Thursday, May 23, 2024

I am a Malaysian

Strange that we begin our celebration of National Day with such a sentence but if you can examine this statement without the rose tinted glasses, feverish flag waving euphoria and the normal syrupy sentiments attached to the traditional festivities of the big day, you will see that it is indeed very true. Nationalism, which to an uneducated mind says that ‘my country is better than yours’ and religion, which also to the uncultured and unimaginative mind says that ‘my God is better than yours’ have created far much more wars, bloodshed and hatred in this world that any other factor.

They have been used as tools of vendetta and weapons of submission by the leaders-that-be, be they political, religious or racial leaders. Historically almost every large scale war that has been fought has been over these two reasons. Nations against nations, brothers against brothers. And for what this madness? A fleeting sense of triumph in a lifespan than does not go beyond 80 years?

  • 28-year-old Zarin Zid is a tall, muscular and all-around nice guy who is currently working as a drilling fluids engineer. Zarin strikes people as being well-mannered and amusing at the same time. It is easy for him to draw a laugh from others because of his actions, and he is not afraid of laughing at himself. When speaking of Malaysia, his eyes sparkle with delight. “I’m proud to be Malaysian because of all the cultures and the races that we have here. We’re unique. We can live together so peacefully and harmoniously. The people here are special, and you can’t find that anywhere else in the world.”
  • Bubbly and spontaneous, Rekeen Ooi is a 26-year-old secretary with a mixed Sino-Malay heritage. Her joyful and gregarious personality shines through easily and she makes you feel as though you’ve known her for ages. Especially when she breaks out in refreshing laughter. “I’ve been brought up in two cultures, Chinese and Malay, so I celebrate both Hari Raya and Chinese New Year. I’m happy that I get to experience both cultures, happy that I’m a part of it, and happy that it’s a part of my life. It’s especially great during the festival periods.”
  • Born of Indian parents, Parvathi Venkatason is a petite 25-year-old. Although she grew up in a typical Indian family, she is warm and open towards her colleagues, regardless of race. She does not stereotype people, and feels very strongly for her country. “For me, I’m proud to have been born in a united country with many different races, where people are all courteous and understanding towards one another. I feel our country’s the best place to live in, compared to any other country in the world. Malaysia’s the best. And I’m so happy to be Malaysian.”
  • A somewhat shy 17-year-old of Indian descent, Krishna Anandan Tanabalan is currently a student. Although young, he understands the necessity of an open mind, tolerance and acceptance. “I’m really proud to be a Malaysian. We have disagreements at times, but that’s it. We don’t have wars with each other, and we’re generally a peaceful country. Not many countries can say that.”
  • Marinie Razali, better known as Gwen, is a tall and slim 28-year-old with a unique parentage. With a Malay father and a half-Chinese, half- Indian mother, she symbolises the fruit of Malaysian unity. Vivacious with a natural elegance, her sweet smile leads others to smile with her, and showcases her vibrant personality. “I’m very proud to be from a multicultural and multiracial country like Malaysia. The food and people are great. The environment’s wonderful. Malaysians are just so unique!”
  • Siti Fitriyah Basharuddin is a lively and spirited 25-year-old final year student who is currently undertaking a Degree in Accounting. With an Indonesian mother and Pakistani- Malay father, she is part of many different but historically rich cultures. A carefree and outgoing person, there is always a smile on her face. The combination of these cultures has created a unique personality which is apparent in her manner and way of speaking. ‘I feel wonderful about being Malaysian. The Chinese, Malay, and Indian in this country live so harmoniously together. It’s a great feeling. Basically, I’m just proud to be a Malaysian.’
  • Ahmad Suffian Mazlan, or better known as Sopeq, is a boisterous 25-year-old who works as an assistant producer. Born of mixed parentage to a Malay father and an Anglo-Sino mother, this handsome young chap is a walking example of cultural harmony.
  • In addition to his Pan-Asian good looks, he speaks fluent Malay and regards himself as a proud Malaysian. “It’s great to be Malaysian. Despite the political uncertainty, peace and harmony amongst people are evergreen and as part of the future generation of Malaysia, I’ll play my role in maintaining this. Our unity is what makes Malaysia a great country to be living in and to be a part of,” he said.

