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Archive for 2008年11月

Remembering the forgotten Dayaks

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 22, 2008

Sim Kwang Yang | May 31, 08 1:41pm

Published in Malaysiakini.com

During a recent dinner gathering among some Sarawakians and ‘Orang Malaya” (The name for Malaysians from Peninsular Malaysia among Sarawakians), the talk was on the forthcoming Gawai Dayak celebration in the Land of the Hornbill.

MCPX

A Chinese friend asked a Sarawak lady of mixed parentage if she was a Dayak. She said no, she was not a Dayak, for her late father was a Melanau, and her mother is an Iban. That reply puzzled and confused everyone.

I had to clear the air. When the Ibans talk among themselves, they often refer to the Bidayuhs as “Dayaks”. In their sense of ethnic identity, they are “Ibans”, which in their language means “Man”. In that ethnocentric context, the term “Dayak” refers to the Other and carries some degree of derogatory connotation.

According to most anthropologists, the Ibans migrated along the Kapuas River from the southern part of the mountain ranges separating Sarawak from the Indonesia side of Kalimantan very long ago. They probably first settled near Batang Ai upriver from what is now the small town of Sri Aman in the Second Division.

These virile, hardy, and restless Ibans survived mainly by shifting cultivation via the slash-and-burn method, and supplemented their food source with hunting, gathering, and fishing. Rapid increase in their population probably laid pressure upon them to migrate elsewhere in search of new farm land. Among all the ethnic people in Sarawak, the Ibans are the ones who can be found in all nooks and corners of that wild and vast territory.

Iban adat and berjalai

gawai dawak 020607 foodThis restlessness also has its root in their cultural traditions.  According to the Iban adat, a young man’s initiation rites include a journey into the unknown jungle. It is believed that during this journey or berjalai, he will acquire the courage, wisdom, and virtue of manhood.

Naturally, as the Ibans moved westward towards Lundu, the western-most tip of Sarawak, they infringed upon the land farmed by the Bidayuhs. War inevitably broke out. I had found Bidayuh old men in remote villages recounting some of their fierce battles with the aggressive Ibans.

(One Bidayuh explained to me why they prefer to live among the hills. It was easier to shoot downwards and defend themselves against the Iban warriors from the advantage of height! )

That kind of deadly enmity is gone nowadays, but the ethnic alienation lingers slightly in their collective memory. Hence, the confusion over the signification of the term “Dayak” caused by my lady friend at the dinner gathering.

This story illustrates just how amazing the ethnic complexity can be in Sarawak.

dayak NCR land 220405 hopefullTake the Bidayuhs for instance. They constitute about 15 % of the population of Sarawak, form the second largest Dayak community, and are concentrated around the First Division near Kuching City.  But this small ethnic community has seven major dialects and numerous minor ones. Sometimes, as you travel 10 or 20 miles down the road, you find the Bidayuhs speaking a different tongue!

As the post-modernist thinker Foucault observed, the naming and categorisation of people are acts of will to power. When the British colonial government was in power in Sarawak between the end of WW2 and our independence in 1963, the non-Muslim indigenous people were largely divided into Land and Sea Dayaks. The Bidayuhs comprising some 15% of our population were labelled as Land Dayaks, and the Ibans who make up nearly 30% were supposed to be Sea Dayaks. Today, with the British long gone, this distinction has become obsolete.

All this confusion about the names of ethnic communities of Sarawak does belie the fantastic diversity that exists among the non-Muslim native population of Sarawak.

The Federal Constitution recognises some 27 ethnic communities as Bumiputras in the state, including the Malays. The Ibans are the largest community, surpassing the Malays and the Chinese. The Penans are the smallest group with a total population of a little over 12,000.

There are many other sub-groups that identify themselves according to language, blood ties, and traditions. For instance, the Punans are a sub-group of the Kenyahs, and they are very distinct from the Penans. Foreigners and Sarawakians alike often make the mistake of confusing the two.

gawai dawak 020607 chickenThe term “Dayak” came to political prominence in the years and days preceding the formation of Malaysia in 1963. During that time, the budding political consciousness of Sarawakians was very much influenced by the racial narrative of the Malayan federation.

The politics of race is the politics of counting heads. It was more or less agreed that since the Dayak were the majority people in Sarawak, the chief minister ought to be a Dayak. There was also a tacit agreement that the Governor would then be a Malay.

Upon Independence on September 16 1963, the first chief minister was indeed Stephen Kalong Ningkan, an Iban.

Twisted political logic

Further recognition to the political importance of the Dayaks in Sarawak arrived with the designation of one day in the year, the First of June, as Gawai Dayak Day. This decision was gazetted in September 1964, and celebrated for the first time in June 1965.

Unfortunately for the Dayaks, Stephen Kalong Ningkan was booted out of office in 1967 in a crisis engineered from Kuala Lumpur and necessitating a constitutional amendment. Another Iban, Penghulu Tawi Sli, took over as CM briefly before a Malay-Melanau chief minister came into office, to defy the BN logic of communal politics until this day.

All through those four long decades, Dayak discontent with this twisted logic in the state’s political life has always festered beneath the surface. Any member of the Dayak intellegentia will tell you that the Dayaks are the fourth class citizens in their homeland, after the Melanaus, the Malays, and the Chinese – in that order. Indeed, as an ethnic community, they have been very much marginalised by the mainstream socio-economic development programmes launched at the federal and state levels.

mahathir global perdana war crimes forum 050207 leo moggiedaniel tajemThis discontent surfaced in 1983 with the formation of Parti Bangsa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) by people like Leo Moggie and Daniel Tajem.  Their dream was to regain political prominence through their nationalist ideology of “Dayakism”. That was the time when all members of the Non-Muslim population rallied to be a single ethnic entity.

After the infamous 1987 Ming Court coup (an unsuccessful attempt to oust Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud), the PBDS found themselves in the ambiguous position of being in the opposition in the state while still remaining as a member of the BN at federal level. After attempts at the poll failed, they rejoined the Sarawak BN.

Nevertheless, the Dayaks have embraced this new political festival of Gawai Dayak Day on June 1 every year with great enthusiasm. It is a public holiday in Sarawak, and celebration usually begins in earnest even before the actual date itself, with much feasting, drinking, dancing, and visiting.

Today, the Dayak people do face an uncertain future. The once powerful and influential PBDS has been deregistered because of intense factional fight following the retirement of its president Leo Moggie. The splinter groups that emerged in the aftermath of PBDS infighting have now repackaged themselves as various new political parties with names and acronyms that defy memory. The dream of Dayak unity conceived by the founding fathers of PBDS has been shattered beyond measure.

Life’s still a struggle

Socio-economically, some Dayaks have benefited from the state development programmes. There is now a growing Dayak middle class in Kuching City and major towns of Sarawak, working in the civil service, with some gainfully engaged in business and in the professions.

In remote rural areas of Sarawak though, there are still pockets of abject poverty. The educated young people now no longer look to farming as a life long occupation. Most of them have packed up and left the longhouses and headed to the towns in Sarawak and West Malaysia in search of a better life. In some areas, the problem of alcoholism is severe.

As the Gawai Dayak Day approaches, those far flung youths would be looking forward to the day of home-coming. They will take leave from their employer, book early for their airline or bus ticket, and use their hard-earned cash to buy a present or two for the folk at home. Their mouth will water at the prospect of feasting on the chicken cooked in bamboo called pansuh, as well as the newly brewed rice wine called tuak.

Life is still a hard struggle for our Dayak brethrens, but at least they still have this day all to themselves, called Gawai Dayak Day, affirming again their place on this good earth. On this day, their heart will be filled with goodwill for one and all, and hope for prosperity, good health, and good luck in the future.

I can go on and analyse how the non-Muslim natives of Sarawak and Sabah can end the political future of Umno, but on this joyous occasion, we may as well forget the dirty business of politics for once.

So, in the spirit of Gawai Dayak, I wish all my Dayak friends, Gayu

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Is ethics possible without religion?

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 22, 2008

Sim Kwang Yang | Jul 5, 08 1:26pm
We are all condemned to be moral agents. When we choose a course of actions, we make the decision according to whether it is morally good or bad.

MCPX

In this confusing and increasingly secular world, a pertinent question would be: Is ethics possible without religion?

If this question is one on matter of fact, then the answer is a resounding “yes”. In Socrates and Confucius, we have two great philosophers who have expounded their ethics without recourse to any supernatural being.

The authority of Socratic system of ethics is his Form or Idea of the Good, which can be achieved by his epistemological method of dialectic. Many of his tenets have since haunted the Western world. Is it really true that ethics can neither be legislated nor taught? Is it really the case that to know the good is to do the good, and nobody does bad things intentionally?

Confucius too, teaching around roughly the same era as Socrates 25 centuries ago, derived the commanding authority for his system of ethics from his idea of “humanness”. He never made any reference to a personal god. In fact, he advised his followers to “respect and avoid ghosts and spirits”! When asked about death and the possibility of an afterlife, his cryptic answer was: “how do we know anything about death, when we have yet to understand life?”

In the end, Confucius’ most memorable teaching has been his canon that “we must not do unto others what we do not want them to do unto us”. It echoes the teaching by Jesus Christ for us to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Then, closer to our modern age, there is utilitarianism, first proposed by Jeremy Bentham, and later modified and refined by JS Mill, and Henry Sedgwick.

Again, without appealing to the authority and the existence of a Supreme Being, Utilitarianism exalts the value of happiness as the greatest good in the life of the individual and the nation-state.

Since then, utilitarianism has become the moral ideology for the political, economic, penal, social, and moral transformation of the industrialised West, and increasingly in the rapidly developing countries of the Third World. Despite our charade of being a deeply religious society, I suspect most Malaysians of all races are utilitarian at heart, some without realising it.Question of justification

Therefore, the question of whether ethics without religion is not a question about a matter of fact, since secular ethics has existed in various parts of the world for millennia. Rather, it is a question of justification: can ethics without religion be justified, ultimately?

