Hate me, but the Malays have always been the recognised natives of the land. I am not fanning racial sentiments, but merely pointing out that historically, the Malay Peninsula has always been the home of the Malays. The Malays then lived without boundaries, and flowed between islands in the Malay Archipelago, even with the conquest of Malacca by the Portuguese who were there to seek revenge against Muslims in 1511, and the subsequent colonization of Malacca by the Dutch in 1641, there was no stop to the flow of Malays between one point to the other. It was the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, a treaty that split the Malay Peninsula with Sumatra and the rest of the Malay Archipelago.
The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 did not make Britain a colonial power in the Malay States. The Dutch, already weakened by the Napoleonic Wars, had to concede that it could not match the growth of Singapore in the East Indies; therefore sought to abandon their claims to the north part of the Strait of Malacca, in exchange for the British not expanding to the islands south of Singapore. In addition, both nations will regard each other as a “favoured trading nation.” The gist of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 were:
i) British subjects would be given trade access with the Maluku Islands,
ii) The Dutch cedes all its establishments on the Indian continent (Dutch India) and any rights asssociated with them,
iii) Britain cedes Fort Malborough in Bencoolen and all its properties on the island of Sumatra and not to make any more treaties with any of its rulers or establish any more offices there,
iv) The Dutch cedes Malacca to Britain, never again to open any office on the Malay peninsula or make treaties with its rulers,
v) Britain withdraws its objections to Dutch occupation of Billiton (Belitung) island,
vi) The Dutch withdraws its objections to the British occupation of Singapore,
vii) Britain agrees not to establish any office on the islands of Karimun, of the islands of Batam, Bintan, Lingin or any other islands south of Singapore, or to make treaties with its rulers.
The British were cunning when it comes to acquiring territories. As in the case of Australia, in order to avoid any problems with the native people, they would declare the land as terra nullius (no-man’s land), and this, to a certain extent was applied to the Malay Peninsula. Although in the Federated Malay States the British were employed by the respective Sultans, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the British were here to reap the benefits of this land without wanting to give much back to the native people, but with a degree of subtlety.
In order to keep the Malays from creating trouble for the British, land reservations were introduced to transform the native Malay population into permanent agriculture peasants. It worked for the British well in 1900 when they introduced the Punjab Alienation of Land Act to control and supervise Punjabs as agricultural tribes. This was done on the basis of protecting and preserving the native people by secluding them from the immigrants who were invited to explore the country. The Malays were asked to grow food for the immigrants. As Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham once said:
“The longer the Malay is kept away from the influence of civilization, the better it will be for him.”
The British brought in lots of immigrants directly for their benefit. Undeniably, they were the workforce badly needed to develop the country. The Indians were British subjects (India was a Colony, while Malaya was not). They were made to work in the estates, and as British subjects, were given basic necessities such as very basic accommodation and Tamil schools. The first Tamil school was opened in Penang in 1816. As the number of estates grew, so did the number of Tamil schools. By 1905, there were 13 government and Christian missionary Tamil schools, the latter were set up as a mean to proselytizing Christianity.
The Chinese were brought in to work the tin mines. Most were in Malaya to make money to be brought back to their families left back in the Mainland. As they had an allegiance to none, enriching themselves in order to achieve a good life once they return to China was a dream of virtually all the Chinese immigrants. Unlike the Malays, they were self-sufficient and very hard-working.
While the British set up the Pauper Hospital (now the Kuala Lumpur Hospital), the Chinese united and collected amongst them enough to set up the first Chinese hospital, the Tung Shin Hospital, where it still stands now, to treat Chinese miners who refused to seek treatment at the Pauper Hospital when the number of Chinese miners who died at the latter hospital increased drastically. They thought the British were killing them on purpose. As the Chinese came from different parts of China, tribal and gang wars were rampant. The British allowed Opium in in order to control them.
This was the way the British divided and ruled. Eventually, swayed by the profit they were earning from the Malay States that they forgot their promise to the Sultans which was to protect the interest and welfare of the Malays. The bulk of the Malays lived in rural areas and they had very minimal contact with the other races, the Chinese were basically in towns and tin mines, while the Indians were in rubber plantations. The effect to this was that the Malays remained backwards and were told to stay as peasants or tillers of the soil, the Chinese inherited all the tradings in the Malay States and became the richest residents, and the Indians remained as rubber-tappers without proper infrastructure. The Malays, according to Chai Hon-Chan:
“…merely retreated from the tide of commercial activity and material prosperity…whereas the British, Europeans, Chinese and Indians had the lion share of the country’s wealth…”
As a result, the Malays who were given land to cultivate, forced by economic disadvantages, began charging or creating a lien (collateral) over their land to the Chettiars. The Malays, already in a disadvantaged position, cried foul and started the “Malaya for Malays” movement in the late 1800s. EW Birch, the 8th British Resident of Perak, recognized this dire situation and quickly proposed a policy of preserving the Malay land. The only way to him to preserve the Malay race was to “free them from the clutches of those people who now remit to Indian large sums of money, which they bleed from the (Malay) people.”