In Malaysia, a microcosm of the world exists. Where different nationalities and religions exist side by side. And we have always been half happy, in that uneasy truce where we barter something to gain something else. But we have pulled through it and have emerged…not great, not triumphant, but ok only la. But what saddens us, and troubles us deeply is that Malaysia is capable of greatness – immense and gargantuan greatness. Because her people are actually her greatest strength. Having withstood the many tests of race, religion and governance , we still stand united. But we could be more, so much more.

We hurt because as Kipling says, we can’t bear to see the truth that one speaks, twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools. We dare to dream of a day, when we can see each other clearly without the dirt of bigotry blurring the lenses of our vision. Of a day when we can reach out and touch each other without fearing that we will be classified as not belonging here or there or wherever. Of a day when we can speak as one and not many different voices. Of a day when we are equal under God’s bright blue skies, where we all can hold our heads up with pride and say , with our hands on our hearts, We are MALAYSIANS. Not Malay, Not Chinese, Not Indian, Not Lain Lain, but just Malaysians. We are not each other’s enemies, we are each other’s pillars of strength. We learn from each other, we lean on each other and we live our lives collectively as a nation moving in tandem, growing in comfort and prosperity. That is what real Nationalism should be about. To be proud of your country and nurture her, but at the same time, understand that we share this world with others and we need to play an effective role in trade, communications and friendship with all other nations, shrugging off the yoke of apathy, ill-will and distrust that we harbour with any or all nations, regardless of race, religion and political leanings.

The Orchids 

In the Chinese culture, flowers are not only seen as aesthetic objects, but also as symbols of life, happiness, and fertility. At wedding ceremonies, especially, the luxuriant orchid with its long petals gives a touch of the exotic in decorations, such as bouquets and corsages. In Chinese symbolism, the orchid represents love and fertility, a perfect token for weddings.

The Jasmine

In India, the jasmine is called ‘moonlight of the grove’. The fragrant jasmine flowers are an essential part of the Indian culture as many Indian women wear garlands of the small blossoms in their hair. Apart from being a hair ornament, the flower is generally used in large ceremonial garlands used to honour guests and celebrate special occasions. It is also used in Indian weddings. Some weave the strands of fragrant flowers to be used in temple worship, to honour a holy personage, or to consecrate an Indian wedding ceremony. In Malaysia (near temples and Indian stores) it is possible to find people selling jasmine, rose, tuberose, and marigold.

The Cheongsam

The Cantonese word cheongsam, also known as the qipao (in Mandarin), literally translates into long shirt or dress. The modern cheongsam is a one piece Chinese dress which is a slender and form-fitting with a high cut for women. The dress is buttoned on the right side, with a fitting waist and slits up from the sides. Commonly made from silk and elaborately embroidered, the cheongsam is especially noted for accentuating the women’s figures. Like the samfoo, it has a high mandarin collar and frog buttons. Due to its restrictive nature, it is mainly worn as formal wear for important occasions nowadays.

The Kuthuvilakku

A traditional Hindu artifact, the Kuthuvilakku (oil lamp or the family lamp) is generally placed in front of the statues of gods and goddesses. It is usually made of silver, brass or other materials and found in all Hindu temples. Lighting the Kuthuvilakku indicates the starting of something new, a prayer or opening ceremony. Women of the household light the Kuthuvilakku everyday at twilight, and a bride brings with her the lamp when she enters her husband’s home, as it is believed to bring light and joy into her life.

The Samfoo

The Cantonese word samfoo can be literally translated into blouse (‘sam’) and trousers (‘foo’). It is a unisex apparel worn in ancient China, which consists of a shirt with a high mandarin collar and frog buttons unique to traditional Chinese clothes, and a pair of loose pants. The samfoo is traditionally made of soft fabrics such as silk and cotton, and is typically plain and pattern-less. It is usually worn by women, however, it can be worn by men as well. When worn by women, it is less formal than the traditional cheongsam.