This question is central to revealed monotheistic religions of the world, covering probably nearly half of the world’s population. For worshippers of the Islamic, Christian, and Judaic faiths, there is only one God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Holy of Holies, the Beginning and the End of all Things in the Universe.  God is the ultimate justification of all morality. The teaching of his Word on the destiny of man as revealed in his prophets’ holy books containing the rules to a good life is the final authority on moral and ethics. Any transgression of those numerous rules on all aspects of man’s spiritual and mundane earthly living will condemn him to the eternal damnation of Hell’s fire.

One immediately thinks of the Ten Commandments.

Since God is worshipped as being absolutely good, all moral judgements must use God’s absolute goodness as a standard. Since what is absolute is eternal, necessary, and universal, it is not subject to the vagaries of space and time.

Without this absoluteness, secular morality tends to be situational, relative, and contingent. It lacks the authority of religious ethics to command people to do the good and right things. It cannot command all men because its justification is weaker than the justification in the absolute command of God. For Christians, Muslims, and Jews, morality without religion is indeed unthinkable.

Therefore, the debate on whether ethics without religion is possible will only arise between people who have embraced monotheistic faiths and others who do not share their faith, especially the atheists and the agnostics.

Such a debate is obviously futile, because not only is it impossible to arrive at any consensus, it is doubtful that it would improve goodwill between the two groups of human beings.

For instance, a learned secular moralist will argue that even within the ambit of monotheistic theology, it would be impossible for any mortal human being to know about the nature of God. According to St. Anselm for instance, whatever you think God is, God is greater than that, or else he is not the God revealed by the prophets. That is why you need faith, when knowledge does not serve you anymore. As Immanuel Kant said, he had to deny knowledge (of God), in order to make room for faith.

To the rejoinder by the religious faithful that at least they have their holy books as the words of God, the atheist or the agnostic would say books give you imprecise words and quotations accompanied by their contexts. You have the space between the sky and the earth for interpretation of those words and their contexts. Can the fluctuating slippery language of human beings really reveal the eternal universal and holy truths about God?

And then, the opponent of religious ethics will simply say that since the only thing to compel anybody to follow the ethical system of any organised faith is precisely faith, and since the God of monotheism has decided to give human beings their free will, then the free thinker is merely exercising that right not to believe, and therefore morality is possible without religion.

This is the sort of endless argument engaged by undergraduate students in western universities for hours on end; it is a welcome distraction from the boredom of studying books for too long. But at the end of the day, nobody would be swayed by the argument on either side. Either you believe in a personalised monotheistic god, or you do not.

In the business of living a good life though here in multi-religious Malaysia, the question of whether ethics is possible without religion does underlie people’s attitude to their own faith, and to others who have other forms of religious affinity.

To Christians and Muslims alike, is it necessarily the case that they are the chosen people of God, and all others who do not share their belief are “infidels”, “pagans”, and therefore immoral sinners, predestined and condemned to eternal damnation?

There are many ways to skin a cat, and this question can be answered many ways by different religious scholars and clerics quoting profusely from their holy books.

We have to appeal to lived experience. Religious belief remains as a very personal thing. People will worship whatever they want to worship, and our Federal Constitution does guarantee a certain degree of freedom of religion.

‘Paganism’ in Malaysia

In Malaysia, there are numerous forms of “paganism”, and there are those who are steadfast in their conviction that God is but a figment of the human imagination. Yet they are generally good citizens and good human beings, obeying all the laws of the land, and observing all the mores prevailing in the Malaysian society. They do not set fire to houses, rob other people, or commit murder. In other words, they have perfectly working morals, and they can distinguish what is bad from what is good, most of the time.

Of course they will hold various views on contentious social issues of the day, such as abortion, homosexuality, same sex marriage, euthanasia, the death sentence, prostitution, premarital sex, and such other matters that bear on personal behaviour. But by and large, generally speaking, Malaysians seem to be quite a tolerant people. Whatever their personal conviction on these matters, they seem to be relatively liberal to people who prefer to live a different lifestyle.

A young friend who used to write columns for the Chinese papers and who is studying for a PhD in New York recently declared himself to be gay. As far as I am concerned, that is his personal business, and none of my business. Most Chinese commentators seem to share my feelings. His problem is that he is also a self-professed Christian, and the various Christian denominations do not look kindly upon so-called sexual deviations from the norm.

For my Christian friends, I can only appeal to the spirit of Christ’s teaching, as embodied in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”.

Then, whether there is ethics outside of religion is no longer an important question.

P.S.  The writer wishes to thank Mr. Lim Boo Choong, a personal friend and a faithful reader, for suggesting the topic for this article

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Much ado about sexuality

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 22, 2008

Sim Kwang Yang | Jul 12, 08 12:33pm

published in Malaysiakini.com

According to the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the people of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were so sinful that God had them destroyed en masse.

MCPX

Sodom is the root word for our modern term “sodomy”.

The term has been very much in the headlines in recent weeks, and decent people are aghast at the extent to which Malaysian politics has sunk. In genteel circles, sexual deviation is seldom discussed, let alone done.

By now, we should know that homosexuality must be as old as human civilisation itself. In ancient Greek tales, we have the island of Lesbos, where the ancient Greek poetess Sappho composed her awesome verse. Lesbos is how the term lesbian originated.

Surprisingly, homosexuality was not only tolerated in ancient Greece, it was a kind of vogue among men of fashion and men of letters. If you read Plato’s dialogues, naughty references were constantly made by Socrates about ‘beautiful youths”. In the dialogue Symposium (A Greek term for a drinking party), a male disciple even gave an account of how he tried to seduce Socrates in vain.

Somehow, the emergence of monotheistic organised religions has changed all that. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, sexuality sits at the core of personal morality. The more conservative and ardent believers frown on the sexual act itself; it is meant to be a means to reproduction, which is one’s duty to God. This teleological interpretation of the holy book borders on the ridiculous. You can imagine a husband doing the missionary position while apologising profusely to the wife. “Sorry dear, I am not enjoying this, but I have to do my duty.”

Positively amusing view

This sort of teleological interpretation also regards the woman as a sex object; she has a womb at the centre of her sexual identity, and therefore her main, if not the sole, purpose in life is to bear children. Naturally, her sex organ has become her original sin, and she must bear responsibility if she is raped. She must cover herself from head to toe, so as not to tempt men to commit crimes on her.

I find this view positively amusing. It reduces a woman’s humanity to her gender. More than that, it reduces man’s humanity to his animal nature, as if the 5000 years or so of human civilisation has not tamed the beast in him, as if he is a wild naked monkey in heat, as if there is nothing more important in life than the compulsion to seek immediate sexual satisfaction.

For puritanical fundamentalists, any form of sexual deviation is iniquity of the worst sort. They can shut their eyes to massive corruption in public life, starvation in their midst, and genocide going on in nearby lands, but when it comes to sexual deviation, they will raise their voice in condemnation, promising brimstone and hellfire to the guilty parties!

In the more puritanical, and some would say more hypocritical age in the West, homosexuality has always been considered as a crime against the state. The great artistic wit of Oscar Wilde could not save him from his horrible suffering in prison. The great classicist and poet A E Houseman was gay, but he was wise not to flaunt his sexual preference in public.

But the times have changed in Western countries. Just the other day, I watched a female talk show host interviewing Hilary Clinton when she was still running her campaign for the American presidency. To my surprise, this woman by the name of Ellen DeGeneres professed herself to be gay, and asked Clinton on her position on financial protection for her same-sex “life-partner”. Nobody in the audience raised an eye-brow, and certainly Hilary Clinton replied to her question as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. In a Middle Eastern country, this very talk show host would be stoned to death!

Now, in certain states in the US, same sex marriage is even possible. This will lead some prejudiced and ill-informed Malaysians to think that America is a decadent country and that Americans are typically devoid of personal morality. Actually, the US is a large and complex nation. People living in the Bible Belt for instance, can indeed be every bit as conservative as the most fervent Islamic fundamentalist in Malaysia on matters of sex!

Malaysia is indeed a conservative nation, with very old religious traditions deeply rooted in the life of many communities. There are fixed ideas about masculinity and femininity, and relations between the sexes. Parents will tell their children from a very young age what girls and boys are supposed to be like.

But we do have gay people in our midst. Those teenagers who grow up realising their sexual preference for those of the same sex must be terrified, confused, and depressed. The whole social ethos would make them feel like a freak! Others who have lived their adult life may engage in their gay relationships, but they must guard their secret from their employers, their associates, and perhaps their family as well. It cannot be a very happy way of life.

Naturally, we do not hear open debate on gay rights, and whether one’s homosexuality is pre-determined by nature. In the public sphere, sex and sexuality are seldom discussed at all.

That is unfortunate, because Malaysians may feel that they know all there is to know about sexuality, when they do not.

In the West, the work of Freud and Kinsey on sex is now widely known. I have a lot of problem with Freud, because of epistemological difficulty within his system of putatively scientific knowledge.

The other thinker who has done quite a great deal of work on sexuality is Foucault, one of the main pillars of postmodernism. His famous work is the book, Herculine Barbin, Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a 19th Century Hermaphrodite. Barbin is a hermaphrodite. She is born and it is decided that she is a girl. She stays as a girl, becomes a woman, and then falls in love with a woman whom she wishes to marry. She becomes a man, and then kills himself.

No business in people’s bedroom

At the end of the story, Foucault asks us this question,”Is there a true sex?” Of course Foucault has long been known to be gay. There were attacks against him in his lifetime that, after he knew he was infected with the HIV Aids virus, he was still visiting gay bars. Eventually, he died from Aids complications in 1984. The question then should arise in some societies: is Foucault’s teaching completely worthless just because his sexual orientation is considered to be deviant?

What is my position on this matter? I have asked what if one of my children should turn out to be gay. Fortunately for me, I have never had any. That question shall never have to be resolved.

