By Anwardi Jamil
In the constitution, the Malays are given a definition. Article 160 of the Federal Constitution defines the Malays as someone born to a Malaysian citizen who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, adheres to Malay customs and is domiciled in Malaysia.
As simplistic as it maybe, are the Malays of Malaysia today a mirror of what was defined in the constitution? One may argue that the true Malays are found in the kampungs, so where does that leave us the urban Malays. Are we comfortable being who we are? Are we confident of our heritage? Do we even protect the Malayness that our forefathers took centuries to define?
Who controls and shapes the Malay image in the country - the kampung folks or the urban Malays in the corridors of power?
Ask any urban Malay – do they send their children to silat classes? Do they tell their children to take up Malay dance classes? Do they buy books about local Malay legends and folklore? Do they use peribahasa Melayu to describe events and explain them to their children?
I would be surprised if any of them say yes.
In my opinion, urban Malays, who I feel controls the future of the Malay-ness of the Malays, are far from being Malays as stated in the Constitution.
How so? Let’s just look at the situation the Malays are in today.
Check out the Malays in the civil service. They only wear batik shirts only on Thursdays, not because they want to, but because they are ordered to. Batik to many would be too formal and too ‘belia’ to be worn anywhere else or at any time.
Wearing the baju Melayu is a ‘maybe’ outfit for most Malay on Fridays and a must during festivities like Hari Raya and weddings. It used to be the daily wear of any Malay. How many Malays are brave or confident enough to wear the kain pelekat when visiting the Malls?
In the corporate world, the executive Malays are more comfortable conversing in English, not because they want to, but because they believe that the non-Malays do not speak Malay fluently to carry on a fluent conversation. Yet, when they give presentations to the government departments, they scurry to polish their Bahasa Malaysia speech and delivery.
As Muslims, the Malays are also guilty to let Arabian culture and traditions replace theirs. The jubbah and the serban, synonymous with Arabic identity are replacing the songkok and baju Melayu. The Arabic kaftan is also now a preferred outfit to by the Malay ladies who once used to look like a million dollars wearing the kebaya. So much so, that the kebaya may soon be associated more as the traditional outfit of the Nyonyas than that of the Malay women.
Whilst the Indians protect their Bharatanatyam with such jealousy from being tarnished or even diluted, our dances have gone the other way. Answer me this, where can one go, for example, to see the beautiful classic Asyik dance performance today?
Recently in a Raya musical programme, whilst a singer was delivering a traditional Malay Raya song, she was accompanied by dancers who were wearing baju Melayu with sneakers and baseball caps fusing the joget with breakdancing. How low has the Malay culture gone down to?
Why are we so scared now to even use the keris as a symbol of Malay-ness? Is it wrong to be confident and proud of one’s own race, culture and traditions of which the keris is one of its most significant symbols? How many Malays today under the age of 30 even know the names of the various parts and aspects of the keris? Do they know what parts are referred to as the hulu, the bilah, the pendongkok, the cicak, the sampir, the lok and the mata? Therefore, who is to blame when others can easily criticise the Malays when they use the keris as part and parcel of one’s own culture, and no one comes forward to defend it? We are even timid when defending our culture against the Indonesians who keep claiming intellectual rights to Malay culture like the batik, the dances we have, the cuisine and even our language, accusing us as ‘malings’ (thieves) of their culture and traditions.
How many of us Malays even talk about pusaka these days? How many would find it difficult to ‘mematekkan diri’ when speaking to Royalty? I mean, do you think it is okay to use ‘aku’ and ‘saya’, or worse, you and I, when talking to Royalty?
It is really strange to me, why we as Malays are so willing to assimilate the traditions and cultures of others whilst diluting our own? Aren’t we proud of our traditions? Aren’t we worried that within two generations, the Malay heritage and traditions may be lost forever, only to be found in museums, books and documentaries?
Whilst there is a concerted effort to protect the sanctity of the Bahasa Malaysia language that has taken centuries to be perfected, I am disappointed not to see much effort to truly instil the love for Malay culture and traditions within the younger generation of the Malay society. I understand that cultures need to move with the times and evolve, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t jealously protect our own cultures with the passion (that) the Balinese, the Japanese, the Indians, the Arabs and the Africans show for theirs.
The love for culture, especially our own should be instilled during the primary school days. Children (of all races) should be taught to love batik painting, tarian Melayu, lagu Melayu asli, perbalas pantun, main gasing, silat, wayang kulit, bangsawan and many other disappearing traditions. Only then could we protect it (Malay culture) with confidence.
If we fail, then the definition of the Malays as set out in the Federal Constitution becomes a grey area, because we will not fit into the Clause that says we are adhering and practicing Malay customs.