The Chinese Fan

Thousands of years ago, the Chinese used plant leaves or bird feathers as fans to create a breeze in summer. Ancient Chinese scholars and artists soon began to take interest in the primitive-looking fans, realising their artistic potential. Then, it became a norm for them to demonstrate their skills by writing Chinese calligraphy or poems and drawing paintings onto the sectors of the folded fan. Soon, fans acquired considerable social significance and became a part of the standard summer costume among the elite and the learned. Feather, paper, jade, bamboo and silk have been used to make fans. In ancient times, the Chinese even made iron fans to serve as deadly weapons in martial arts. Over time, the Chinese fan – made in all shapes and colours – became used as ornaments.

The Banana Leaf

The leaf of the Banana plant, the Banana leaf is predominantly used as a decoration for propitious functions, auspicious ceremonies and marriages in India and Southeast Asia. It is also used as a plate to serve food in India as they believe that the banana leaf gives a special taste to the food served on it.

The Songket and Kebaya Songket

The songket is a fabric that is hand-woven in silk or cotton and intricately patterned with gold or silver threads. The term ‘songket’ originates from the Malay word ‘menyongket’, meaning ‘to embroider with gold or silver threads’. A man’s songket outfit consists of a stiffened kerchief or head-wrapper (tengkolok), a long-sleeved tunic (baju) with a high collar; a tasselled waistcloth, a knee-length sarong (samping) and trousers. The female counterpart of the songket can either be in the style of baju kurung, which is a long tunic worn over an ankle-length sarong, or in the baju kebaya style, which is a long silk blouse fastened with gold brooches (kerongsang) worn over the ankle-length sarong.

The Batik Fan

Originating in Indonesia, the batik fan is a recent addition to Malay culture. It is made in a form similar to the Chinese fan, a folded fan with sectors. However, the difference is that instead of using paper for the sectors, batik is used. The batik fan is typically used as decoration, as well as a souvenir for ceremonies such as weddings and other celebrations.

The Congkak

Believed to have originated in Malacca, the congkak is said to have been played by the Sultan, the royal family and the palace residents before later spreading to the kingdom’s general population. A traditional congkak board has fourteen holes in two sets of seven, plus an additional store for each player with 98 undifferentiated seeds. 7 seeds are placed in each hole except for the stores, which remain empty. In a process called sowing, a player chooses one of their seven holes on a turn, removes all the seeds and distributes them in each hole clockwise. If the last seed falls into an occupied hole, all the seeds are removed from that hole, and are sown again until the last seed falls into the player’s store, or an empty hole. If it falls into an empty hole on the current player’s side, they can capture all the seeds in the hole directly opposite it, but if it is empty, no seeds are captured. The objective of the game is to capture more seeds than one’s opponent.

The Sirih Leaf and Betel Nut

The sirih leaves are arranged in a group of five to seven pieces folded together on the tepak sirih. Malay tradition holds that the sirih leaf is a symbol of respect for others while the betel nut represents noble descent or heritage as well as honesty and integrity. One of its most important uses is the presentation of the sirih leaf tree by the bride to her groom.

The Nyonya Style Kebaya

The Nyonya Style Kebaya is a traditional Malay costume for women sometimes made from sheer material and worn with a sarong, batik cloth, or other traditional knitted garment such as kain songket with a colourful design. It is usually made according to an individual’s size, and the kebaya (the upper part of this dress) is usually tight-fitting and short. The beauty of this ethnic wear is the emphasis and elegance it gives to a woman’s figure.

The Saree

A female garment that originated in India, the saree is a long strip of unstitched cloth ranging from four to nine metres in length that is draped over the body in different styles. The most common style is wrapping the saree around the waist with one end draped over the shoulder, baring the midriff. It is usually worn over a petticoat with a short sleeved blouse with a low neckline (Choli or Ravika) forming the upper garment. Simpler accessories include a head locket (Nethichutti), earrings (Jimiki) and a choker (Artil). The silk saree is only worn on grand occasions such as weddings, dinners or birthdays. It is also worn by performing classical Indian dancers.

The Bharathanatyam

One of the eight Indian dance forms, the Bharathanatyam style originated in Tamil Nadu, a state in Southern India. It is said that the Bharathanatyam is the embodiment of music in visual form, a ceremony, and an act of devotion where dance and music are inseparable.

