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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, February 26, 2023

Cast From The Herd Excerpt # 68: Anticipating Merdeka

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 68:  Anticipating Merdeka

True to his election promise, and a tribute to his negotiating skills, Tengku secured Malaysia’s independence. On his return from his successful merdeka mission in London, Tengku, always sensitive to symbolism, landed his aircraft at historic Malacca, the center of the old Malay Empire. 

My auntie Kamariah, a local UMNO Wanita (Women’s Group) leader, had organized a delegation from our village to welcome him home that February 20th, 1957. When she returned, she was giddy with excitement in retelling the enthusiastic reception the Tunku, now a genuine national hero, had received. 

Later that August 30th, a Friday, she again arranged a delegation to witness the Declaration of Independence at Kuala Lumpur. The pivotal event would be held at exactly one second past midnight into August 31st. The bus full of villagers would leave that Friday morning so they could have the day for sightseeing in the city. 

     As would be expected, space on the bus was at a premium. So my auntie Kamariah had thoughtfully reserved two seats for my parents. They however, were not in the least interested. My father had seen far too many instances where such gatherings would turn ugly, and he wanted no part of it. My auntie was livid at this apparent snub. How dare my parents not witness and celebrate this historic occasion? My mother mollified her with the excuse that there was no one to babysit the children. 

    So on the eve of that historic event my parents went to bed early after warning us kids not to go out celebrating. That was the rare occasion when they were very definite. They were not being paranoid. Earlier that week my father overheard a spirited discussion among the villagers how on August 31st they would storm and grab those prized government bungalows in town now occupied by colonials like my headmaster. Afterall with merdekawe would be in charge. To those simple villagers, that was what independence meant. 

     My father reminded them that even if there were to be laws transferring those valuable assets to the natives, rest assured that there were other far more important natives than we villagers who would get that special privilege first. That dampened the crowd’s enthusiasm. 

     That night my brother and I were glued to our radio with its volume turned down, surreptitiously listening to the live coverage while our parents were asleep. We could not imagine what was being described as we had never been to the city. All we heard was the wild endless roar of “MerdekaMerdekaMerdeka!” 

     Merdeka transformed the country. New schools mushroomed all over the countryside. There was also massive expansion of teacher training, which was how my older brother and sister became teachers. Seasoned teachers like my parents were sent for refresher courses. I remembered how excited they were to be exposed to modern teaching techniques and philosophy. At school I now had to take Malay Language. 

No, on that August 31stthose colonials were not chased out; they still had their bungalows. Many however, left later with golden handshakes, courtesy of the generous “Malayanization” scheme. 

     With all those tangible developments now seen everywhere, the villagers began wondering. Where did the government get its money? There was no borrowing, foreign aid, or new taxes. Then it dawned on everyone that we were now independent. All those massive revenues from rubber and tin that previously had been siphoned off to Britain were now retained locally. From then on my parents were enthusiastic supporters of merdeka. Ours were very different to what the Indians, Indonesians, and myriad others elsewhere had endured. May Allah bless Tengku Abdul Rahman and his wise farsighted team.

Next:  Excerpt #69  The Fruits of Merdeka



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