Monday, January 01, 2007

Penang city golden jubilee - Raja Bodek acted dunno

In 1786 Francis Light, a British naval captain, audaciously and rapaciously claimed for the British Crown, the Kedah island of Pulau Kesatu (First Island) or Binlang Xu, as the Ming dynastic Admiral Zheng He denoted in his 15th Century nautical chart.

Captain Light re-named it as Prince of Wales Island, as his ship came upon the isle on the birthday of the heir to the British throne. It subsequently became Penang Island or as we know it today, Pulau Pinang. Mind you, I much prefer Pulau Kesatu which helps remind those 'mainlanders' ;-) who we Penangites are.

In exchange for British protection against the frequently maurading Siamese and Burmese intruders, the Sultan of Kedah ceded the isle to the British on 11 August 1786, making Penang a Crown colony. But typically of the treacherous British colonialists, they played the Sultan out when they refused to intervene during a Siamese raid. Apparently Francis Light made that agreement without consulting his superiors who chose not to offend the Siamese.

When the pissed-off Sultan tried to recover Penang because of the non-fulfilment of the agreement, the Brits naturally told him to bugger off but as a patronising consolation prize, provided the Sultan with 6000 Spanish dollar per annum. Trust the Poms to even con the Sultan of an additional chunk of the Kedah mainland, Province Wellesley or Sebarang Perai. It was ceded to the Brits in 1798 to became part of the Penang Crown colony.

With the Brits, the Island soon had its municipal council, and we are now reminded by Datuk Anwar Fazal, a trustee of the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) that:

“The centenary celebration of Penang’s municipal status was held from Jan 1 to Jan 3, 1957, and the grand occasion was attended by some 5,000 dignitaries including the sultans from several states.”

“There were chingay demonstrations, a decorated vehicle procession, wayang kulit displays and cross-channel swimming matches.”

“During the celebration, George Town was also granted city status by England’s Queen Elizabeth.”

“Sadly, we seem to have forgotten both historic events as there is nothing planned by the state to mark this occasion.”

He forgot to add that the Chinese chingay parade had a nasty association with a 1953 racial riot as had broken out along Jalan Perak when the mainly Chinese participants paraded through a Malay kampong to celebrate the coronation of a then young Elizabeth II. Penang (and Malaya) was then still a British colony.

The Penang Malays saw nothing to celebrate in a British queen's ascendancy to the throne of a foreign country, and from some old timers, they took to jeering the chingay troope and lion dancers. Some alleged that stones were thrown at the lion dancers which was a bad move, considering those people were members of martial arts club.

But basically the Penang Malays have never like (nor want) to acknowledge the British history in the development of Penang. It may explain why the statue of Francis Light was bundled off to some obscure corner in (would it be?) Farqhuar Street.

In 1986, when Penang ‘celebrated’ its bicentennial, some UMNO blokes protested, saying that we shouldn’t be celebrating a dark period when we were oppressed by western colonialism where a sovereign part of Kedah was robbed by foreigners.

Now, the PHT has slammed the state government for not organising any special event today to celebrate the golden jubilee of George Town’s city status and the 150th anniversary of the state’s municipal status. Datuk Anwar Fazal described the omission as a missed opportunity.

Well, my dear Datuk, do you imagine for one instant that Raja Bodek is going to annoy UMNO by having a celebration that would provocatively remind them of their subservience to British colonialism, much as we Penangites like to celebrate anything?


  1. George Town was granted city status by England’s Queen Elizabeth in 1957. And just because some born-loser idiots are angry at the British colonisers, George Town's city status was quietly removed and replaced by a municipal status to this day. Don't be surprised if much smaller 'towns' such as Lunas, Gua Musang or Jertih are granted 'city' status while George Town remains as it is. What do think Penang would be like today if the British had ignored the island in 1786 and instead colonised another island further north in Siam?

  2. Quote "What do think Penang would be like today if the British had ignored the island in 1786 and instead colonised another island further north in Siam?" unquote.

    I don't think that's arguable from a Malay point of view. It's like former Brit PM Margaret Thatcher telling former British colonies that they were lucky to be colonised by the Brits.

