May 2nd, 2017

Settle saga of Oath Stone

ON Sept 12, 1962, the North Borneo Legislative Council finally agreed to accede to the Malaysia Agree­ment after presenting a 20-point agreement drawn up by political leaders under Donald Stephens (later Tun Muhammad Fuad Stephens), the first chief minister of Sabah.

However, considerable apprehension and reservations remained among the native chiefs. They decided that some of the guarantees given by the Malayan government should be carved in stone while pledging their loyalty to the new nation.

With the formation of Malaysia, North Borneo was renamed Sabah in 1963. Later in 1967, Jesselton was renamed Kota Kinabalu.

It was usual for disputes in the interior among the native population to be settled by construction of oath stones. It was their adat (local custom or tradition).

The district officer in Keningau was charged to oversee the erection of the oath stone. A huge river stone, weighing more than two tonnes, was found near a small village in Keningau.

A Singapore shipyard company was commissioned to make a metal plaque to be affixed to the stone. The inscribed words were in the old Malay spelling. Translated, it reads:

“Oath Stone Memorial according to the Constitution

Government of Malaysia guarantees

1. Freedom of Religion in Sabah

2. The Government of Sabah Holds Authority over Land in Sabah

3. Native Customs and Traditions Will Be Respected and Upheld by the Government

In Return, the People of Sabah’s Interior Pledge Loyalty to the Government of Malaysia.”

The three main points in the 20-point agreement attached to the 1963 Malaysia Agreement were engraved on the plaque, including the words “The Government of Malaysia Guarantees” above the three points.

The Keningau Oath Stone was unveiled by Stephens on Aug 31, 1964 in the compound of the old Keningau district office but it was later relocated to its present site.

For 46 years, it stood forlornly until the official national level celebration to commemorate Malaysia Day was held in Sabah in 2010. The historical stone finally received its due recognition.

That year, Deputy Natural Resour­ces and Environment Minister Tan Sri Joseph Kurup suggested that the oath stone be relocated to a more suitable place in view of its historical value.

From 2012 onwards, the Keningau Oath Stone became politicised. In September 2014, the police prevented several hundred people from approaching the Oath Stone to carry out ceremonies or conduct prayers.

Surprisingly, the original 20kg plaque on the stone was replaced in 1978 by another metal plaque but in the new one the words “Government of Malaysia Guarantees” were missing. The original plaque resurfaced in 2015. It was recovered by a villager in Kampong Apin Apin and surrendered to police and investigating officers from the Special Branch by Bingkor assemblyman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.

In February last year, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said the stone would be gazetted as a heritage object under Section 49 of the National Heritage Act 2005, after being briefed about its significance at the Keningau district office.

The minister is making a return visit to Keningau and he is expected to make an important announcement today. It remains to be seen whether the Keningau Oath Stone will be accorded the honour it deserves.

Rethinking our education

THERE are Malaysians who are dissatisfied with the education system and are looking for approaches beyond the top-down classroom model.

The Malaysian education system should undergo a paradigm shift in the teaching and learning process to prepare the younger generation for the 2050 National Transformation Programme.

What and how we teach our children today will determine the attitude, values, social awareness as well as skills of tomorrow’s citizens. Perhaps, it is the right time to rethink the goal of education.

Malaysia regards public examination results as important determinants of a student’s progress to higher education, as well as occupational opportunities. (Pix by ZULKARNAIN AHMAD TAJUDDIN)

Is it to socialise young people so they can fit into the fabric of society? Is it to train a workforce for business and industries? Is it to introduce young people to greater possibilities that life has to offer?

These are all reasonable goals, but they do not really address the deepest purpose that education has — helping young people to be creative, bringing new ideas and creating their own future.

In this age of globalisation and information technology, there is always a limit to how much educators and teachers can convey to their students.

Any knowledge disseminated now stands a good chance of becoming outdated as soon as students step out of school.

However, if students are equipped with critical-thinking and learning skills, there is no limit to what they can learn.

As Thomas Friedman proposed in his book, Thank You for Being Late, one of the things students need to learn at school is how to construct frameworks for seeing the world and how they work.