When I was studying and working in Canada, there was a sensational court case in which a couple were charged for an unnatural sex act: oral sex. I cannot recall the details of the case. What I remember vividly three decades later is that the charismatic prime minister of Canada then, Pierre Eliot Trudeau, one day stood up in Parliament and declared that the government has no business in the bedroom of the people.

I agree. Whatever two consenting adults do within the privacy of the four walls is their business. What they do may be wrong morally, as is the case with extra-marital relations. If so, they will have to bear the responsibility of their actions. The government has no business sending in morality policemen to snoop on their extra-curricular activities.

My position cannot work for our country’s Muslims, because they have their laws on close proximity. This is the complexity of living in a multi-racial and multi-religious nation.

But then again, laws and morality cannot solve all our problems. Sometimes, we need to judge others less, and show our compassion more. In this business of living a life, moral issues also allow for a wide grey domain between right and wrong. I am not a member of any organised religion, though I was educated by the Irish La Salle Brothers of the Catholic Church in my most formative years.

One of the most astonishing things that I have learned from the Brothers is the Lord’s Prayer, the daily prayer of Catholics. I especially remember these lines:

Forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

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Beware of man, not hungry ghosts!

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 22, 2008

000019

Sim Kwang Yang | Aug 9, 08 12:15pm

published in Malaysiakini.com

The Gates of Hell have just recently been flung open, and the countless hoards of abandoned homeless hungry ghosts have been released to haunt our neighbourhood, as our Chinese friends began the celebration of the eerie 7th month of their lunar calendar.

MCPX

The Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is one of the major events on the Chinese calendar, and has its roots in the ancient past of China. In my neighbourhood in Cheras, a huge tent has been erected on the car park in front of the shop lots, and daily, the religious rituals of praying for the departed loved ones, offering of goodies to wandering ghosts, and the burning of huge incense sticks go on late into the night.

Every evening, after the devotees have discharged their religious duties, there would be many performances by professional and amateur singers on a make-shift stage, presumably to entertain the world of the spirits. This practice seems to have become the vogue among Malaysian Chinese. In recent past, there have been complaints that the lady singers’ mode of dressing was overtly provocative, and this is not respectful of the occult guests.

How people get to know the preference of visitors from the nether land is a mystery to me. I guess they would have a resident medium in the local temple who can go into a trance and serves as a bridge between our world and theirs.

I used to saunter down to the said tent after sundown, to partake in the community spirit of the neighbourhood, and to enjoy the morsels of roasted pock or chicken that has been offered to the spirits and then given free to everyone. Sometimes, I even try to catch snippets of the singing entertainment. The singing is so bad generally that one wonders if ghosts would not scurry away like the devil with hands firmly pressed against their ears.

I have never seen a ghost

The festivities will officially round off with a grand dinner. A notice announced that a table for ten would cost RM400. You know the Chinese; they celebrate everything with a feast. Throughout the ghostly month though, people will burn incense and paper money by the road side everywhere every night. They seem to take their hungry ghosts quite seriously.

I know what my scientifically minded friends will say about all this jazz. All these practices are remnants of ancient primitive superstitions. There is no such thing as ghosts, they declare.

I do not know whether ghosts exist or not. I have never seen one, though there have been a few occasions in my life when the hair at the back of my neck did stand up and cold shivers ran up and down my body.

But then it is a fact that in every culture all over the world, there are bound to be some ghostly narratives that tell of supernatural phenomena. Most of my friends have a tale or two of encounters of the occult kind. When a gathering of friends begin to take turn remembering their personal experience, it does get scary, especially if the setting is lonely, isolated and dark. I had had many such gatherings in Iban villages in Sarawak.

To the animist Ibans, their surrounding jungles and rivers are alive with all kinds of spirit. In every village, you are bound to find a Manang or a Dukun, wise old people who have been blessed with knowledge of the spiritual world. Sometimes, a villager may have been afflicted by some bad spirit, and he would have to seek help from the medicine men for very special treatment. I have been witness to more than a few such sessions of exorcism, which seem to work. If you can believe it!

In the Chinese world, they have their medium, usually associated with a temple where devotees worship a particular deity. The Chinese have a huge pantheon of various gods, and so such a temple is a common sight in every town and village throughout Malaysia.

One day, a childhood Chinese friend by the name of Ah Toh walked into my office and declared that he had also become a medium. He never went beyond primary school level in the old impoverished days. He made his meagre living in the construction industry, mostly painting newly built houses and shops.

He told me that one day, he slipped and lost his footing while painting on the scaffolding at the second floor of a shophouse. Instead of falling heavily with a thud with fatal consequences, he found himself floating down lightly like a leaf in the breeze! Thereafter, he had had these severe persistent headaches, and no amount of Panadol could relieve his suffering.

Finally, friends advised him to visit the medium in town. He was told that the Rock Deity had decided to anoint him as the vehicle to do some good work. He was trained in all manners of rituals with which he could communicate with the world beyond.

I listened to his story. Having known him all my life, I had no reason to doubt him, though I still remained as an agnostic on matters of ghostly interference in human affairs.

It was about that time that I had to visit a lonely Iban house located in the midst of an abandoned rubber holding at the edge of Kuching City. The large extended family occupy the upper floor that served as the living quarters, while tools, feeds, and fertilizers were stored on the floor below. I used to seek solitude in the ground floor, to meditate upon the changing fortunes of man.

One night, the eight-year-old boy by the name of Ward (Iban short name for Edward) told me excitedly that every Tuesday and Wednesday night, they could not sleep because of strange noise coming from downstairs. All the young children excitedly reported what they heard, sounds like small children running around and banging against the pillars, in the dead of night, when everybody was supposed to be sleeping.

I asked the head of the household – an old Iban man who sometimes treated patients of the occult kind – what was happening. He smiled wryly and said “they” did not disturb him.

But I was worried for the children. So I sought out Ah Toh and implored upon him to investigate the extraordinary activity at the farm house. He consented and did not take long to report back on the progress of his investigation.

Better to play it safe

He had prepared a paper tablet with the scrawl written purportedly by the Rock Deity. He went to the house with the paper tablet over his head, a ritual that enabled him to see things that would be invisible to you and me. There, he discovered three very young ghosts, spirits of the unborn dead. These children ghosts have been wandering through the wilderness, when the open door of the farmhouse seemed like an open invitation for them to take residence.

He had negotiated with these unwelcome visitors. It was better to solve the problem with negotiation, he said, rather than through the brute force of white magic, as some other mediums were wont to do. Ghosts must be treated with respect too, he said. The little ghosts consented and moved out. He also said he did all these without meeting the occupants inside the house.

A few weeks later, I visited the farm house, for another session of story telling and a few rounds of the fiery Iban firewater, the langkau. I asked Ward and his young cousins if they had heard strange noises emitting from downstairs in the dead of night. I was deeply satisfied when they told me the strange phenomenon had ceased a short while ago. So Ah Toh must have done his work well.

So you see, though I am still not certain if ghosts exist or not, I am sure not going to go out lone in the middle of the night in this Month of the Hungry Ghosts, and issue a loud challenge for the spirits to possess me. It is always better to play it safe.

Then I begin to wonder. Why would the Chinese choose to host the grand Olympic Games in the middle of this ghostly month? I know communists are atheists, and probably do not believe in ghosts. Perhaps they believe all that fireworks will frighten away visitors from hell.

Then again, I remember what an old Iban man told me once. There is nothing to fear from ghosts. Human beings can do much more harm to their fellowmen than all the ghosts in hell. Watching the antiques of politicians engaged in plots and counter-plots in Malaysia, I will have to admit this little dictum has indeed more than a grain of truth!

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Lessons from pasar malam

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 22, 2008

Lessons from pasar malam
Sim Kwang Yang | Sep 27, 08 12:21pm

The September sky over Cheras was still overcast by late afternoon, even though there had been a heavy downpour earlier on. I wondered if the new pasar malam in my new neighbourhood was going to be washed out.

MCPX

We tend to take our hawkers and petty traders for granted, and few realise that they depend on the weather for their livelihood. Even if they all have those huge umbrellas to shelter themselves and their wares from the rain, potential customers would probably prefer to stay indoors.

Fortunately for them that Sunday afternoon, the overcast sky did not rain, and the coolness was good for open air trading.

My neighbourhood pasar malam was, like most other pasar malam of its kind in KL, located on the car park in front of two rows of four-storey shophouses. The uniformed Rela people had closed half the car park to traffic for the petty traders to do their business, while allowing the other half for visitors to park their cars.

Earlier on, the whole car park had been allocated for the pasar malam. It had attracted hundreds of hawkers and business was booming. But then a few shopkeepers complained that they were losing business because of lack of parking space, and hence the new arrangement. The number of stalls had been reduced drastically, and the pasar malam had reverted to its struggling phase again.

They had gone through starts and stops for a long period now. A couple of hawkers were apparently negotiating with the Kajang Municipal Council on their behalf. There were rumours that these few hawkers had collected hundreds and even thousands from those hawkers who were interested in particular spots. Then, the local councillors appointed by the Pakatan Rakyat government in Selangor went to the press clarifying that no such payment was necessary, and the whole night market sank into disarray again.

This sort of wayward practice shows two things.Life goes on in spite of politics

For the petty traders, the state government may have changed hands, but they still believed that officials in the local councils had to be bribed for them to do legitimate business.

For them and the local residents in my neighbourhood, Pakatan may have direct control over the Kajang local council, but the local authorities are still as remote and inaccessible as before, when the Barisan Nasional was in power in Selangor.

How nice it would be if those newly minted councillors would descend upon my pasar malam one Sunday evening, set up a service stall, and talk to the hawkers and the residents. How nice if only the Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim and his gang could drop by for a cup of coffee!

But people’s lives go on in spite of politics. This is more so for those hawkers and petty traders who ply their trade all over the Klang valley. They will tell you that whoever sits at the helm of government, their life will always be a tough struggle against the element, rampant inflation, and the local authorities.