    It's never lucky or beneficial to be 'colonised'. Black Zimbabweans, when asked whether they regretted ousting and replacing the Ian Smith White regime, considering Robert Mugabe has f**ked up the country economically, would (if they aren't from the Zimbabwean opposition) tell you it's far better to be hungry and free than to be fed scraps like slaves to the white men.

    What's the point of having a prosperous but white-only-ruled Zimbabwe (or Apartheid S Africa) when the white men owned everything, and the blacks were treated like sh*t, to slave away as cheap labourers looked down upon by the white Bwana?

    People like Margaret Thatcher, and some of her white Aussie and Kiwi cousins, just can't see that because to them they only consider the logic of having a better economic manager while conveniently forgetting or ignoring the accompanying racist discrimination and apartheid policies which didn't ensure fair pay, benefits of the economy with the poor blacks and most important of all, the dignity of equality and freedom for everyone.

    And where were those whinging Brits, Aussies and Kiwis when Ian Smith were discriminating against the natives? oh, they were just playing cricket and rubgy on green fields maintained by gangs of poorly paid black labourers, and served tea and cucumber sandwiches by black African mamas.

    That's why the Malays cannot appreciated the benefits of British colonialism, though to some of us, yes, our colonial heritage have a number of social benefits like a legal system, education, public system (badly f**ked up today but consider the Zimbabweans' argument) etc while the Chinese and especially the Indians can.

    This is not to say that the mal-administrations by black Zimbabweans or UMNO are acceptable, but neither were the evil apartheid policies.

    The different groups (Malays, Chinese, Indians, etc) aren't incorrect in their different perceptions of British colonialism - it's just different from where they have been and are standing.

  3. I think the point in the argument is that we need to come to terms with our past history, good and bad, and not keep trying to deny or re-write the past by politicising it.
    I don't think any right-minded Malaysians would try to glorify the colonialist. But we need accept that history is a continuum . Penang today is partly the product of its Straits Settlement history, just as many other states in Malaysia are partly a product of their Federated Malay States history (and later Malaya). Anyway, from a strictly commercial tourism point of view, many visitors are fascinated with Penang's mix of Eastern cultures and Western colonial influence.
    There's $$$ to be made from Penang's colonial history - I'm sure even the Umnoputras can appreciate that.

    Like most things in life, history isn't a black-and-white issue.

  4. one more reason why the malays probably resent what the colonialists did is that they were the ones who allowed (or actually brought) the Indians & Chinese into this country on a mass scale, and left the problem of contending with the "indian/chinese problem" as well as the problem of the likes of KT to the present Malay leadership. The brits did this type of thing in various places, and later left the fallout to the locals.

  5. kittykat46, agree with you but I was attempting to put myself in the shoes, or rather mind of a Malay.

    descendant, glad you consider me as a 'problem' to the Malay leadership - I'm flattered! But you were only partially right about the British importation of the non-Malays. They did bring in the Indians who were already trained civil servants (in British India and Ceylon) to provide the lower level administration for the local Brit Administration and (the Sikhs) the civil security.

    The Chinese just poured in looking for gold or a living, as they did everywhere all over the world, which in those early days weren't strict or formal about immigration. The Chinese were never tied or beholden to the British Administration. In fact they didn't want to have anything to do with the Brits.

    They prefer trading, prospecting (mining) and business, the last usually serving the Chinese community in the main, as most overseas Chinese communities did elsewhere.

    One of the reason why the Brits tolerated them was they weren't interested in nor interfered in politics (these were days before communism came to Malaya). They would eventually discover their lack of political interest was to the detriment of their position in an independent Malaya.

    The truth was those early Chinese had no intention of staying here permanently, wishing to return to China (many had wives and children left behind) after they made their 'fortunes'. But like a raintree, once their social roots set in on Malaysan soil, they couldn't go, only promising themselves that "one day soon they would go home". Some evolved into babas & nyonyas with firmer commitments to Malaya. Most died and were buried in Malayan soil. Their children were born in Malaya and naturally became Malayans, having no affinity with or familiarity of China. Sadly they weren't well accepted as Malayans by the Malays.

  6. Well-said everyone,
    Hopefully, Penang will NOT be a stomping ground for AMNO to champion 'issues of injustice' under the pretext of fighting for the Malays.