This is an interesting letter to The Star. It aught my attention and seems well written, if a little bit blunt in its claims. Add in some references, and you could have a doctoral thesis in there.
Since The Star’s editors would have already gone through the letter to make it more in tune with the norms (as I have learnt from my own edited letters), imagine what the original letter must have been like!
From The Star 2 Mac 2007:
Knowledge of our roots will benefit us
IN very recent times, the starting date for the study of Malaysian history in the schools has been conveniently fixed around 1400 C.E. It probably coincides with the founding of the Sultanate of Malacca by Parameswara.
Today, Malaysian school children only learn a little bit about the early Proto Malays and then are conveniently taken on a historical quantum leap to the founding of Malacca.
Early Indian works speak of a fantastically wealthy place called Savarnadvipa, which meant “land of gold.” This mystical place was said to lie far away, and legend holds that this was probably the most valid reason why the first Indians ventured across the Bay of Bengal and arrived in Kedah around 100 B.C.
Apart from trade, the early Indians brought a pervasive culture, with Hinduism and Buddhism sweeping through the Indo-Chinese and Malay archipelago lands bringing temples and Indian cultural traditions. The local chiefs began to refer to themselves as “rajahs” and also integrated what they considered the best of Indian governmental traditions with the existing structure.
I learnt Malayan history in the 1950s and taught it in the 1960s and 1970s in secondary schools. All the history textbooks at the time had the early Indian connection specifically mentioned in them. Teachers of that period taught about the early Indianised kingdoms of Langkasuka, Sri Vijaya and Majapahit that existed from as early as 100 C.E.
Anyone can see that Parameswara, the founder of Malacca, has a clearly give-away name that points to the Indian/Hindu influence. No one can deny this, and all our children need to know about this. They have the fundamental right to learn about this aspect of our history too.
Why don’t our children learn about these early Indian connections today? It needs mention here that this early Indian connection has nothing to do with the much later cheap Indian “coolie” labour influx that the British brought over to man the railways and plantations of Malaya from the late 19th century onwards.
The Malay language as we know it today is already fully impregnated and enriched with many foreign words. This is good. Malay, therefore, has been a bahasa rojak from early times itself.
Rojak itself (and also cendul) is a Malaysian food developed by an Indian Malayalee Muslim community known as the Malabaris who hailed from Kerala. They were also referred to as kakas. We now wrongly credit the Penang mamaks for this great food.
The only other bahasa rojak that can beat the Malay language in the matter of foreign word assimilation is the English language because it has “polluted” itself with words from just about every civilisation that exists or existed in this world.
The very word “Melayu” itself is most probably of Indian origin from the words “Malai Ur,” which means land of mountains in Tamil. Singapur, Nagapur and Indrapur are very common Indian names that have similar backgrounds.
The early Indians were probably inspired by the main mountain range that looks like a backbone for the Malay peninsula and thus named it Malaiur. The word “malai” is undoubtedly Indian in origin as is the case with the word Himalayas and we all know where it is situated.
The English word “Malaya” is a further corruption of the word by the British who themselves are very good at corrupting the pronunciation and spelling of and changing the names of indigenous places worldwide to suit their tongue’s capability. The Malay word “Melayu” with the missing “r “ is closer to the original name “Malaiur”.
To my knowledge, the hundreds of Malay words of Indian origin have not been catalogued by anyone except perhaps the noted Malay scholar Zaaba. Even if such an effort has been made, it is definitely not widely known or ever published.
Many Malay words, from describing Malay royalty (Raja, Putera, Puteri, Maha, Mulia, Seri, etc) and common everyday terms (bakti, suami, cuma, dunia, bumi, jendela, serpu, kerana), all have Indian connections. The undeniable Indian connection in the word “Indonesia” is also reflected in the name itself.
The Indian factor that influences even the prevailing Malay culture in terms of music, food, dress and certain other everyday practices like betel chewing and bersanding is another thing over which a loud hush prevails. Why?
Such knowledge of the roots of this great country, be they Indian, Chinese, Arab or whatever, can indeed very strongly facilitate the ongoing efforts of the Government to make our children think of themselves as Bangsa Malaysia more easily and more readily.
JOHAMI ABDULLAH, Seremban, Negri Sembilan.