes from that blood in my veins. The same blood my ancestors gave for freedom of this land.

I know lives have been lost and am mourning them (on both sides). I don’t ask that we accept violence or armed aggression, but perhaps if we can see them as a people - proud, strong, loyal, warriors - and hold their right to sovereignty, in the same way we hold our own and in our hearts wish them peace and freedom, we can shift this energy from violence and fear to respect and resolution.

I would like to see a Sabah capable of doing that.