kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

The unrecorded story of ‘Malaysia’

DURING some of my talks on the pre-colonial history of Pulau Pinang, I would inevitably be questioned on my sources. Querying much on the narrative, names and places, the audience would demand evidence in the likes of documentation and publications. We know sources of British history in Malaysia —unpublished primary sources like the East India Company Factory Records, the Straits Settlement Records, family records, notes and jottings, diaries, travelogues, maps, plans and other archival materials, reports, journal articles, and books.

There are even receipts of expenditures preserved in archives and libraries in Britain and the Netherlands. And not forgetting newspapers as sources of history such as early Pulau Pinang newspapers in the Prince of Wales Island Gazette first published in 1806. What about Malay/local sources?

The Malays do not preserve records like the British or other European societies.

Masjid Tengkera in Malacca was built by a Minangkabau, Nakhoda nan Intan Tuanku Patis nan Sabatang (Haji Muhammad Salleh) in 1734, who also built Masjid Jamik Batu Uban in Penang.
When I narrated on the existence of the Malays in Pulau Pinang before 1786, I would draw my sources from oral histories, genealogies, and artefacts such as mosques and other surviving structures.

There are family records and available written documents, and some books. These were created mainly over the last century but describe events and names before the 1780s.

I am rather amused at some of the questions. Some assert “Malays do not write.”

On one of the earliest mosques in Malaysia, the Masjid Jamik Batu Uban built by a Minangkabau, Nakhoda nan Intan Tuanku Patis nan Sabatang (Haji Muhammad Salleh) in 1734, a typical question asked was why is there no Minangkabau-type roof.

The traditional mosque in West Sumatra is either built with a three or a two-tier pyramidal roof form.

There are also some with the Minangkabau roof form, and the traditional dome.

We also find some mosques with modernised, stylised Minangkabau-roof forms, more visible in Padang. It was related to me that Nakhoda nan Intan also built the Tengkera Mosque in Malacca.

This was in 1728, earlier than Masjid Batu Uban. How do I know? This was through communication with one of his descendants, a sixth generation who lives in Banda Hilir Melaka, and also from other descendants in Batu Uban.

I have noted this piece of information in my recent book Batu Uban: Sejarah Awal Pulau Pinang [Batu Uban: An Early History of Pulau Pinang (2015)] Many parties, the policy and cultural establishments included, have always asked for facts when discussing the pre-colonial history of Pulau Pinang.

I can only say that until much of the 1700s, Malays who travelled and traversed throughout the “Malaysia” of the Malay archipelago, and beyond the region, including India and China, did not record their encounters. However, we know of missions to China from Malacca in the 15th century.

And Malays travelling to China also originated from Brunei, Pasai, Pahang and Java before the 1700s. There is also evidence contained in Alburquerque’s letter where he writes of a map with place names written in Javanese, which he had obtained from a Javanese pilot.

Generally the travels and encounters of the Malays from the larger archipelagic geographical space of “Malaysia” — described in early modern Italian maps and British maps later, are not recorded in the present form.

This is not until the narratives found in Hikayat Nakhoda Muda (1788), an autobiography of Minangkabau Nakhoda Lauddin and three generations of his family, Ahmad Rijaluddin’s Hikayat Perintah Negeri Belanda (1811), a 1821 Minangkabau text Surat-surat Keterangan Syeikh Jalaluddin and Abdullah Munshi’s 1842 Hikayat Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir.

Abdullah was not the earliest. From these writers, we know much of Malay society, encounters and influences from the outside world. And of course, we have the numerous classical texts from across the “Malaysia” of the Malay archipelago which need constant reinterpretations, not only in its literary form, but in sociological, anthropological, historical and geographical perspectives.

These Hikayats in Bahasa Melayu stretch from the 1300s to the 1950s. I have heard of a Hikayat Tanjong Malim written in the 1940s/50s. I hope someone can enlighten me on this.

The problem faced in the writing of local histories, and of personalities who merantau, or who traded across and along the Straits of Malacca, and transcending the archipelago and the larger Malay world before the establishment of European rule was the absence of records.

There are exceptions though — as in the Acehnese sent for a mission to Istanbul in 1564; or stretching the imagination on Rum (Rome) as it gravitates from such writings as in Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), Hikayat Hang Tuah (The Story of Hang Tuah) and the Tambo Minangkabau (Traditions of the Minangkabau).

But that is another story where the proof of the nation’s past is in orality and aurality
Tags: history, malaysia, melayu

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