I watched them start their evening business that day. By 5.30pm, they parked their cars, vans, or lorries behind the spot where they set up their stall. The store consisted of a few collapsible tables, one or two huge umbrellas, some fluorescent lights, and a mandatory generator.

The greatest attraction of any night market is of course its variety and its affordability. There were over 100 mostly Chinese stalls in my neighbourhood pasar malam that Sunday night, selling all manners of hawker food, clothing, pirated DVDs, and all kinds of household knick-knacks. There was even a Korean couple selling home made Kim-chi!

This 63-year-old lady took about 40 minutes to set up her stall of three tables, selling fried chicken and other snacks. She, with a help of a few family members, unloaded the heavy big kuali from her vehicle, set it upon an equally heavy and big gas stove, and with the agility of an 18-year-old, she was doing very brisk business within the hour.

Her neighbour at the next stall was selling fried mee, fried bihun, nasi lemak, and that sort of thing. The woman in her early 40s had her four teenage boys to help her. In developed nations, that would constitute child labour, and a violation of children’s human rights. In Malaysia, children helping parents in hawker trade is a norm. It is in keeping with the Confucian value of fulfilling filial duty.

It’s also about monopoly

It was whispered to me that this particular lady actually was quite rich. Somehow, that enhanced my respect for her. The reason for her to be rich must be hard work and frugality. One of her boys took out a school book and seemed to be studying under the bright light of the fluorescent lamp. They were over staffed. I thought to my self it was better for them to share in the experience of making a few bucks than loitering in the shopping malls.

By 7pm, the adjoining roadside was packed with parked cars. This would be illegal parking, but who cares, in Cheras? The crowd thronged the market. Whole families up to 10 members would parade up and down the make shift pasar malam, sampling the wares, enjoying the food and drinks, and the wide open space suddenly became congested and lively.

A neighbour joined my table and shared with me a little item of news.

There was a stall that was doing extraordinary business selling hot noodle. Watching his production line in action, and witnessing the long queue in front of the stall all evening, I estimated that he must be making at least quite a few hundred ringgits a night. Why, they even brought and placed many tables and chairs, making their stall into a temporary restaurant.

Then, a new comer wanted to move in, selling a similar product at the other end of the market. So the original stall owner sent a few strong arms to warn him off. He understood the advantage of monopoly and how to enforce that monopoly!

Most of these petty traders and hawkers making their living in any pasar malam exhibit this tenacity of will typical of the cowboy mentality. They are fiercely independent in guarding their interest.  They have to be, in the near anarchical world of the night market.

Yet, there is some kind of internal dynamic working among them, so that you seldom see open conflicts, even if their trading in such confined and seemly confused space must have generated a great deal of tension.

In fact, they seem to harbour quite considerable empathy for one another. After all, they are in the same trade, and know one another’s problems well. I see them helping neighbouring traders out, with loan of equipment, vital information, use of generator, and even storage space.

Getting organised

What they need to do is to organise themselves through the formation of a permanent registered association, with general assembly every year to scrutinise and pass reports, audited accounts, and elect new committee members. Unfortunately, the prospect for this to happen remains dim; cowboys and cowgirls simply do not flock easily together.

Watching them in action, weekend after weekend, I have reaffirmed my respect for these small hard working people. They are certainly far more customer-friendly and more efficient than the boys and girls in your neighbourhood 7-Eleven Store or the Parkson Grand Departmental Store.

They know that in the free market of the pasar malam, there is no free lunch. Nobody will bail you out if you fail. The only way to survive and prosper is to be competitive. They can never expect any kind of grant or assistance from government at any level. So they take full responsibility for their own livelihood, and give their best in this primordial practice of trading in an open space by the roadside.  They are a civil society in miniature.

Watching them, I see the real strength of Malaysia, far away from the mumbo-jumbo of corporate board rooms, away from the political rhetoric on the media. Here, people live real lives, with their wit and their toil, despite the hypocrisy and the corruption in public life.

A great portion of our middle-class intellegentia is now turned topsy-turvy over whether Anwar Ibrahim can succeed in his plan of regime change in the near future. I am really not that concerned.  One does need patience to see history work itself out in its torturous meandering route.

What I am certain is this: government may come and go, but our night market will go on forever.

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ndigenous Spirituality and GOVERNANCE

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 21, 2008

Colin Nicholas

To be published in Religion and Governance, edited by Chandra Muzaffar and published by
Just World Trust (JUST) and the Konrad Adeneur Foundation (KAF). Pre-publication copy was
published in Indigenous Perspectives, Volume 8, No. 1, 2006, pp. 43-50.

Unlike the other authors in this volume, I must declare that, not being an indigenous person myself, I am not writing from my own religious perspective. Furthermore, because indigenous spiritualities differ, sometimes very widely, from people to people, and from location to location, I cannot assert that this rendition reflects a generalized form of indigenous spirituality. I am writing from my experience and knowledge of the Orang Asli, the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia, and of the Semai people in particular.

Indigenous spirituality is born of the land
Indigenous peoples are descendants of the earliest inhabitants of a specific ecological niche – their traditional or customary lands – in which they continue to live as distinct communities. They believe that the whole of their physical and supernatural worlds are imbued by spirits, both good and evil. While the latter bring harm, misfortune and disease, the benevolent spirits protect humans against all these. The good spirits can also heal illness, bring rain for crops, call fish and wild game, and bring harmony and fertility to the community.

The spirits are site-specific, co-existing with the indigenous peoples in particular geographical spaces or homelands. Within this traditional territory, indigenous peoples develop traditions and belief systems that are the basis of their social organisation, economic system and cultural identification.

Indigenous peoples do not seek to define indigenous spirituality; rather they are more concerned with the proper behaviour that is required for the harmonious and symbiotic coexistence of all the natural and supernatural elements in their world. For them, indigenous spirituality is about acknowledgement that they are equal beings with others – animate and inanimate, seen and unseen – in the created world.

Indigenous spirituality is location and people specific. Thus, the form and content of the spirituality varies from community to community and from environment to environment. It does not have structures beyond the community of people who subscribe to it. For this reason, indigenous spirituality never engages in expansionist missionary activity.

Indigenous spirituality and the community
The underlying philosophy of indigenous spirituality is that the blessings of the good spirits are important for personal and community well-being. And often, appropriate good behaviour on the part of individuals is all that is required to obtain these blessings.

Good behaviour simply means following and practicing the values and behaviour established by society and culture, participation in religious rituals and traditional practices, and proper respect for family, neighbours, and community. It is indigenous spirituality that shapes the social rules, taboos, rituals and belief systems that have an impact on the way indigenous people live their everyday lives – from what they eat (or cannot eat), the way they do everyday chores, organize themselves, marry, educate their children, treat illness, and bury the dead.

Failure to follow these behavioural guidelines often results in the good spirits withdrawing their blessings and protection. The result can be illness, death, drought, or other misfortune. Good behaviour, on the other hand, helps to maintain social harmony, prosperity and continuity.

The teachings about the content and form of indigenous spirituality governing behaviour are usually transmitted orally such as in storytelling or via myth-making, ritual and symbolic art. They are learned by participating in a specific cultural context rather than by the articulation of an abstract religious system or theology.

Indigenous peoples are thus steered to lead responsible and communal lives, not because of some intangible religious edict, but by actually practicing what their teachings require of them. The culture ensures this and their spiritual tradition cautions them that any deviation will cause harm not only to themselves but to others as well.

Indigenous spirituality, as such, brings the social, ecological, and spiritual contexts into alignment in a way that distinguishes, but does not separate, human communities, the natural world, and the realm of the spirit powers. In keeping with this spirituality, the overriding aspiration, then, of indigenous peoples is to ensure continuity and harmony – continuity as a viable people and harmony between humans and humans, and between humans and nature.

Tenets of indigenous spirituality for governance
The fear of food shortages – the result of living close to the margin – made survival a primary concern of the indigenous peoples. Concepts which served to maintain social and distributive justice thus developed and were given potency by resorting to the supernatural realm. The basis of these concepts was common to all indigenous societies and revolved around three fundamental tenets.

Firstly, it is the acknowledgement that all living things, and not just humans, are an interrelated community (the Ainu of Japan call this ‘ureshipamashor’). Secondly, there is an inherent ‘essence’ of being human (the South Africans call it ‘ubuntu, botho’). And, thirdly, that humans have a responsibility towards all others whose wellbeing must always be ensured (the Semai of Malaysia call it ‘tenhak’).

Indigenous daily behaviour is not necessarily directly guided by these fundamental tenets. Rather, a system of taboos, rituals, rules and customs are incorporated into daily living such that compliance with them will ensure adherence to the fundamental tenets of indigenous spirituality.

For example, in Semai society there is a whole range of taboos that an individual is expected to abide by. One is penaliq where the mixing of food from different habitats is forbidden. This ensures that the community’s food resources are not ever-exploited and that over-consumption is not a feature of Semai living. Terlaig is another taboo especially imposed on young children to ensure that they do not mock or harm other living beings, especially insects and small animals. To ensure that agreements (to go hunting, to meet at an arranged time and date) are kept, the concept of srrnlong is there. Breaking an arrangement without following the customs will place the other party in a vulnerable state, exposing him to injury or harm. And you are responsible for this, as the tenet of tenhak dictates. Similarly, hoin – not a taboo but a concept – requires that the other party’s desires and wishes be considered paramount over your own and that they be satisfied to as best as possible.

All these taboos and rules of behaving are adhered to in indigenous communities simply because the adherents believed in them and in the effects of the wrath and anger of the spirits should they be violated. However, concepts, rules and taboos do more for indigenous society than just ensuring good individual behaviour. They lead to practices, processes and institutions through which all in the community participate and determine the economic, political and social mechanisms that distinguish traditional indigenous societies as autonomous and self-determined, as egalitarian and sustainable. These conditions allow individuals in the community to articulate their interest, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences – contributing to what is fashionably referred to as good governance.

