Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Look For Malaysian Heritage?

The purported guardians of the Malaysian heritage will soon find themselves tasked with redefining the appropriate context for a country with the new political awakening. This scenario may be the direct result from the recent 12th General Poll which saw the country’s minorities voicing their discontent through the ballot boxes. Key amongst their woes is the feelings that the minorities are systematically sidelined from the mainstream of Malaysia’s political, economical, and educational sectors.

Nevertheless, it is perhaps timely too that calls made by those who won in the elections championing the fight for justice and equality in the political arenas should entails similar voice calling for greater representation in matters constituting minority cultural heritage and their historical contribution to this nation. Only through an earnest and strong effort brought forth by this new political reality can the fate of minorities in Malaysia see light at the end of the tunnel.

This noble quest will offer deserving minorities and their forefathers whose forgotten sacrifices made through the generations be recognized and accorded the rightful place in Malaysian History.

Visit Muzium Negara and the State Museums in this country (with the exception of a handful like in Penang), and you are bound to be confronted with a dire situation where exhibit highlights on minorities’ history, culture and social economical involvement is almost non existence and if they are, the exhibits are mere patronizing and left you with a foul after taste.

Nothing is more infuriating when you come face-to-face with minority related exhibitions that sorely lack research and depths, and insult our intelligence. State Museum Boards in Melaka, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, are in my view the top culprits in marginalizing minority communities in their choice of exhibits. PERZIM of Melaka for example, has over the years founded and built more than ten separately themed museums. A few were runaway success with tourists flocking for ample photography opportunity yet none focus any significant feature on the state’s rich and diverse communities like the Peranakan and the Portuguese.

Recent development in Singapore is another great concern to Malaysians who love our heritage. While Malaysia profusely claims to be the cradle of Baba and Nyonya heritage, the recently launched Peranakan Museum in downtown Singapore opened its door to a few surprises. Featured prominently in its main collection and a pride of its curator is the jaw dropping ancestral Baba Nyonya wares and artefacts from Penang!

This event is tantamount to a Cultural coup and should serve as an alarm to our heritage amnesia guardians. Malaysians can ill afford to have its priceless heritage sold to the highest bidder and let it fell into foreigner’s hands. We must seek answers on why and what happened to the much hyped Jabatan Muzium dan Ankuiti initiative in the 90s to have the Malaysian version of a similar Peranakan Museum in the Malacca historical enclave.

This dreadful situation is also compounded by a band of cultural chauvinists who has for too long guilty of ignoring the historical development in this country. Instead, these self appointed cultural and heritage gatekeepers perpetrated historical interpretation that borders cleansing of the country multi ethnic composition.

Perhaps it is appropriate that we demand a different breed of dedicated historians and conservationists who value and ready to embrace the multi racial and multi religious components of our Malaysian Heritage. They will boldly tackle new role as the heritage and history vanguards to take diversity and historical accuracy in Malaysia to greater heights.

In these 'new' Malaysian museums, they will showcase revolutionary interpretations of our diversity and history. They will be the undisputable establishment and the perfect platform to unify and to usher in a new era of mutual understanding and learning from one and other for all Malaysians.

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