Like most Asian countries, Malaysia regards public examination results as important determinants of a student’s progress to higher education, as well as occupational opportunities.

The primary function of schooling is seen as a way for entry into privileged jobs.

As a result, the emphasis by students, teachers and parents is on performing well in examinations, which are considered the only way for academic attainment.

Other effective characteristics, such as values and attitudes — important elements in the development of a well-rounded individual — are deemed irrelevant.

In the Asia Public Policy Forum on “Improving Education Access and Quality in Asia”, Harvard Professor Lant Pritchett, citing recent research on literacy among Indonesian students, found their level to be similar to that of junior high-school dropouts in Denmark.

He said he feared the same could be true with Malaysia if its schools failed to prepare students for university education.

At the same time, there is no deep understanding of the materials. Instead, it is rote memorisation, application of theory and regurgitating it in exams.

He said the state of education in the country is not the fault of individual teachers. It is not that they are not smart or capable or diligent in doing their job.

The problem is the system they are a part of. If we want to change the system, you have got to change the rules and practices.

As most indicators suggest, there are many issues of survival that we need to respond to by changing the system and changing the way we conduct our daily life.

If we are to develop healthy social processes and create a preferable future, we need to reform our education system, which is more effective, appropriate, equitable and flexible.

We should not feel shy in addressing current challenges and limitations of our education system and institutions.

Doing what is already being done a little better falls far short of what will be needed.

The needs of the world urgently require that some country take a lead in starting the process of transformational change.

Why should Malaysia not be the first?

Malaysian Sikhs have been here since the 1870s

I REFER to an online video of a local media company titled Sikhs Of Malaya: Gone But Not Forgotten.

It was much welcomed because it was a portrayal of how our nation came to be as a result of the blood, sweat and tears of ethnic groups.

However, it has errors that must be rectified to ensure accurate documentation of the history of Malaysian Sikhs.

First, Sikhs started immigrating to Malaya in the 1870s, and not 1900s as stated, mainly to serve in the police and paramilitary forces.

Sikhs are an integral part of Malaysian society. (File pic)

Pioneer Sikh police recruits, besides Pathans and Punjabi Muslims totalling 95 men, were enlisted by Captain Tristram Speedy in Lahore, Punjab, in 1873 to help Ngah Ibrahim, the territorial chief of Larut, Perak, restore law and order in Larut.

Trade and tin mining in Larut were disrupted by fighting between Chinese clans Ghee Hin and Hai San. By July 1, 1878, there were 247 Sikhs in the Perak police force.

Subsequently, 40 Sikhs joined the Selangor police force in 1884 and by 1889, the Sikh contingent in Selangor totalled 128 men.

By 1890, the First Battalion Perak Sikhs had 713 Sikhs, the police force of Sungai Ujong had 75 Sikhs, and the Sikh contingent in Pahang totalled 154 men.

It is important to note that before the enlistment of police recruits by Speedy, there were 60 to 70 Sikh convicts in Singapore in 1857.

Another little known fact is that there was a garrison of 100 Sikh mercenary soldiers (recruited from the Straits Settlements) stationed in Kuala Selangor in 1871 to help Tengku Kudin, who was involved in a civil war against Raja Mahdi.

Many of these mercenary Sikh soldiers were killed in the Selangor Civil War from 1867 to 1873.

Second, Sikhs involved in the Battle of Kampar were defending Malaya against the Japanese invasion and not fighting “to seek independence for Malaya”, as erroneously stated in the video.

Third, in 1931, there were already 20,000 Sikhs in Malaya. Perak had the largest number of Sikhs, followed by Selangor and Singapore.

Before World War 2, Sikhs were found in most parts of Malaya with concentrations in or around large towns.

Hence, to imply that Sikhs started immigrating to Malaya in large numbers after the Battle of Kampar, which is between Dec 30, 1941, and Jan 2, 1942, is incorrect.

Lastly, the title of the video is misleading.

There are thousands of Malayan Sikhs, including me, who are still “alive and kicking” and not “gone”.