Thus the tenet of tenhak extends your responsibility to that of ensuring the wellbeing of all others (and not just your neighbour) over and above that of your own. Over-accumulation would therefore be frowned upon as it implies that some resources were kept back when it could have improved the lives of others. And because all things in nature are interrelated parts of the community, the indigenous spirituality requires that the environment and all things in it are to be protected and cared for.

A closer look at the rationale behind the various taboos and customary rules will reveal that the indigenous spirituality that oversees its form and purpose, abhors practices and behaviour that do not protect and care for the sustainability of nature and all things in it.

Over-consumption, treating living things (including humans) poorly, creating inequalities or allowing wide inequalities to exist, are all to detested and shunned. This, after all, is what the essence of being human means.

It follows then that the concepts determining individual and communal behaviour would also ensure that in the organisation of the community, there is equitable use and sharing or resources, that leadership is by consensus, that aspirations to accumulate and expand excessively are loathed, and that violence or the use of violent means to achieve a goal is not an option. Failure to live by it was to abdicate responsibility and deny the way of life.

Thus, for example, political leadership in traditional indigenous communities in the normal sense of the term is absent. Instead there is great respect for the elders because of their experience and the knowledge of the culture and the land. They are also sought and acknowledged because of their generosity and because they have proven their ability as keepers of the tradition. A traditional indigenous ‘leader’ is also likely to the community’s link with the spirit world.

Indigenous authority, as such, is not based on the democratic principles of representation and majority. Rather, indigenous leaders act as cultural intermediaries with mainstream society and are entrusted with a mandate from their communities and peoples. Decisions often took a long period of time because the principle of collective consensus was viewed by the community as an essential part of the decision-making process. Indigenous leaders had no authority to make independent decisions and act more as spokespersons of their people. All this stems from the nature and content of indigenous spirituality that provide the philosophical basis and practical guide to individual and communal living – to governance – in the traditional indigenous community.

Indigenous peoples, for their part, show their acceptance of the traditions and culture by believing in, and complying with, the gamut of taboos, rules, concepts and rituals that embody indigenous spirituality. They do this because, as we mentioned earlier, they are united in their common goal: achieving continuity as a viable people and attaining harmony between humans and with nature. It is not surprising therefore that with indigenous peoples particularly, children feature prominently in all their considerations. They do not want their children or their children’s children to be deprived or burdened by their present action or inaction.

Did indigenous (spirituality-guided) governance work?
Traditional indigenous societies have been self-sufficient, self-governing, peaceable societies before the impact of the present-day dominant ones. While their degree of prosperity may not match our current standards, they were certainly autonomous communities exercising their right to self-determination in their specific traditional territories.

The indigenous governance system was one of self-identity and self-authority where regulation and control of society was internalised. Indigenous governance as such extended, but was not confined, to material and spiritual control of territories, relations with nature, spirituality and the sacred, as well as strategies for survival and the future. Religion, economics, politics and governance were all intertwined, despite the absence of a hierarchy to account to, or to answer to.

The centrality of the land in their material and spiritual existence also meant that people were obligated to act as custodians of the earth, a role they undertook with much direction from the guardian spirits of the land, and was thus interlinked with indigenous spirituality and culture. And although egalitarianism characterised communal life, the individual had significant personal autonomy with an equally strong obligation to the community – simply because the family or the clan was the basic unit of governance and the welfare of the community depended on the strength of the individuals within it.

Traditional indigenous methods of governance as such primarily focused on maintaining and promoting the common good and were in place to deal with immediate issues facing the survival of the community. Similarly, harmony was a fundamental value because conflict would threaten the survival of the community. Penitence and forgiveness, for example, usually involved a long process of deliberation on a transgression, and was never by itself just a personal affair. They concerned, and involved, the whole community.

The relatively small size of the community however did allow for these values and practices to be realized. Nevertheless, traditional indigenous governance did work, and can still do so.

Contemporary challenges to indigenous governance
It if often said that the main cause of our global problems today is because of greed, excessive greed.

But greed is not the main cause. Greed instead exists because of the absence of the sense of being human, ubuntu botho, and the rebuff of the overriding tenet of tenhak causing individuals to no longer feel responsible for others, including those in faraway lands.

The challenges to indigenous spirituality – and, it follows, indigenous governance – are several and disparate. They include the usual fiends of modern globalized society: individualism, consumerism, globalization and commercialization.

The intrusion of these new values onto traditional indigenous society has two significant effects on indigenous spirituality. One, because religion, nature and livelihoods are habitually regarded as commodities, the mainstream society regards indigenous spirituality and indigenous societies as backward civilizations drowning in superstition and paganistic rituals, and as obstacles in the path of modernization. Partly as a result of ignorance, partly out of arrogance, indigenous spiritualities are treated by the outsiders with condescension and scorn. Indigenous spiritualities are also not recognized as true religions on par with the other mainstream religions.

Two, as a consequence of such treatment of indigenous spirituality by outside factors, indigenous peoples themselves have a low regard of their own traditions and spirituality and as such succumb to the temptation to abandon them for new mainstream ones.

Furthermore with their lands not secured from expropriation and appropriation by others, indigenous peoples become separated from their traditional territories, the very ecological niches that gave rise to their specific indigenous spirituality. Divorcing indigenous peoples from their traditional lands is in effect asking them to leave their location-specific spiritual traditions behind. This seemingly ‘superstitious’ logic is captured well in the words of a Mexican native healer, Leandis, when he explains,

“If we didn’t do the ceremonies, it wouldn’t mean the plants wouldn’t bloom that year. It would mean we would stop having that respect and giving that praise. Then we stop having food to eat because we would lose respect and cut down the rainforest, pollute the water, and destroy the balance. That is the real truth behind this message.”


Response of the Indigenous Spirituality
Indigenous peoples have had to contend with the expansionist designs of the other world systems and religions. Sometimes these designs are initiated and supported by the state, making it very difficult for small, frequently isolated communities to counter these threats.

Indigenous peoples affected by such threats generally fall into two categories: those who rejected their indigenous spiritualities in favour of the modern systems and now want to reassert their indigeneity; and those who have always kept and practiced their indigenous traditions and spiritualities, and still want to do so.

For the former, the recovery of traditional aspects of the indigenous spirituality is seen as an important step towards reasserting their indigenous origins. Some do so for the sole purpose of identifying with their birth-origin, others for the birth-rights that come with being indigenous in particular situations. Unfortunately, such recovery of tradition and spirituality is largely confined to ritual acts and symbolism, not to the fundamental core of the indigenous spirituality. For this group, the resort to the revitalization of indigenous spirituality is a proxy fight for their rights, especially the right to their land.

The fight for their traditional lands, nevertheless, remains a common feature of all indigenous peoples. For most, however, it is borne out of the realization that their culture and their spirituality – and, it follows, their identity as a specific people – are directly linked to a specific ecological niche viz. their customary or traditional land. The dispossession of indigenous peoples from these lands effectively implies divorcing them from the basis of their indigenous spirituality.

Thus, the protection of indigenous traditional lands goes hand-in-hand with the recovery, assertion and observance of their indigenous spirituality. For this, some indigenous peoples are willing to give up their lives. Others seek the usual avenues available to them, including resorting to the courts.

The irony is that it is the very nature of indigenous spirituality – to be peaceful, accommodating, non-aggressive, non-opportunistic – that is their biggest bane. Keeping true to their indigenous traditions often means that they are no match to the others (governments, colonials, developers, entrepreneurs, for example) whose own operating rules and religious traditions do not restrain them from taking advantage of the situation and so further marginalize the indigenous person.

The Future Role of Indigenous Spirituality in Governance
The aim of good governance is to bring about the transformation of society along desired political, economic, ecological, social and spiritual goals. Politically, this would involve the genuine democratic participation of all individuals; economically, it is the shared ownership of the means of production; ecologically, it is the wholeness and interrelatedness of humankind and nature; socially, it is the restoration of community belonging and co-responsibility; and spiritually, it is maintenance of harmony and wellbeing between fellow human beings and between human beings and nature.

People and their environments are apparently not the focus in governance anymore. The present human and environmental crisis is, after all, the direct result of human over-consumption, human disruption of natural cycles, and human simplification of ecosystems – all being allowed to occur because there is no accounting to a higher ideal or a higher spirituality.

If good governance is not being practised today, perhaps a corrective should be sought in the libraries of the other worldviews and other traditions than those currently being subscribed to. Certainly, for governance to be considered good in practice, its philosophical basis should be spiritual in inspiration. That of the traditional indigenous spirituality can offer an alternative; or at least an alternative way of considering the problem, just as the indigenous knowledge and management systems pertaining to the environment have come to be accepted as viable alternatives to existing systems.

The key to spirituality-inspired indigenous governance, however, remains that of the small, localised community. Perhaps in this regard we should move towards allowing people to govern themselves via their local governments or in their autonomous areas. For a start, we need to keep entities small, sustainable and consensual. Indigenous peoples have proven that this is possible.

Indigenous peoples have much to give to humankind about living in harmony and equilibrium with other humans and with the environment. They are willing to share this knowledge, this understanding of the purpose of living, but will not embark on activities to propagate them in an evangelical way.

Indigenous peoples know they have something good, something workable, and they are willing to share this – if only we are willing to accept them.

7 July 2006

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ORANG ASLI AND THE CONSTITUTION Protecting Customary Lands and Cultural Rights

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 21, 2008

Colin Nicholas

Paper presented at the14th Malaysian Law Conference, organised by the
Bar Council of Malaysia, 29-31 October 2007, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

Today, as it was in the past, the Orang Asli are locked in a dynamic struggle with the wider society over the control of resources they declare as their own, over attempts at denying and redefining their cultural identity, and over concerns of political access and economic distribution.

They find themselves poised against the machinations of the nation state that they now are a part of. It also the state – which, by its very nature, is politically organised to assert and maintain control over its citizens – that, in current times, is largely responsible for the ever-changing conditions of Orang Asli society.