The Wayang Kulit

Wayang is the most ancient form of puppet theatre in the world. The wayang kulit is without the doubt the best known of the Indonesian wayang. The word ‘kulit’ means skin and refers to the leather construction of the puppets, which are carefully chiselled with fine tools and supported by carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and control rods. It is prevalent in Java and Bali in Indonesia, and Kelantan in Malaysia. The stories are usually drawn from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Serat Menak.

The Paneer Sembu

The paneer sembu is part of the Indian tradition of welcoming guests to festivals or celebrations. Generally, the paneer sembu is used in joyous occasions, and is never used at funerals. It is also used in puberty ceremonies for Tamil girls. The paneer set carries a small carafe-like container which holds rose water (to rinse), white sandalwood paste (believed to have a cooling effect after applying at the middle of the forehead), and red kumkum, which is applied after the sandalwood paste.

The Hibiscus

The red hibiscus, better known as the Bunga Raya, is the national flower of Malaysia. The five petals of the Bunga Raya is symbolically relevant, as they represent the Rukunegara (the five principles of nationhood) while the red colour represents courage. After taking into account its abundance in the country, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman chose the Bunga Raya as the national flower in 1960. The Bunga Raya is also known for its medicinal properties as the roots of the flower can be used as a cure for fever while a poultice prepared from the leaves can be applied to cure headaches.

The Chinese tea set

To the Chinese, drinking tea is the symbol of a refined and relaxed lifestyle. Tea sets were often made of ceramic and clay. In ancient China, everyone from the emperor to officials and the common people practised the tea drinking tradition. The ancient Chinese tea ceremony, similar to Japan’s, symbolise the connection of tea and life, a recipe for health and wellbeing. A typical and simple tea set would comprise of a teapot, four teacups, and a tea tray. Some include a utensil kit for traditional Chinese tea brewing, which includes four tools: a tea needle (for cleaning spout blockage), a tea digger (for removing tea leaves from teapots), a tea tong (for handling hot teacups), and a tea funnel (for funnelling tea leaves into teapots).

The Chinese Lantern

In Chinese culture, the Chinese lantern (or the tanglung) is not just a decoration. It is used to greet guests, celebrate the birth of a child, convey news of a death, and even to warn of a danger. The colour, as well as where the lantern is hung also puts across a message. To celebrate the birth of a child or a marriage, red lanterns will be hung over the front door to symbolise happiness and joy. Red Chinese lanterns are also used during festivals or celebrations such as the Chinese New Year. A typical Chinese lantern is made of paper with a structure of bamboo.

The Malaysian Flag

The Malaysian flag, also known as the Jalur Gemilang, consists of 14 alternating red and white horizontal stripes and a blue canton (the upper left quarter of a flag) bearing a yellow crescent and a 14-point star known as the Federal Star (or the Bintang Persekutuan). Of equal width, the 14 stripes represent the equal status of the 13 member states and the Federal Government, while the star’s 14 points represent the unity among the states of the country. The crescent represents Islam, the country’s religion. The yellow of the star and crescent is the traditional royal colour of the Malay rulers, the red of the stripes stands for the blood shed to earn independence, while the white stands for the people and economy of Malaysia.

Politics is merely a governance of a country, religion is merely a governance of need to reach an inner peace, and race is merely geography and genetics. What is of ultimate importance is that we learn to govern ourselves – to train our minds to seek intelligent answers everywhere, to understand that living and loving can transcend to more than just our immediate families and to believe that true freedom comes with the emancipation of our mind from the shackles of racism, nationalism and religion and see each and every one of us as a friend, father, brother, mother, sister and child. Then only are we truly free and on the day that we celebrate Merdeka as one people, we can smile in pride and repeat after Martin Luther King , “Free At Last! Free At Last! Thank God, we are free at last!”Knowing that only the new generation, with their ability to see the nation and the world as one and not disenfranchised units and pockets of different people can truly make that change, we invite you to join our youthful heroes, Effy, Suffian, Parvathi, Zarin, Gwen, Rekeen, and Krishna as they tell you what it means to be a Malaysian today. PASSIONS wishes all our readers a Happy Merdeka. Here’s hoping for a dawn of a brave new wondrous era for all us Malaysians.

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