KUALA LUMPUR: Codified knowledge, especially when published, will be spread more widely and can be used as valuable historical and materials benefitting generations to come.
The Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, said many of the nation’s treasured knowledge had been “buried” as tacit knowledge.
Speaking at the launch of the book ‘The Malays: Pathfinders and Trailblazers’ written by Orang Kaya Kaya Seri Agar Diraja Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib, he said knowledge, if left unrecorded, would be wiped out together with its beholder when he leaves the earth.
“I heartily welcome the publication of such a richly detailed book on this important topic. It provides a wealth of information, some new, some already well-known, about our common heritage as Malaysians.
“We are all residents of this same archipelago, and so this history is shared by Malays and non-Malays alike.
“Quite apart from the in-depth knowledge they impart, books such as this also remind us just how important it is to revisit and learn from history. A deeper understanding of where we have come from will help us to inhabit the present with greater insight and awareness,” he said.
The ruler said revisiting the past this way was particularly important for Malaysia, given the country’s history of being ruled by others.
In the case of Malaysia, he added, understanding of the country’s history had been indelibly shaped by the colonial period, with British administrators, academics, and adventurers who took the lead in the preservation and translation of key documents, and taking charge of re-telling our traditions and myths.
“As we know, history is written by the victors. The perspectives of other participants are sometimes lost as a result.
“Of course, Malaysian historians have also been engaged in researching, analysing and recording this history. Fortunately, important manuscripts and other materials from earlier periods have survived.
“But the more recent written records are dominated by names such as Raffles, Leydon, R.O. Winstedt, Isabella Bird, and Henri Fauconnier.”
He said their analysis, often repeated in the book and elsewhere, was inevitably filtered through their own subjective viewpoints, adding that the country’s pre-colonial history was “interpreted, or misinterpreted” to serve the political interests of the colonial project.
As occurred throughout the period of European colonisation such as in Africa, the Americas, Australia and in Asia, a core element of this strategy, he added, was to downplay the level of civilisation of the colonised peoples.
“This made it easier to make the case for their colonisation by force by the supposedly superior European powers.
“In our case, as the author points out, this gave rise to the myth of the ‘lazy and docile native’, and other equally denigrating views.”
Sultan Nazrin said books such as this provided a vital link to pre-colonial heritage from a local viewpoint, and not that of an outsider with their own interests and prejudices.
He said even when the book relates familiar stories or events, it tells them without the “distorting glare” of the colonial lens, and helps reinterpret our own history, bringing out elements that had been underplayed or forgotten.
“As the book’s title proclaims, Malays have historically been both pathfinders and trailblazers. These two characteristics encapsulate some of the key elements of our heritage that we would do well to revisit and reconsider.
“They help us to understand the immense and under-valued contribution that Malays have made to world history. They conjure up our heritage of innovation and invention. And they point to the wide and varied international interactions, both commercial and cultural, that Malays have long engaged in.”
Drawing examples, Sultan Nazrin said Malays had always been outward-looking, with evidence of long distance trade with China, East Africa and Madagascar, and even were the first cultures to develop ocean-worthy vessels.
He said the book also highlighted the lesser-known kingdom of Srivijaya, and the success of the Melaka empire which had been attributed to the enlightened policies of its Malay rulers.
“In the author’s own words, one aim of this book is to instill in Malays a greater sense of pride in their own ‘epoch-making’ history. It can also serve to re-balance our understanding of our own history.
“The book also demonstrates just how important it is to remain open in this way, both internally and externally, as this is how cultures thrive and grow.
“The greatest achievements of our past, in Srivijaya, in Melaka, and those of our present, in modern-day Malaysia, have come about through our joint efforts. This is how we must continue and how we will go forward into a shared and thriving future together.”
He added that globally, the world was facing three severe and overlapping crises – the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and a growing food crisis – and had forced countries to rethink globalisation.
The pandemic, he added, had greatly reduced contact between nations, companies and people, while global supply chains were faltering and energy and food prices continued to rise.
“But as this book informs us, for many centuries, the lands of the Malay archipelago have been open to flows of trade, capital, labour and ideas.
“And it is this very openness to foreign influences that has shaped who we are, and helped to make us successful.
“Malaysia today, therefore, must aim to maintain the values that have brought post-independence prosperity to all its communities, despite the challenges that we face. We must champion and remain an exemplar of multiculturalism.”
Source: NST, June 11, 2022.