Is It Really, Professor ?
I must admit of being astounded by the claim by Professor Datuk Dr Zainal Kling that Tanah Melayu had never been colonised by the British, save for the period when Malayan Union was introduced. For the record, this is his claim:
The good Professor rested his claim as such on the fact that the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 between Raja Abdullah and the British Governor in Singapore did not mention that Perak was to be colonised but was only to be “protected” as a “protectorate” of the British.
The Professor went on to say that the only states which were colonised by the British in Tanah Melayu were Singapore, Penang and Melaka.
The good Professor may be correct in so far as historical terminologies go.
But history is NOT about terminologies and semantics. True history is about FACTS and REALITY.
Of course, facts may be looked at from different views, angles and perspective resulting in different interpretations and conclusions. Realities may also be subjected to the same treatment giving rise to the term of “administered reality”.
With all due respect to the good Professor, the British entry into Tanah Melayu and their subsequent entrenchment in Tanah Melayu’s administration leading to at least a de facto colonisation of the whole of the Tanah Melayu peninsula and her surrounding islets CANNOT be viewed solely from and within the effect of the Pangkor Treaty alone.
That would tantamount to an attempt to define the whole cosmos just by looking at the moon alone and nothing else.
Let’s however begin with the Pangkor Treaty 1874 (as the Professor had relied his thesis on it).
The Pangkor Treaty 1874
For the record, prior to the Pangkor Treaty, the British, through the British East India Company, were already deeply entrenched in Tanah Melayu. It “colonised” Penang in 1786. Penang was later confirmed to be a possession of the British in 1800 by the then Sultan of Kedah. In 1819, Stamford Raffles took it upon himself to bring Singapore into the British fold.
Later in 1824, the British and the Dutch, presumably under the mandate of some godlike creatures residing somewhere within the mountains of Scotland, decided among themselves to divide the Malay Archipelago into two, thereby giving away Melaka to the British and Indonesia (Sumatera) to the Dutch.
In each of these three little states which the British saw fit to do as it please, they had a Governor who governed for the British. In 1867, these so called “settlements” became the “Crown Colonies” and came directly under the purview of the Colonial Office in London.
Meanwhile, in Perak, upon the death of Sultan Ali in 1871, a palace power struggle was brewing. The Raja Muda of Perak was Raja Abdullah. He should have gone on to take the thrones. As events would have it, the Raja Bendahara, Raja Ismail was pronounced as Sultan.
Perak was a rich tin producer at that time. The British were itchy to get their greedy hands on Perak. They were waiting for an opportunity. That opportunity presented itself when Raja Abdullah wrote to the Governor of Singapore, Sir Andrew Clarke, spelling out his desire to place Perak under British protection, and "to have a man of sufficient abilities to show (him) a good system of government."
The British surely did not need further motivation but to lend their generous helping hands to a Malay ruler in need of course. With that, the Governor very kindly entered into the Pangkor Treaty with Raja Abdullah on 20th January 1874. With that agreement in hand, Raja Abdullah was made Sultan of Perak (although Raja Ismail was earlier appointed Sultan by the Malay palace).
Raja Ismail (the then Sultan) of course did not attend the signing of the Pangkor Treaty as he did not recognise the agreement for obvious reason. But faced with the might of the very big and terribly friendly and generous British, Raja Ismail could not do anything other than seeing the throne being taken by Raja Abdullah. Sir W W Birch was appointed, pursuant to the agreement, Perak’s 1st British Resident.
(It was with considerable irony that Raja Abdullah – later Sultan Abdullah – was later thrown out to the Seychelles for conspiring to murder Birch).
Professor Datuk Dr Zainal was correct to say that the Pangkor Treaty did not say Perak was a colony of the British. But surely that does not mean that Perak was not colonised by the British.
So what if the British had said Perak was only a “protectorate”? Does it mean anything at all?
What if the British had said that Perak was a “paradise where everybody could smoke opium till they laugh and laugh and laugh and they die”? Does that mean Perak was a “paradise where everybody could smoke opium till they laugh and laugh and laugh and they die”?
Just because the British had said so?
The British, for whatever reason, chiefly because they had wanted to classify their dominions throughout the world for economics and social purposes (and also for qualification for British citizenship) had categorised its “conquests” into three classes, the colonies, the protectorates and the protected states. Semantically of course there are differences between the three.
But factually, it does not take a rocket scientist, or a learned bunch of thick-spectacled history professors to know that there were not much of a difference between them.
