The Malays

It’s really quite astounding how much literature we have on the Malays. The Malays were both glorified and vilified as a people in history. Here are some snippets of those recordings.

Compare this:

“The intellect of the Malay race seems rather deficient. They are incapable of anything beyond the simplest combinations of ideas, and have little taste or energy for the acquirement of knowledge. Their civilization, such as it is, does not seem to be indigenous, as it is entirely confined to those nations who have been converted to the Mahometan or Brahminical religions.” – Alfred Russel Wallace. (1869). The Malay Archipelago.

“Frank Swettenham, in his book British Malaya described the Malays as a ‘shy and reserved race’ who were ‘inherently lazy’, with ‘no stomach for really hard and continuous work..’. The typical Malay was ‘hospitable, generous, extravagant, a gambler, a coxcomb…’. He was ‘Nature’s Gentleman’, blessed with singular dignity and good manners but fickle, indolent and, to borrow a phrase from Kipling’s poem ‘Recessional’, ‘a lesser breed without the Law’. – Christopher Hale. (2013). Massacre in Malaya.

To this:

“Only a few months ago there died in Perak a man who cannot be replaced. He was the Raja Muda, the cousin and natural successor of the Sultan. He cannot be replaced because he was in the prime of life, of fine character, experienced in all the affairs of State, able, energetic, just and high-principled, honoured and loved by his countrymen, and deeply respected by all Europeans who were fortunate enough to know him. It will be necessary to go to another generation to find a Raja Muda; the choice is not large, and men of the type of the late Raja Musa are rare. His loss will be keenly felt by the Sultan of Perak, who himself stands for all that is best in the Malay ruling class. Sultan Idris has all the qualities possessed by his cousin with a higher intelligence, a wider experience, and while Raja Musa was shy and retiring, the Sultan has great charm of manner and is a fluent speaker. The Sultan is a very earnest Muhammadan, without a trace of bigotry, and he is recognized as a high authority on questions of Muhammadan law and religion. In all the Malay States there is no one who, by his authority, influence, and direct assistance has done so much to promote the success of the new system of administration as Sultan Idris, on whom the Prince of Wales conferred the Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George, when His Royal Highness visited Singapore on the memorable colonial tour of 1901.” – Frank Swettenham. (1906). British Malaya.

“The Malays, like many other peoples in history, were not idlers. Their activities in farming, industry, trade, commerce, war, and government are recorded in history. Only after the arrival of the Portuguese did the Malay merchant class decline. The Indians and Chinese immigrants were ensnared in the colonial capitalist system of production; the bulk of them remained coolies. Only a handful of them like Yap Ah Loi became successful capitalists. The immigrant coolies were left in their illiterate, backward state. They were used merely as a tool, “a mule among the nations”. The Malay refusal at the time to be exploited as “a mule among the nations”, was a rational and sound response. They attended to their own work in their own areas of interest. The accusation of indolence was merely a veiled resentment against Malay unwillingness to become a tool for enriching colonial planters.” – Syed Hussein Alatas. (1977). The Myth of the Lazy Native.

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