This later became the Malay Reservation Land Act which spirit is preserved in the Malaysian Federal Constitution. Even Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham conceded that something had to be done to preserve the Malays. He wrote:
“In the Malay sketches contained in this and a previous volume, I have endeavoured to portray,…the Malay as he is in own country, against his own picturesque and fascinating background…The position he occupies in the body politic is that of the heir to the inheritance. The land is Malaya and he is the Malay. Let the infidel Chinese and evil-smelling Hindu from southern India toil, but of their work let some profit come to him.”
For the same reason the British ignored Tan Cheng Lock’s cry of “Malaya for the Malayans.” In the 1930s, Chinese and Indian leaders addressing the Straits Settlements Legislative Council, appealed for some measures of self-government, and to be considered as Malayan Chinese and Indians having a stake in their country of birth and adoption. In my previous writing, The Road To Merdeka – Persekutuan Tanah China I explained at length how the non-Malay Malayan Democratic Union and the Java-leaning Persatuan Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya, supporting the formation of the Malayan Union, had sought for immediate citizenship for the immigrants and a rule other than by the Malay Rulers respectively. It was at this juncture that the British had first offered Malaya its independence, but was rejected by UMNO fearing that the Malays, being minority in his own country, lacking education and economic backbone, might not survive against the other races soon after independence. The Singapore Institute of Management Malay Cultural and Muslim Society noted that the Malay man was an immigrant in his own country; confronted in his own world which he had little control.
Such was the state of the Malays in the Malay States that Dr Lennox A Millsnoted:
“…when the British came, the Malay was a poor man in a poor country; when the British left, he was a poor man in a rich country.”
When the Communists ousted the Kuomintang from China in 1949, many overseas Chinese including those in Malaya and Singapore, did not know where to return to; while others sought for the unification of the Chinese in Malaya, with Communist China, through armed struggle. The more broadminded Chinese associations united to form the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA), and together with UMNO, set aside their differences to work together in the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Elections in 1952. It was also in 1952 that the British gave Malayans their term: we can only discuss independence if the people of Malaya are united.
This happened when the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), that was previously formed to support the fight for the independence of India from the British, joined the Alliance in 1954. The MIC, under Sardhar Budh Singh, was very critical of the Malayan Union. Together under the Alliance, these parties won the first General Elections in 1955, winning all but one seat. This solid mandate by the people of Malaya, comprising of the Malayan Malays, immigrant Chinese and Indians, paved the way for the road to Merdeka.
The Reid Commission was formed in 1956, its members, Lord William Reid (Britian – Chair), Hakim Abdul Hamid (Pakistan), Sir Ivor Jennings (Britain), Hakim B Malik (India), and Sir William McKell (Australia) were proposed by the Constitutional Conference (comprised of members of Her Majesty’s Government, the four Malay rulers, and representatives of the Malayan government that had won the elections in 1955) and agreed by the Queen of England, and the four Rulers of the Federated Malay States representing the Malay States in Malaya. The Commission’s duty was to draft a proposal of the Constitution of Malaya that would incorporate the concepts of Federalism and Constitutional Monarchy, special position for the Malays,Islam as the religion of the Federation, and Bahasa Melayu as its official language, although the Chinese and Indians had their right to vernacular schools protected.
The Reid Commission was not, as portrayed by some quarters, a party to the discussions between the British and Malayan governments, and the Malay Rulers. Their duty was to draft and make recommendations to the Constitution of Malaya. These recommendations were accepted or rejected in agreement by the Constitution Conference – namely the British Government, the four Malay Rulers, and the Government of Malaya that had the mandate of 98 percent of the Malayan people.
The Malayan (subsequently Malaysian) Federal Constitution became the foundation of this nation, agreed upon by our forefathers who were united in their resolve to build a nation where all three races respect the historical background, rights, and nature of the other races, and to live as one in a country they call their own.
Hence, in my opinion, those who do not accept nor respect the agreement their forefathers had made, and the pain they had to go through, so their offspring could become citizens of this blessed nation, should surrender their citizenship and leave for another land of opportunity of their own choice. And Malays who have forgotten the oppression and degradation of dignity their forefathers faced, in my opinion, should also leave.
In the second part, I will touch on the build-up to the May 13 tragedy, the struggle against the Second Emergency, racial and religious extremism and the continual struggle for Malaysia to become one.