The State and Orang Asli Wellbeing
Developmental and ideological policies pursued by the state consciously or unconsciously ignore the economic and social interest of the Orang Asli in part because the state has also come to regard the Orang Asli as being no different from the other citizen groups, and therefore not warranting of government on different terms, including in respect of Orang Asli claims to their territories by custom and history. That is to say, the Orang Asli are not recognised as a people.

But the Orang Asli are not simply aggregates of separate individuals belonging to a category or ethnic group. Rather, they are a distinct group that is associated with particular territorial bases. Indeed, the attachment of the Orang Asli to particular localities (or ecological niches) is one of their most notable and politically significant features whereas identification of self with locality is alien to the logic of modern political-economy.

To the Orang Asli, the environment is more than a collection of water, animals, plants and landforms. It is the basis of their spirituality and the source of their identity. It is to be treated with appropriate respect and must be kept in balance. Disrupting this balance (such as through pollution, over-developing, or over-hunting) will only result in tragedy, not just for the environment but for the people as well.

For this reason, the Orang Asli child learns from the elders about the riches of the environment and how it will forever protect them as long as they reciprocate the relationship. The usefulness of the products of the forest – for fuel, medicines, food, building materials, crafts, and for peace of mind – are continually shown to the child. The child itself is encouraged to use the forest as its playground.

That the forest is a living entity, with a soul and spirituality of its own, is also imparted to the child. The child believes in all this because the parents themselves believe in it. Remove this dominion and you remove the very basis of the fabric of Orang Asli society. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child. And that village is situated in a specific ecological niche.

Governments, and the people who represent them, somehow can never comprehend the need for the Orang Asli to identify with specific territories or customary lands. Governments, also, are generally motivated by a range of specifically short-term political, social, and bureaucratic interests that are sometimes contradictory and inconsistent in themselves, and these often cause significant changes in the lives of Orang Asli. The changes habitually conform to state interests and frequently produce a pattern of policy failure and local crises accompanied by a growing pattern of local dependency and reduced local autonomy on the part of the Orang Asli.

A reduction in local autonomy, nevertheless, is the key instrument for the state to effect control over Orang Asli society and resources. It can be said that Orang Asli have begun to be a target of internal colonialism. This is a state in which indigenous peoples are subjected to administrative control, dispossession of lands and resources, and forced or induced assimilation. The reasons for the propagation of internal colonialism are varied, but are usually related to areas of control. Ironically – and yet demonstrative of its effectiveness – such domination eventually becomes so successful that it is culturally accepted and becomes a fact of life for the Orang Asli.

But why is the state reluctant to accord autonomy to the Orang Asli? This has to do, in large part, with the fact that the Orang Asli occupy the last remaining resource frontiers in a nation-state dominated by a profiteering system searching for geographical space and natural resources.

So if their traditional lands have provided the Orang Asli with both content and form of their culture, their displacement from it, or its environmental destruction – an integral part of modern development – would destroy the fabric of Orang Asli societies in an unprecedented manner such that de-culturisation occurs. Precisely for this reason, therefore, the unrestrained state chooses not to recognise Orang Asli ownership and control of their customary lands – and in so doing asserts its control over a people, remove any remnant of autonomy-aspiring pockets of individuals among them

It soon becomes clear to the Orang Asli therefore that the agenda of the state are quite distinct from that of their own. As a result, conflicts frequently result, especially over claims to the Orang Asli’s traditional territories. And it is in the contesting claims over their traditional territories that the Orang Asli are today finding themselves increasingly having to resort to legal avenues in order to hold on to the basis of their identity as a distinct people.

Are there Protections for the Orang Asli
in the Constitution?

Increasingly, of late, when protests, dialogues, appeals and blockades have failed to secure their rights to their customary lands, the Orang Asli have been forced to resort to the courts. It is to the Constitution, in particular, that they turn to as a last resort to seek justice and fairness. But does the Constitution protect the Orang Asli?

First, it should be pointed out that writing a constitution involves consensus, consultation, compromise, and a conscience. The Orang Asli were evidently left out of the process when Malaya’s Constitution was being debated and drafted. This is why, as several legal commentators have long pointed out, there are glaring omissions in the Constitution where Orang Asli rights are concerned.

In fact, we can even say that the Constitution, to some extent, actually discriminates against the Orang Asli. For example, under Article 153, they are left out of the categories of peoples who are accorded special privileges (viz. the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak). This article posits the mandatory duty of safe-guarding the special position on these privileged communities in specific areas of economic activity, education and employment on the Yang DiPertuan Agung.

The Orang Asli are, in fact, mentioned in only four places in the Federal Constitution. And that too in a rather unclear way so much so that it has also become increasingly difficult to argue for the same rights and privileges that are accorded to, for example, the Malays (on account of their claim to indigenity). The four places where the Orang Asli are mentioned in the Federal Constitution are:

• Article 8(5)(c), which legitimizes discriminatory legislation in favour of Orang Asli by way of provisions in the law of their protection, well-being and advancement (including the reservation of land) or the reservation to aborigines of a reasonable proportion of suitable positions in the public service.

• Article 45(2), which provide for the appointment of Senators “capable of representing the interest of the aborigines”.

• Article 160(2) which rather unhelpfully defines an aborigine as “an aborigine of the Malay Peninsula” and Ninth Schedule; List 1 that vests upon the Federal Government legislative authority for the “welfare of the aborigines”.

• Article 89, where an indirect reference to Orang Asli is inferentially made in with regard to Malay Reservations.

But in reality, the government has chosen to interpret the vagueness in the Constitution in its favour, rather than to protect the rights and interests of the Orang Asli indigenes. Thus, while the Constitution does authorise the government to enact laws that are in obvious favour of the Orang Asli – “for their protection, wellbeing and advancement” – it has not done so.

Was there Intent to Protect?
However, in the early debates on the protection of the rights of the Orang Asli, including that of their customary lands, suggests that there is consensus that the laws of this land should take the cue from the Constitution and proactively provide for the protection of Orang Asli rights.

The Legislative Council Debates of 1953-1954 contained a promise that there would be sufficient gazetting of Orang Asli traditional territories as Orang Asli reserves. Tok Pangku Pandak Hamid, the nominated Legislative Council member for the Aborigines (equivalent to our present-day Senator for the Orang Asli) had asked whether the government had taken any steps to ensure that the hereditary lands of the Aborigines were reserved for their use. To this, the then Minister of Education, Mohd Khir Johari, had replied that,

“under the Aboriginal Peoples Ordinance (No. 3 of 1954, Clause 7) there is provision for the gazetting of Aborigine Reserves. Steps are now being taken to create these reserves.…”

En. Mohd Khir Johari had also stated that,

“At the moment there are in existence in the Federation 58 gazetted Aborigine Reserves covering in all approximately 30 square miles (7,770 ha), and including some 5,200 aborigines. An additional 120 areas are currently under consideration, with a view to gazetting as Reserves. They cover about 389 sq. miles (100,750 ha) and include approximately 21,000 aborigines.”

This promise was never fully kept. Of the total 108,520 hectares to be gazetted as Orang Asli reserves, only 19,222 hectares are gazetted today i.e. only 18 percent of the promise has been kept. Also, it should be stressed that the promised figure only involved 26,200 Orang Asli out of a population of about 100,000 then. In fact today, only about 110 out 869 Orang Asli settlements (i.e. only 13 percent) are gazetted as Orang Asli reserves.

The question of adequate gazetting was also noted by Mohd Tap bin Salleh, a former Assistant Director-General of the JHEOA, in his 1990 doctoral study on the administration of the Orang Asli. He concluded that about 60-70% of Orang Asli lands were unprotected (Mohd Tap 1990: 71). In the same research, he also succinctly captured the adverse consequences of the non-gazetting or under-gazetting of Orang Asli lands, as follows:

On the other hand, compared to the limited rights of these (Orang Asli) communities that occupy legally designated areas and reserves, those Orang Asli communities that occupy areas in which other rural populations are facing an acute shortage of land, are denied even these limited rights. In spite of longstanding requests for all traditionally occupied Orang Asli areas to be declared reserves or areas so that their rights, however, limited, can be protected, scores of state authorities have been reluctant to agree to these requests. This has resulted in about 60-70 percent of Orang Asli communities having no legal rights or protection over the land they have traditionally occupied for a long time. The majority of these communities have become victims of newly created laws and regulations. They have suddenly found themselves to be illegal occupants of newly designated forest reserves, nature reserves, catchment areas and areas earmarked by the government for special development. As a result, scores of Orang Asli communities, although recognised as having the moral rights, but not the legal rights to occupy the land they are in, are facing constant harassment and constant encroachment by outsiders.

Being a civil servant, Mohd Tap appears to be parroting the oft-repeated assertion that the Orang Asli do not hold legal rights to the customary lands, only a moral claim. Notwithstanding the proclamations of our courts thus far – that the Orang Asli can claim common law title to their traditional territories without the necessity of showing a piece of document from the state saying so – the authorities should be reminded that the 1961 Statement of Policy Regarding the Administration of the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia clearly reaffirms the rights of the Orang Asli, both as enshrined in the Constitution, and as envisaged by our founding legislators.

(The Statement of Policy has been confirmed to be still in force by a Director-General of the JHEOA during testimony under oath during the Sagong Tasi land rights case in 2001.)

The 1961 Policy Statement in fact carried some important broad principles and “special measures” to be adopted “for the protection of the institutions, customs, mode of life, person, property and labour of the Orang Asli”, as set out in Section 1, paras (a) to (f) on pages 2 to 3 of the document.

In particular, the more pertinent clauses are:

Para (a): The aborigines (Orang Asli), being one of the ethnic minorities of the Federation, must be allowed to benefit on an equal footing from the rights and opportunities which the law grants to the other communities. …

Para (b): The social, economic and cultural development of the aborigines should be promoted with the ultimate object of natural integration as opposed to artificial assimilation. … Due account must be taken of the cultural and religious values and of the forms of social control existing among the various communities, and of the economic change.

