(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=void 0!=f?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(void 0==f)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=0=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; 0=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=b&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Cast From The Herd. Excerpt #50: The Malay Regiment

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #50:  The Malay Regiment

Kampung boys who completed their Malay schooling fared a tad better in getting employed, but not by much. Apart from the very constricted slots in teaching, they could be “office boys.” If they proved themselves they could become kerani (clerks). The peak achievement there would be sisi (“cc,” chief clerk). You had to know some English for that. 

My Pak Donchang, the husband of my mother’s second sister, began as an office boy with the Malayan Railway and later became kerani. He did not achieve his dream to be sisi even though he tried very hard to learn English. He went beyond, to imitating his British superiors by wearing shorts, bow ties, and long stockings. He also took to pipe smoking, and with his fedora and raincoat he was a tropical Sherlock Holmes. He could carry on an extended conversation in English. One day he asked me what I was studying. When I showed him my textbooks, I realized then that he could not read English. 

Besides kerani, there was the army or police constabulary (mata-mata–lit. eyes). Mata-mata had the connotation of being a snitch–for the colonials. The army on the other hand fared better, in particular The Malay Regiment. When it was established in 1933 it had over a thousand applicants for its first 25 recruits, a selectivity that would make Harvard drool with envy. 

The only time the Regiment had difficulty recruiting was at the height of the rubber boom during the Korean War. With the high price of rubber, Malay boys would rather tap rubber. My two uncles who were teachers used to come home during weekends and holidays to tap rubber because that augmented their teacher’s salary to a considerable degree. I too would join them though I did not do the actual tapping but simply removed the dried overnight sap so the barks could be ready to be tapped for the fresh sap to flow. The rubber I collected may be scrap but not the money; it was worth the mosquito and leech bites!

The mosquitoes were pesky; my only defense was wearing long sleeves and smoking. However, smoking gave me uncontrolled coughing spasms, so I had to forgo that. The lighted butt however came in handy with the leeches which despite my wearing boots and long pants managed to crawl to my legs and even higher. One slight touch of the lighted butt to the free end of the critter and it would let go of you in an instant. Then I would squish it with my boots. The ensuing splattering of blood from its bloated belly gave me great satisfaction even though knowing that the blood was my own. 

Tapping rubber was the lowest of the unskilled manual labor, thus shunned by locals, except during the brief postwar period of the rubber boom. In response the British earlier had to bring in hordes of immigrants from India, an action that would later alter to a very profound degree the race dynamics of the country that persists to this day. However as was apparent, when the rewards were sufficient, the natives readily partook in the exercise. Economic imperatives are difficult to defy and also color blind. 

When the British first mooted the idea of The Malay Regiment, there was considerable skepticism as to how Malays would react to the strict discipline. One village youth who was among the privileged few to be in English school abandoned it to join the regiment. When he returned from boot camp, he wore his army fatigues for days. What made the village maidens swoon was his formal regimental Malay attire of baju and samping, in striking green (color of Islam), yellow (royal), and red (imperial). He looked smashing. On his wedding day, his platoon put on an impressive honor guard. I was certain that the smart uniform and a chance to leave the kampung were the reasons to enlist, with patriotism a distant third. It also helped that the Regiment’s base was at Port Dickson, a resort beach town. 

The British Army also did some recruiting. Despite rising nationalism, many enlisted. Those recruits benefited in many ways, the obvious being superior pay. For another, as they served in support units rather than the infantry, they acquired valuable technical skills that proved useful when they later returned to civilian life. 

Another benefit was less obvious but far more consequential, at least for those who exercised it. Anticipating independence, the British withdrew their units to Britain. There was one local soldier who was just married when his unit was withdrawn. There was considerable consternation in the girl’s family at the sudden unexpected twist of fate. The contention was whether the husband had the right to take his new bride along to Britain. Being a matriarchal society, the bride’s family had the final say. Then there was the acrimonious issue whether he should have disclosed that material fact of his unit’s impending withdrawal before asking for her hand. The crisis threatened to break the young couple apart. At the kenduri when the clan was to decide their fate, my father spoke up for them. 

“Look at it this way,” he suggested. “It’s an opportunity for your daughter to go to England.” 

The bride’s family was unimpressed. Sensing this, my father continued, “God works in mysterious ways. You’ll never forgive yourself if you were to find out later that you had come in His way and blocked your daughter’s path forward.” There was a murmur of approval. Soon that grew louder. After much discussion, the family relented.

The couple left with their families’ blessings. When he retired from the army, they settled there, their new pasture being much more promising than the one they had left despite England being much colder. 

Next:  Excerpt 51:  Menyerah (Surrender) And Other Weddings


Post a Comment

<< Home