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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Real Malay - by Sir Frank Swettenham



To begin to understand the Malay you must live in his country, speak his language, respect his faith, be interested in his interests, humour his prejudices, sympathise with and help him in trouble, and share his pleasures and possibly his risks. Only thus can you. hope to win his confidence. Only through that confidence can you hope to understand the inner man, and this knowledge can therefore only come to those who have the opportunity and use So far the means of studying Malays in their own country (where alone they are seen in their true character) have fallen to few Europeans,, and a very small proportion of them have shown an inclination get into the, hearts of the people. There are a hundred thousand Malays in Perak and some more in other parts of the Peninsula; and the white man, whose interest in the race is strong enough, may not only win confidence but the devotion that is ready to give life itself in the cause of friendship. The Scripture says: "There is no greater thing than this," and in the end of the nineteenth century that is a form of friendship all too rare.Fortunately this. is a thing you cannot buy, but to gain it is worth some effort.



His disposition is generally kindly, his manners are polite and easy. Never cringing, he is reserved with strangers and suspicious, though he does not show it. He is courageous and trustworthy in the discharge of an undertaking; but he is extravagant, fond of borrowing money. and very slow in repaying it. He is a good talker, speaks in parables, quotes proverbs and wise saws, has a strong sense of humour, and is very fond of a good joke. He takes an interest in the affairs of his neighbours and is consequently a gossip. He is a Muhammadan and a fatalist but he is also very superstitious. He never drinks intoxicants, he is rarely an opium-smoker. But he is fond of gambling,, cock-fighting,' and kindred sports. He is by nature a sportsman; catches and tames elephants; is a skilful fisherman, and thoroughly at home in a boat.



Above all things, he is conservative to a degree, is proud and fond of country and his people, venerates his ancient customs and traditions, fears his Rajas, and has a proper respect for constituted authority - while he looks askance on all innovations, and will resist their sudden introduction. But if he has time to examine them carefully, and they are not thrust upon him, he is willing to be convinced of their advantage. At the same time he is a good imitative learner, and, when he has energy and ambition enough for the task, makes a good mechanic.



A Malay is intolerant of insult or slight; it is something that to him should be wiped out in blood. He will brood over a real or fancied stain on his honour until he is possessed by the desire for revenge. If he cannot wreak it on the offender, he will strike out at the first human being that comes in his way. It is this state of blind fury, this vision of blood, that produces the amok. The Malay has often be called treacherous. I question whether he deserves the reproach more then other men. He is courteous and expects courtesy in return, and he understands only one method of avenging personal insults.



The spirit of the clan is also strong in him. He acknowledges the necessity of carrying out, even blindly, the orders of his hereditary, chief, while he will protect his own relatives at all costs and make their quarrel his own.



Who is Sir Frank Swettenham ?

One of the architects of British Malaya, Frank Swettenham arrived in the Malay Peninsula in 1871 and, in subsequent years, became appointed the British Resident in Selangor and Perak, Resident General of the Federated Malay States and, finally, Governor of the Staraits Settlement and High Commissioner of the Malay States in 1901. This was in no small part due to his keeninterest in the country and its people - he was known as one who lived with them, spoke their language and respected their faith, in spite of his own English prejudices.






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