Para (c): The aborigines shall be allowed to retain their own customs, political system, laws, and institutions when they are not incompatible with the national legal system. In this respect, the methods of social control of the deep jungle groups shall be used as far as possible for dealing with crimes or offences committed by aborigines.

Para (d): The special position in respect of land usage and land rights shall be recognized. … Also, the Orang Asli will not be moved from their traditional areas without their consent.

Thus, while ensuring and securing the identity and autonomy of the Orang Asli, the 1961 Policy Statement specifically assured the Orang Asli they will not be moved from their traditional areas without their consent, further reinforcing their moral and legal right to their customary lands.

The Tunku himself recognised that the Orang Asli had rightful claims to their traditional territories. In his address announcing the new Radio Malaya Programme for the Orang Asli on 3 February 1959, he had said to the Orang Asli listening in,

The Emergency is coming to an end, and you are now able to return to the place of your choice and live in peace as before. … Do not forget, my government is working to enable you to return to your original dwelling place and live as you choose.

The early intent of the government to protect Orang Asli culture and lands was recently reinforced by its endorsement of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) – first as a member for the Human Rights Council which, on 30 June 2006, supported the resolution to put the Declaration before the General Assembly for adoption, and then again as a member state which voted on 13 September 2007 for the Declaration together with the majority of other nations.

However, despite all the protections, despite all the good intentions, and despite all international posturing, the sad reality is that the Orang Asli today justifiably fear for their identity, culture and especially for their traditional lands.

Some of the lands that were approved for gazetting as Orang Asli Reserves as far back as the 1960s, were never administratively gazetted thus placing these lands in serious jeopardy of being lost to others. And for no fault of the rightful customary owners. In fact, some of these areas have already been reclassified as state land or Malay Reserve Land or given to individuals and corporations – without the Orang Asli’s knowledge, let alone consent.

Missing Protections:
The Orang Asli Land Situation Today

From Table 1, we note that only 19,222.15 hectares have been gazetted as Orang Asli reserves in accordance with the Aboriginal Peoples Act. This represents only 15.1 per cent of the total land area (127,698.54 hectares) in 2003 that, in the eyes of the authorities, are Orang Asli inhabited places, Orang Asli areas or Orang Asli reserves as stipulated in the same Aboriginal Peoples Act.

Orang Asli are also said to be occupying 9,873.04 hectares of land without authorisation while 644.17 hectares are said to be legally owned by Orang Asli by way of individual lands titles (Table 2). That is to say, as of 31 December 2003, only 0.5 per cent of Orang Asli had titles to their lands (and most these Orang Asli have done so on their own accord).

Also, only 15.1 per cent of all recognised Orang Asli lands were duly gazetted as Orang Asli reserves. Another 22.5 per cent (28,760.86 hectares) had been duly approved for gazetting as reserves but, alas, the actual administrative gazetting was not done.

In some cases, the approval for gazetting was given in the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, according to the JHEOA’s Data Tanah of the early 1990s, but to date the actual gazettement was never effected.

In some other cases, such as in Kuala Krau and Bera districts in Pahang, Orang Asli lands that were approved for gazetting as Orang Asli reserves in the past eventually became re-classified as “Tanah Kerajaan” (JHEOA Data Klasifikasi Kampung 1997). More often than not, this was done without the knowledge or consent of the Orang Asli concerned.

Table 1
Orang Asli Land Status, 2003 (hectares)


Table 2
Orang Asli Occupied Lands, 2003 (hectares)


Table 3
Change in Orang Asli Land Status
1999-2003 (hectres)


What is also of concern is that even the area of Orang Asli gazetted reserves have been decreasing over the years. From Table 3 above, it will be seen that from 1990 to 2003 a total of 1,444.81 hectares of Orang Asli reserves were de-gazetted.

Furthermore, another 7,315.47 hectares of Orang Asli lands that were approved for gazetting, was not only never gazetted but their ‘approved’ status was eventually revoked. Thus, from 1990 to 2003, at least 8,760.28 hectares of recognized Orang Asli lands had their status retracted.

In the same period, nevertheless, there was an increase of applications for Orang Asli reserves, from 67,019.46 hectares in 1990 to 79,715.53 hectare in 2003. It should be noted however that the majority of these new applications for gazetting were to replace Orang Asli lands that were de-gazetted for development projects (such as the KLIA and Selangor Dam projects) or for new resettlement schemes. Even so, the status of these lands is that of mere ‘applications’. They do not have the legal weight of the second category (‘approved for gazetting but not gazetted yet’) which, it should be added, in itself was also not a good enough category to secure Orang Asli lands.

As noted by the judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal Judgments in the Sagong Tasi case, the main problems facing the Orang Asli with regard to their customary lands is one in which the government has failed in its statutory duty to protect Orang Asli lands from encroachment, exploitation and appropriation by others (including the government itself). As a result of the state and federal governments’ neglect in both under-gazetting and not gazetting areas which they knew were inhabited by the Orang Asli, the latter’s  rights in the land were placed in serious jeopardy.


New Orang Asli Land Policy
to give land to the Orang Asli?

The proposed Orang Asli Land Policy is bandied about as aimed at addressing the Orang Asli land problem. It plans to set aside some 75,900 hectares for 30,000 Orang Asli families, who will each get 6.25 acres (2.53 hectares) of agricultural land and homestead. But as, we have seen above, the government has already recognised 127,698 hectares as being Orang Asli lands, albeit with varying statuses.

Thus, with the setting aside of 75,900 hectares for the Orang Asli under the proposed Orang Asli Land Policy, the reality is that the Orang Asli will stand to lose 51,798 hectares (40 per cent) their government-recognised lands now. They will also stand to lose all other lands that they are now occupying or stake a customary claim to.

Furthermore, these 6.25 acre (2.53 hectares) family plots are assigned to them on a 99-year-lease basis. Nothing, as such, can be more graphic of the Orang Asli’s fate than this twist in the knife: that their inalienable right to their land now has an expiry date!

So how did we come to this stage where Orang Asli rights, especially rights to land, no longer protected? And what is the way out?

Going back to the Constitution
Clearly the economic and political powers-that-be, and those who are in cahoots with them, are using their (immoral) clout to get at the lands and resources of the Orang Asli. And frequently they use their interpretation of the law to deny the Orang Asli their rights to their traditional lands. And they are doing this at an alarmingly increasing rate.

The Orang Asli face an uphill battle in challenging them at all levels. Ultimately, the last bastion of their rights falls at the feet of our judges. Orang Asli are hoping that they will continue to defend the spirit of the Constitution and the good, moral and legal intentions of our founding lawmakers.

Like them, I hold the view that there are protections to Orang Asli rights to land and life in the Constitution, as well as in the policies and intentions of the government.

We can only hope that the courts will continue to guarantee these protections, not as an act of pity or charity, but because the Constitution and our political affirmations require it to be so.

The Orang Asli have looked upon the courts as their last resort in their pursuit of only one thing they seek – justice.

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Orang Asal Celebrate the United Nations’DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 21, 2008

Orang Asal Celebrate the United Nations’

DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS


OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES


and call for its local application



CN/COAC | 19 September 2008
Untuk lapuran dalam Bahasa Malaysia, sila klik di sini.



The national workshop and exhibition on the ‘Strife of the Orang Asal’ was held from 9-13 September 2008 at the Annexe Gallery, Central Market, KL, with the theme ‘Celebrating the Adoption of UN-DRIP at the international level, Calling for its application at the local level’.

It was the third stage in the year-long programme of the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia, or JOAS) to make the indigenous communities aware of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN-DRIP) and to get the government to apply it. After all, the government fully supported it when it went for a vote at the UN General Assembly exactly a year ago, on 13 September 2007.

Orang Asal researchers from Pacos, Brimas, Sadia and COAC were involved in the first phase: gap analysis research on the application of UN-DRIP at the local level. The findings were then presented to regional workshops held simultaneously in Bidor (Perak), Penampang (Sabah) and in Kuching (Sarawak) on 9 August 2008, which coincided with World Indigenous Peoples Day.

The national workshop in Kuala Lumpur was to collate feedback from all the regional workshops and come up with a common national Orang Asal demand which was to be submitted to the Yang DiPertuan Agung, the King.

Why the King? Partly because all other avenues for bringing up Orang Asal grievances in the past had not been successful — including dialogues, protests, seminars and court cases. And partly to remind our sovereigns that Orang Asal support in the past was what allowed them to set up their sultanates. But more importantly, what the Orang Asal sought was publicity of the issues they face, and to get the Malaysian government to keep its commitment to the UN-DRIP.

Following the opening rituals and blessings from traditional spiritual leaders from the three regions, the workshop was launched by Suhakam Commissioner, Datuk Dr. Denison Jayasooria.

The organisers also took the opportunity to inform and remind the participants of the conferment of the Asian Indigenous Human Rights Defender Award on TK Kelesau Naan, the Penan headman of Long Kerong who was believed killed for his successful anti-logging stand.

Then followed two days of intensive reporting and discussions by the 120 representatives from Orang Asal organisations and communities. These were put into a 9-page memorandum that was to be submitted to the King.

The memorandum highlighted the plight of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia and showed that this happened largely because the articles of the UN-DRIP were not complied with.

The main issues resolved around the right to self-determination and the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) — which gave rise to increasing encroachments onto native customary rights land, economic marginalisation, and pressures to assimilate.


Alas, as reported on this portal, the police thwarted our plans and the memorandum was not delivered.

Nevertheless, this did not dampen the mood of the participants. On the contrary it further strengthened the resolve of JOAS to continue with the rest of the year-long programme to highlight the principles and articles of UN-DRIP and to get the government to keep its word.

All things said, the national workshop has been a tremendous boost for forging solidarity and identity among the indigenous communities of Malaysia. For one, given their similarities of culture, situation and aspiration, the term Orang Asal has been widely accepted by the indigenous communities of Sabah, Sarawak and Semenanjung as their common identity.

The Perjuangan Orang Asal signature song and video was also launched which became an immediate hit with the participants and others who had a chance to view it or hear the song as it was sung during the protest march.