A colony is of course a state which the British had “annexed” or “settled” in. This state was presumed to be a jungle or a barren state where civilisation did not exist. And the very civilised British had of course “discovered” that state, just like Stamford Raffles did Singapore or Francis Light did Penang.
A “protectorate” is a state which the civilised and friendly (and generous) British had not annexed or settled in. This is a state where the British came in at the request of the helpless ruler of that state. It is a state where the British came to help or came to administer not through force but through agreements or treatise. Yes. That is a protectorate.
A “protected” state on the other hand, is a state which is protected by the British, again at the request of the ruler of that state. However, according to the British, in a protected state, the British did not involve themselves with its governance.
Yes. That is the difference between the three classes of the British conquests. Who said so? Well, the British said so. So, if the British said so, it must be correct right? Well, the British also said that Maggie Thatcher had balls. Remember?
Relying on semantics – and these semantics were coined and used by none other than the British themselves – the good Professor said according to the Pangkor Treaty, Perak was NOT colonised.
Well, is it really? Let’s look at the terms of the so called treaty.
First of all, Raja Abdullah was proclaimed by the British as the Sultan of Perak in place of Raja Ismail, who was already proclaimed in accordance with the “adat dan istiadat Raja-raja Melayu Perak” as the Sultan.
Now, may I ask, on what authority did the British make that appointment? On the fact that they are white men with guns and ammunitions far better than the collective keris and parangs owned by the Perakians? Now, if that is not annexation of Perak, tell me what it is.
Then, why don’t we (and the good Professor) loom at the salient terms of the so-called treaty.
- Raja Abdullah was acknowledged as the legitimate Sultan to replace Sultan Ismail who would be given a title and a pension of 1000 Mexican pesos a month.
- The Sultan would receive a British Resident whose advice had to be sought and adhered to in all matters except those pertaining to the religion and customs of the Malays.
- All collections and control of taxes as well as the administration of the state would be done in the name of the Sultan, but the Sultan was to govern according to the advice and consent of the Resident.
- The Minister of Larut would continue to be in control but would no longer be recognized as a liberated leader. Instead, a British officer, who would have vast authority in administering the district, would be appointed in Larut.
- The Sultan, and not the British government, would pay the salary of the Resident.
- Perak ceded Dinding and Pangkor Island to the United Kingdom.
Throughout the British presence in Tanah Melayu, we had three categories of states. The straits settlements, namely, Penang, Singapore and Melaka. Then we have Federated Malay States, ie, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang. These states were all not “colonised”, according too the British. They were just protectorate. Yea, right.
Then we have the Unfederated Malay States, which were Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu and Johor. They were also termed as protected states by the British. Again, that does not mean that they were not colonised by the British.
Under intense pressure by the British for example, Johor accepted a treaty of protection by the United Kingdom in 1885. With that Johor accepted a British “advisor.”
The way Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Trengganu came under the “protection” and became branded as Unfederated Malay States is an insult to every Malaysians. And for the British to insist that they had never – officially and technically, that is – been colonised by the British is an act of colonial arrogance.
How did Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Trengganu become protected states of the British? Well, just as in 1824 when the British gods decided to divide this part of the world with the Dutch, in 1909, the British did the same with Thailand in the Anglo-Siamese Treaty 1909. In this treaty, these two gods divided the northern Malay states into two.
Under this treaty, Pattani , Narathiwat, Songkhla, Satun and Yala remained under Thai control, while Thailand relinquished its claims to sovereignty over Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu which integrated into the British realm in Tanah Melayu as protectorates.
Now, who gave the authority and mandate to the British and Thais to willy nilly decide among themselves who to own what? The Pope? The British queen?
The mere act of unilaterally dividing these collection of Malay states which even predate Melaka among themselves is incontrovertible proof that these states were under the whims and fancies of these two people, ie, the Thais and the British.
All the terms coined and marketed about by the British were only what they are, namely, terms. Semantics. That is all. The effect is the same.
- They came into our country either through uninvited settlements or request by some people with vested interests.
- Under the pretext of lending their hands to assists us, they raped, plundered and stole our resources.
- They invited and brought people from foreign lands (I have to stress that I do not have anything against them) to work here.
- They then divided all of us and ruled us.
The mere fact that they could come back to Malaya after the Japanese – who kicked them out earlier in about 5 days – surrendered and forced the Malay Rulers and everybody else to accept the Malayan Union (where they consolidated the Straits Settlements; the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States into one Federation – is proof enough that they regarded Tanah Melayu – regardless of their semantic classifications – as their possession, as theirs to do whatever they liked.
