COMMENT As the world progresses, Malaysia keeps track to adapt to various significant changes. The changes include people’s understanding and perspective over certain matters like history, where the authorities no longer have the capacity to impose or indoctrinate others through top-down policies.
This enabled us to appreciate our history and forefathers better, and the progress prompted the new generation to rediscover and even rewrite pre-Merdeka history, conveying their own perspectives.
Now, over 50 years after Merdeka, netizens who make up a significant number of Malaysian people have delved into forgotten events in history which were once infamous.
The stories include major contributions of left-wing freedom movements, untold facts of the pre-independence period, and the unsung heroes or heroines and their memoirs. In hindsight, the earlier generation of post-independence surely had not envisaged that such names as Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmy, Sybil Kathigasu and Shamsiah Fakeh would go down in history as icons within the next five decades.
The ‘one size fits all’ system in history classes for students back then moulded their understanding and perspective on Merdeka history. Limited sources of reference in school textbooks, standardised questions for examinations, and the standardised answers prescribed by the Education Ministry had narrowed their historical knowledge and dampened the students’ enthusiasm and spirit to find out more beyond the classroom.
This refreshing change is timely, as the quote “the winners write history” is no longer relevant in this contemporary world. Moises Naim in his book ‘The end of power’ described how the changes happening in the world encompass everything under the sun.
He highlighted that the power is shrinking and in stages will decay as everyone now has the capacity to be a “definitive people”. In the past, the mega-players had full control over the masses but in recent years it is the people - defined as the micro-powers - who will decide their fates.
The decay of power does not mean the extinction of those mega-players and in fact they are still relevant, albeit not as much as before. The rise of this new kind of power includes the social media campaign, and the Gen Y-friendly of unregistered awareness movement carried out by individuals or small group of people. In fact this trend is more popular.
‘Ten Years Before Independence’ and the drama mini-series of Sybil Kathigasu ‘Apa Dosaku’ are explicit examples on how the micro-powers stood and challenged the mega-players style in promoting one side of historical facts. Neither of these two examples carries the aspiration of the government of the day, but the effort is profoundly based on what they think is necessary for the people.
And as of now, people begin to know and appreciate previously untold heroes and heroines such as Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmy and Sybil Kathigasu.
In conjunction with the birthday of the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, on Nov 27, 2015, Burhanuddin - the nationalist and Islamic thinker - was listed as one of the posthumous awards recipients.
Burhanuddin was among the first Malay leaders who advocated ‘Merdeka’ agenda during his time when Pekembar (Umno) still carried the ‘Hidup Melayu’ slogan under the British colony. He conveyed his strong message all over the peninsula to spark an awareness.
His message was strongly underpinned by his books ‘Perjuangan Kita’ (Our Struggle) 1946 and ‘Asas Falsafah Kebangsaan Melayu 1954' and had received widespread support from the Malays in the post-World War II period, to the extent that they had become sources of reference for scholars and general public.
The heroine Sybil Kathigasu who defied the Japanese occupiers in war-torn Malaya in the 1940s was publicly discussed again by the youngsters.
The Eurasian was awarded the George Medal, the highest British civilian award for bravery, by King George VI. She was incarcerated at the Batu Gajah prison and tortured heavily for providing the guerrilla forces with medical treatment and supplies as well as information to the resistance forces during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya.
This new trend of rewriting the history through dozens of channels by the individuals of society itself should be given a huge credit as the history that they ‘re-write’ is a priceless legacy for the future generations. The legacy that is not coming from the top, nor one-side effort of the winners, but the legacy that truly comes from the bottom and the heart of the society.
MUHAMMAD FAISAL ABDUL AZIZ is secretary-general of the Muslim Youth Movement Malaysia (Abim)