The events in Kuala Lumpur were another important milestone in the making of an Orang Asal bangsa where communal specificity and social solidarity blended and flourished. This was clearly manifested in the closing party where unique indigenous dances were spontaneously accepted and adapted to other indigenous traditions.

JOAS, the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia is here to stay.

Workshop and Exhibition pictures by Colin Nicholas & Puah Sze Ning.

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向元首呈備忘錄爭取權益‧原住民聯盟被警擋駕

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 21, 2008

向元首呈備忘錄爭取權益‧原住民聯盟被警擋駕

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  • 阿德利安(左)欲率領150名住民代表和平步行至國家皇宮,向國家元首提呈備忘錄,但是卻受到警方阻撓。(圖:光明日報)

  • 逾150名原住民週六齊聚中央藝術坊,向民眾表示他們不願被國家邊緣化的決心。(圖:光明日報)

  • 我國原住民佔人口逾15%,他們來自80多個不同的族群。(圖:光明日報)

1 of 3

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(吉隆坡)馬來西亞原住民聯盟(JOAS)原本被批於週六(13日)早上步行至國家皇宮,向國家元首陛下提呈爭取原住民權利的備忘錄,但在最後一分鐘被警方以“敏感時刻”為由而禁止他們前進。

來自全國各地逾150名原住民代表,於早上10點齊聚中央藝術坊。他們穿著原住民傳統服飾、面具和頭飾,在傳統樂器的演奏下,合唱“Perjuangan Orang Asal”,準備向國家皇宮出發。

原獲允許遊行到皇宮

該聯盟主席阿德利安披露,儘管警方不曾對他們發出集會准證,但是他們早在兩週前已知會警方有關此活動,並得到金馬警區主任點頭認同。至於國家皇宮負責人也表示“欣然接收備忘錄”。

“截止週五晚上為止,警區主任都允許我們遊行到皇宮,負責監督整個遊行活動的警方行動組負責人悉尼,也在遊行開始前向我們保證,只要我們保持平和態度,他們會從旁監督以便活動順利進行。”

不過,據記者在遊行現場了解,警方在10點15分時允許遊行者從中央藝術坊出發,但是卻在10點20分,警方聲稱得到警區主任的指示,遊行必須立刻停止。

數名代表上前與警方交涉約5分鐘後,即10點25分,警方突然又大發仁慈,讓他們向前步行逾30呎至中央藝術坊廣場,向媒體和公眾展示備忘錄內容後再解散。

因政局不穩受促解散

10點半,警方的諾言再次出現變卦,要求所有參與遊行的原住民立即解散,否則將對他們採取行動。其中悉尼更在與原住民代表協商的當兒,大聲向外圍的警察說“standby”,讓現場燃起一股僵持對峙的氣氛。

悉尼受詢為何禁止原住民前進時,他只是冷酷著臉,不願回答任何記者的提問。

阿德利安則表示,警方聲稱國家政治局勢不穩,希望他們立即取消任何走上街頭的活動。

他說,由於他們的活動不被認同,他們只好取消步行至皇宮的計劃,帶領參與者回到位於中央藝術坊4樓的展覽館招開記者會,並討論接下來的對策,包括商議提呈備忘錄至國會。

求落實原住民權利宣言

馬來西亞原住民聯盟主席阿德利安在記者會上指出,他們用了兩天時間草擬備忘錄,要求也是聯合國《原住民權利宣言》簽署國的我國政府,落實該份宣言,認可原住民的土地權利和控制、發展及保衛原住民的土地權。

他們也希望喚醒原住民和公眾對該份宣言的認識,協助被邊緣化的原住民恢復基本的生活權益,以免他們的其本權益繼續被剝削,迫使他們只能成為馬來西亞獨立51年以來,最窮困和最受忽略的族群。

半島原住民協會代表蒂佳則聲稱,政府其實早已設有原住民事務部門,但是此部門卻沒有正常操作,也不曾對原住民提供任何實際援助,官員們的態度行為反而讓原住民懼怕,對他們敬而遠之。

原住民發展撥款不知所終

“政府撥款給這個部門,外界怪罪我們用完部門的撥款,但其實我們沒有從撥款中受惠,我也很想知道這些協助原住民部落發展的撥款到底去了哪裡?”

砂拉越原住民代表馬克聲稱,我國逾400萬名原住民中,大多數人竟然未獲得國家登記局發出的身分證,世代子女誕生後猶如寄居在大馬,比擁有我國居留權的外國人還不如。

“沒有身分證就代表我們不獲國家認同,有些同胞連投票權都沒有。我們已多次向有關當局提呈備忘錄要求地位認同,但是當局的理由,多半是認為原住民拒絕發展,或遭到反對黨煽動。”

光明日報‧2008.09.13

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消逝的知識分子抗爭的年代

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 21, 2008

劉敬文 Source: Oriental daily我們的社會有精打細算的老闆,更不缺信口開河的政客,只是少了可供學習的典範。何啟良捧政黨宣傳讀物的舉止,只不過進一步印證了這種說法。

我們說今天的世界是知識經濟的世界,弔詭的是今天已沒有知識分子,只有知識工匠。知識分子登高一呼萬山響應的時代是一個遙遠古老的夢。

所謂的知識分子,或今天大陸流行的用語:公共知識分子,如果在現代這個社會還有任何價值的話,它也只剩下了美學的價值:作為一種價值實現的典範,一種孤獨自我完成的傲氣,一種對現況的背叛和出走。

套用何啟良1995年5月28日發表在《南洋商報.言論版》的「馬華文化人的自我定位」一文的話:「馬華知識分子和文化人對本身的自我定位和獨立人 格等命 題作了許許多多的思辨和反省,他們深自砥礪,抱著建立一個自強自立的公民社會的宏願,盡量擺脫政治性的傾向,企圖建立具現代意義的知識分子的群體人格和自 我尊嚴。韓愈所云:「若俛首帖耳搖尾而乞憐,非我之志也!」正是眾多馬華知識分子和文化人的貼切寫照。」

1997年6月29日發表的24知識分子文化宣言,讓我們看到了這種面對權貴和俗世的不亢不卑態度,對是非和正義的堅持。雖然24人中,有作出體 現宣言號召的後續行動的人只佔少數,但那畢竟是個人意志轉變為集體意識的反叛,作為一個象徵符號,也還是極為可貴的,至少比完全沒有出現過來得好。流星劃 過鬱悶漆黑的天際,就已在人人心中留下動人心魄的痕跡。可惜宣言聯署後,接下來眾人的動向,更像一幕一幕價值的告別,何啟良11年後的行動更是一個大大的 感嘆號。

1998年2月,籌備4年的3大冊《馬來西亞華人史新編》出版後,由於書內對馬華公會的歷史評價不見容於該黨領導,故被「肆無忌憚,倚勢淩人」 (何啟良語)的馬華公會腰斬,無法面世。該書作者和編者之一的何啟良,隨後發表了「知識分子獨立精神的再肯定——記《馬華知識界文化宣言》一週年」,重提 該書被壓一案是「馬華文化界歷年來一大醜事」,鞭撻「氣焰逼人」的馬華公會「不能有容乃大,亦難逃文化史筆的批責」。

無巧不成書,「馬華文化人的自我定位」一文發表後的第6年,即2001年5月28日,馬華公會連同《星洲日報》收購南洋報社,本邦中文報業從此陷 入壟斷的黑暗日子。當年一手收編華團、腰斬歷史書,壟斷報業的馬華公會諸君,今天還是「老神在在」,而「知識分子」卻已面目全非了。

眾「華社知名學者」為黨宣傳讀物製作內容、寫序、推介,已經讓國內殘存的學風更趨敗壞,為年輕的學子做了最壞的示範。何啟良的捧書,更顯示了知識 分子風骨的徹底告別,如假包換的死別。他是認為當年批判的對象在「終身學習」後已經有了徹底的向上提升,「知行合一」?還是揹岳鼒磽~所鼓吹的文化淨土論 不過是天真爛漫,「覺今是而昨非」?或甚至當年不過是象徵性、策略性的抗爭,是為今天的捧書日後的「加官進爵」埋下伏筆?

讀歷史的人相信歷史的評價,也在乎歷史的評價。何啟良在評論沈慕羽時,曾經寫下這段話:「馬華知識分子難以承擔文化傳統上反抗社會和叛逆正統的使 命,甚至也難以承擔以學術態度超越現實而對它進行客觀深入分析的最低使命。難怪許多論者認為,馬華文化界充滿了一般阿諛逢迎的宵小之輩,只懂得仰承黨政者 的鼻息。」他今天推介政黨的宣傳讀物,和那些他所批評的,在華文報章大幅度刊登支持國陣政府廣告的「知名文化藝術人士」,又有何區別?難道他要告訴他的政 論文章讀者,和只關心一己之利的販夫走卒相比,先天下之憂而憂的「知識分子」,在做出選擇時往往也是避兇趨吉,「招朋呼黨」而已?

這個世界是不公平的。網絡傳言同樣是「24知識分子」一分子的何國忠可能在來屆大選披上馬華的戰袍。但何國忠可以做他的官夢,無論成不成,自有公 道在;何啟良偏偏不可以靠攏政治。因為何啟良的命運在推出他的《面向權威》時已經注定。他是文化宣言「起了關鍵與主導作用」(祝家華語)的推手,就有必要 以人格實踐他的初衷,「以道德人格的回歸來防止政治失範」。治政治學的何啟良如果也對他所批評的黨政對像眉來眼去,這還成甚麼世界?如果國事頹廢政黨胡為 他反不唱高調,其他人豈不是更可以不顧自己的身段,爭先去抱政黨的大腿,做出更肉麻的事來?

今天,有憂患意識的知識分子只能保留一點個人浪漫的自由,和以一己之力對抗世俗價值的勇氣。選擇人跡較少的一條路,面對截然不同的前程,孤獨地走向民間,走向荒野草澤。

何啟良,你是否欠大家一個交待?

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