Isn’t that a trait of every colonial Master, Datuk Dr Professor?
If they had not controlled the whole Tanah Melayu other than the Straits Setllements, how did they manage to force every state to accept the Malayan Union.
How did they manage to compel all our Malay Rulers to submit to their arrogance habit of dividing this territory as if we are some bunch of grapes which were to be graded and stomped on by their feet whenever they please?
What authority did the British have to “administer” us?
I am not saying that their systems are bad but under what authority did they manage to make us adopt their systems other than a systematic colonisation of our land?
- To submit too their system?
- To their sense of justice?
- To their system of civil service?
Dear Professor, perhaps you should read the British Parliament hansard when they were debating the Malayan Independence Bill.
In the first place, if they did not colonise us, why and under what authority did they have to pass an Act of Palriament in their Parliament to give us “independence”?
Sometime, people show their true colours when the speak.
This is what the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd, in a Freudian moment, said:
“Today, we are setting the seal on this work. We can, with Edmund Burke, rejoice that our ancestors have made the most extensive and the only honourable conquest not by destroying but by promoting the wealth, the number and the happiness of the human race.” (emphasis is mine).Yes. That was, and still is, how they saw us.
Their honourable conquest.
And we were not colonised you say?
Continuity and discontinuity: Prof Zainal Kling and Malaysian history
(Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Anthropology at The University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.)
Read here for more
It is not my objective to argue the historical facts of this issue, to take sides.
On the facts, Farish Noor and Art Harun are clearly right and Prof Zainal Kling, however ingenious the hair-splitting technicalities that he invokes, is WRONG.
But that is not the end, or even the heart, of the matter.
We must ask, what is the purpose, and what are the practical effects, of Prof Zainal now making his seemingly fanciful argument?
Prof Zainal’s argument is simply wrong, marvellously eccentric and absurdly counterfactual historically. But it is wonderfully clever, cunning and “very strategic”, politically.
By denying that Malaya, meaning the Malay states, was ever colonised by the British, Prof Zainal opens yet another front for struggle over the now increasingly contested question of Malaysian national sovereignty.
There is no doubt that, as one of the world’s nations, Malaysia exists. So it has sovereignty. But the grounding of its modern national sovereignty is a contested, and now ever increasingly inflamed, question.
- Where does Malaysia’s national sovereignty lie, on what foundation is the sovereignty of the modern nation-state grounded?
- In the people themselves, who are the nation, and upon whom, under the doctrine of popular sovereignty, all modern democratic nations are founded?
- Or in the Federal Constitution, which is the self-declared basis of the nation’s common character, legal order and political life?
- Or in the Sultans and Malay Rulers? And if so, by virtue of their recognised standing in the Federal and state constitutions?
- Or on some other grounds?
With Prof Zainal’s recent comment, we are drawn back to this aspect, understanding, or (as some would have it) attempted revisionist redefinition of the national sovereignty question.
From 1986 and throughout the 1990s until 2008, the notion of Ketuanan Melayu, the idea or assertion that Malay political ascendancy had somehow been written into the constitutional foundations of the nation as part of an originating “social contract”, took shape and grew in strength.
The results of the 2008 elections came as a surprise, even shock, to many. To those determined to uphold the notion of Malay ascendancy, they were a threat and a challenge.
Was the primacy, as they saw it, of the Malay stake in the nation now, and henceforth, at risk?
From that time, and with the growth of new Malay political pressure groups such as Perkasa, a new determination to assert Malay primacy and national political ascendancy was voiced.
As part of that response, some new understandings of the ideas of Ketuanan Melayu and national sovereignty began to be developed and promoted.
Ketuanan Melayu, some now ventured to suggest, was not the crude “ethnosupremacist” idea (that, to some, the NEP seemed to suggest and underwrite) of the categorical superiority, or greater national entitlement, of Malays over non-Malays among the state’s citizens.
It had to do with the historical foundations and “public personality” of the national political order, of the nation.
It had to do with the origins of the independent federation of Malaya and later Malaysia as the direct lineal descendant, by a clear line of succession, from the various Malay states of the pre-British phase of the peninsula’s and region’s history.
This line of argument was further developed by, or at least on behalf of, the Malay Rulers and royal houses themselves by YM the Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin, in a pre-Merdeka Day address at the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in 2009.
