A Malaysiakini reader, Martin Entamin, wrote a letter to the online news portal, titled The Sleeping Dictionary – an insult to Iban.
In case you haven’t heard of the term ‘sleeping dictionary’ before, it refers to a local woman who sleeps with a foreigner (either as a lover or professional partner) and through intercourse (verbal and the other type) teaches him the local lingo.
Entamin wrote: I watched in disgust the movie ‘The Sleeping Dictionary’ aired recently via Astro Channel. The movie depicted a young Englishman who served in Sarawak during the colonial days. The movie was full of erroneous facts, which put total disgrace to the Iban community in Sarawak. Firstly, the movie implies that Iban women are of loose moral and would readily bed the white man.
In one of the movie’s dialogue, the actor (played by Bob Hoskin) says that Ibans are by nature alcoholic, aggressive and without morals. Any right thinking Iban would have protested violently to this insulting movie plot as it degrades and dehumanises the Iban community and paints a dark picture of our people to the rest of world.
Needless to say, Entamin was pissed off with such derogatory comments. He urged the authorities to be more sensitive and apply the same principle of banning such film from being shown to the Malaysian public.
I agree, on one condition – either ban all sensitive issues that insult any Malaysian community or don’t ban any – no cherry picking, because if the government does, as in this case, it will forever be subjected to accusations of double standards.
Anyway, this issue reminded me that many years ago, when I was in my late teens, I knew an ang-moh (mat salleh), who married a local Chinese lady. I remarked to him that it seemed (at that time) many ang-moh married Chinese (Malaysian) women. He shocked and hurt me when he said innocently: “We (meaning ang-moh) do so because Chinese women are so readily available.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to retort in an equally hurtful manner to him, but I had the sense to think carefully about what he said. Actually he was right. Chinese tend to be fairly relaxed with their daughters, and with the exception in a few cases, would allow them to marry outside the Chinese community. But ah ah, not so with their sons.
I have blogged on this in All types of racism, where I stated:
The Chinese have always consider themselves as people of the Middle Kingdom, the centre of the world, surrounded by barbarians. Everyone else was a ‘devil’, which meant 'uncivilised' rather than 'spooky'. The Chinese would be quite happy to eat, drink and socialise with non-Chinese, and even allow their daughters to marry foreign devils because daughters do not ensure the family line. But when it comes to their sons, whoa and belay any precipitious actions dear sons, make sure you marry only Chinese, preferably of our own dialectal group.
Once I read a book on Chinese mythology, admittedly written in the early 1900’s by a British diplomat in China. He described the Chinese as, as best as I can recall, “low brow shifty untrustworthy …” – you get the idea?
I think when one is insufficiently exposed, or lacks knowledge (as in the case of the description of Iban women or the British diplomat), or was hurt because of a certain incident, one tends to think poorly of another race.
In my personal experience, as I blogged in All types of racism, the women in my own village were like so, being unjustifiably racist against Eurasian women. The following was what I had written:
I recall many years ago when I was a young teenager, I brought Olivia home, not to meet my mum, but to have a cuppa because on our return from our picnic spot our path passed my house. Mum wasn’t in but a thousand busybodies living next doors were.
Olivia might not have been the most beautiful girl in the world but she certainly was one of the most beautiful. I had the great fortune that she liked me – hey, sometimes even losers like KTemoc win ;-)
She was unusually striking in that her natural beauty was greatly enhanced by her sweet cheery smile. Even her beautiful eyes seemed to smile at you. She was absolutely gorgeous, BUT to those kampong busybodies she had one humongous flaw – she was Eurasian!
Needless to say, that evening, mum received a full debrief, chapter and verse, on the Jezebel that I brought home. Stern and severe recommendations by those village bitches ran to several copious volumes. Mum looked at me worriedly, and said tentatively:
“Auntie X said you shouldn’t go out with a Eurasian. You know those Eurasians, don’t you? Auntie Z noticed that her eyes are really heow [lecherous]. She said that girl must be heow lah!”
Eurasian. Thank bloody goodness she didn’t use f**king Auntie X's words of ‘half-breed’.
I gave her my most serious disapproving look and said: “I hope so.”
Mum: “Huh? What? What are you hoping for?”
Me: “Her heow-ness.”
Of course all of these were in rapid Penang Hokkien.
Mum (stunned for a while) replied sternly: “Don’t be frivolous. These are serious matters concerning your future. You should be more respectful to your elders.”
Let’s say my conversation with mum ended up with me receiving a tight slap from angry her. But weren’t my village womenfolk and even Mum racist?
So Martin Entamin, don’t you worry mate, a big chunk of the world is still pretty ignorant.