Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cicaks of Terengganu

In my posting Cry of Little Dragons in Kelantan late last year, I discussed an article by Helen Ang, a columnist in Malaysiakini. The article was about the Chinese minority in Kelantan, but could have well been any Chinese community in the unique Peninsula East Coast.

Ang talked about Malaysian politics and the 4 factors at play for Kelantan and Kelantanese, namely (1) Islam, (2) Kelantan-ness, (3) Ethnicity and (4) the National Economic Policy (NEP).

To cut to the chase, Ang believes the peranakan Kelantanese could well have been the ideal Malaysian ‘template’ for non-Malay ethnic communities. They were the quintessential non-Malay Malaysians.

But the sad story that emerged from Helen Ang’s article has been the discriminatory NEP, Malaysia’s programme of affirmative action for the Malays.

She lamented that the peranakan Kelantanese with several generations of domicile in Kelantan, participating in every facet of Kelantan life and culture, save only in religion, sees him or herself marginalised out of the benefits of the NEP while Thais, Cambodians, Pakistani, Indians and other johnny-come-lately's from Indonesia, who are Muslims, enjoy those very benefits.

In Malaysia, to be a constitutionally defined 'Malay', one has to be of the Islamic faith, speak the Malay language and adopt the Malay custom. The only item that the peranakan Kelantanese or for that matter, most non-Malay Malaysians couldn't fulfil is the condition of religion. That's why recent migrants (lawful or otherwise) like the johnny-come-lately's mentioned above would each and every time supercede in citizen status and benefits the Chinese and Indian Malaysians who have been born here for generations - though one does wonder how well some of them like the Pakistanis speak Malay?

Ang said the cry of the peranakan Kelantanese is the same as those of the French Muslims who cried during the recent rioting in Paris: “How much more French do I have to be?”

Indeed, “How much more Malaysian do we have to be?”

Because of this frustrating and heartbreaking dead end, the peranakan Kelantanese are slowly re-integrating back into the greater ethnic Chinese community of Malaysia rather than continuing being the peranakan Kelantanese their forefathers had been.

Instead of having naga2 Kelantan, we indeed have, as Helen Ang indicated, little dragons.

Well, as evident of Helen Ang’s well research and written article, we now see evidence of that in what the Star Online has just reported.

Some 20 years ago, visitors to Kampung Tirok, 30km from here, would have probably mistaken the Chinese residents there for Malays. The confusion was due to the way of life practised by the Chinese in the area from the early days, which was similar to the Malays. The similarity could be seen in the houses, clothes and speech. Almost all the Chinese residents then could read and write Jawi.

Urban migration changed it all, said a village elder. Ong Huat Chon, 70, said that around 1980, some of the younger Chinese villagers migrated to big towns. Some of old folk followed their children while others later passed away.

Ong said his forefathers arrived in Terengganu from China some 400 years ago. Before coming to stay at Kampung Tirok, they lived and worked as farmers at Kampung Tok Koko in Jerangau and later at Kampung Batu Besar. Ong said his forefathers were close to the Malay villagers and slowly adopted their culture. The Chinese used to attend Sekolah Rakyat Banggol Kemang in the early days where Jawi was taught.

Due to his fluency in speaking and writing Malay, the state government made him the village head to replace his father who was also fluent in Malay. He later resigned to focus on his chicken farming.

Ong said he regretted the fact that his children could not read or write in Jawi as they studied at a Chinese school. There is still some vestige of the Malay culture in the community today, such as holding open house during the Chinese New Year and the slaughtering cattle or goats for feasts. Headman Yusof Mohd said there were 315 Chinese in the village compared to 425 some 20 years ago

What the Star Online didn’t want to mention was what Helen Ang had brought out. Just imagine – 400 years of domicile in Terengganu and still a 2nd class citizen when compared to recent arrivals from Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, India and Indonesia!

I guess those peranakan Terengganuans are just cicaks (geckos).


  1. The fate of the 'cicaks' is the fate of non-Muslims in Muslim ALL majority contries.

  2. ... and of Arabs in Israel, and (once, perhaps even now) of Koreans in Japan ... and so on so forth.

    It's more a racist issue than a religious one.