On that occasion Raja Nazrin recalled the Wasiat Raja-Raja Melayu of August 5, 1957. Through that solemn declaration the nine Malay Rulers signified their assent to the constitutional arrangements of the new nation that was about to be born.
Their Wasiat, as they understood it, was not just a legal will or testament — the last political testament of the old political order, the ancien régime on the Malay peninsula.
It had, for them, an older historical meaning and also looked forward to newer times.
For them the term was not just a technical legal or constitutional instrument; it also had powerful connotations suggesting a sacred heirloom or legacy.
By their Wasiat their Rulers affirmed their consent to Merdeka and gave it their blessing. The new nation born of the “Merdeka moment” was in that way stamped with their great prestige.
Yet their action, in their royal eyes, implied something more than simply a stamp of kingly approval.
The daulat that the Rulers embodied, they implied, was not merely sacred royal prestige. Their royal consent and blessing suggested — or has subsequently been read to suggest — that the daulat of the Rulers was in fact sovereignty, in the technical jurisprudential sense.
This view, whether held at the time or retrospectively asserted, holds, or again further implies, that from pre-colonial times and throughout the years of British control, the sovereignty of the Malay Rulers, or “Malay sovereignty”, had continued: uninterrupted and unbroken, unimpaired and undiminished.
Those who wish to maintain this position can, it seems, do so in either of two ways. They may argue that there was never any diminution of effective Malay royal sovereignty, understood as ultimately authenticating power and “reality-creating” authority, under British rule. That is a difficult position to sustain.
Or they may argue that, while the Malay Rulers and their quasi-sacred political position had in fact been eclipsed under the British, that diminution was entirely without force or meaning, since British rule was itself fundamentally illegitimate. Hence its effects and implications for Malay royal sovereignty can be ignored, or set aside as if they had never been.
In either case, throughout the years of British administration and control, Malay royal sovereignty, some suggest, had continued: either in full force but hidden or else dormant and, so to speak, “underground”, only to awake and surface again at the moment of national independence.
However bizarre and counterfactual they may seem to some, Prof Zainal’s recent comments on Malayan history do not come from nowhere. They are not simply an individual eccentricity or folly.
Prof Zainal, with his recent intervention, is simply the latest Malay political commentator, activist and practical ideologist who has sought to affirm this notion of the continuity of Malay sovereignty.
His position seems to be an artful combination of the two possibilities noted above. He seems to hold that British colonial rule was illegitimate and therefore not entitled to be of any ultimate consequence; and that pre-colonial Malay sovereignty therefore persisted — was never interrupted, severed or broken — throughout the illegitimate British interlude.
Prof Zainal’s position, and that of those who are of the same mind in these matters, is that not merely Malay sacred royal daulat but “sovereignty” in the modern technical jurisprudential sense had survived in the hands of the Malay Rulers, unimpaired and undiminished, throughout the “British years” from 1874 to 1957.
More than that, having remained with them, in their traditional custodianship, this sovereignty could be, and in historical fact was, passed on by the Malay Rulers (as they asserted in their Wasiat of August 5, 1957) to the new independent nation.
In that way, a new nation was born, but born as the vehicle and instrument of a continuing sovereignty that was far older. It embodied a moral authority and sovereignty of far greater political and cultural authenticity than anything that the departing British might have managed through its Colonial Office to fabricate.
This view, which seems to be that of Prof Zainal’s, or to underlie it, has profound implications for the continuing nature, now and well into the future, of the Malaysian nation, for its political character and the underlying foundations of its sovereignty.
The idea that the British never ruled, or governed, in Malaya may seem absurd.
But it is a very inventive and resourceful way, in the political context suddenly created by the national elections of March 2008, to argue — whatever those results may have been, and whatever outcome future elections may yet disclose — that the nation’s sovereignty, both in its historical origins and its contemporary character, is a distinctively Malay sovereignty.
The argument is one that seeks to assert, and place beyond any partisan dispute or political challenge, the notion that Malaysia is still Tanah Melayu, a nation embodying Malay sovereignty, and a nation inscribed in whose innermost nature is the principle of Malay primacy.
This, like it or not, is the new post-NEP and post-2008 notion of Ketuanan Melayu.
That, at all events, seems to be, either explicitly or by implication, the position of Prof Zainal and those who are of the same mind.
As for the controversy that his views have prompted, the central question is not whether they are historically correct (which is contestable) but whether they can be made to prevail politically.
That too is perhaps contestable. That is a matter for all the people of Malaysia to determine.
There is no other way, no basis other than common and ever renewed consent, to found and sustain a nation.