dimanche, septembre 07, 2008

History, revisited

On 31st August 2008, we celebrate our country’s re-birth as a nation.
Rebirth? Our land is much, much older and ancient and here, we recall the continuum
of history that is preserved through the very legends of the land.

History, revisited

Our history spans more than a millennia. Our legends, ancient.

There is certainly a continuum of history that is preserved through the very legends of our land…and through our even more ancient jungle. That is why there must be effort and emphasis to preserve our legends and our million year old forest land, subjective purpose to many, but crystal clear in fact.

Researchers and historians worldwide accept that The Malay Annals, Hikayat Hang Tuah and Hikayat Seri Kelantan are clear indications of historical governance. Ruud Spruit, Director of the National Museum, Denmark recounted the Malay Annals as ‘a mixture of classical romance and factual description.’

When Tomes Pires, the visitor in Malacca in the late 1500s, recounted in his Somu Oriental the story of the Hindu prince Parameswara from Palembang who commanded his Orang Laut circa 1400s, his version closely corresponded to that of the Malay Annals. The records of the Raja of Perak, Johor and Pahang continue from this legacy.

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa chronicled the Kedah Sultanate, arguably the earliest in our history.

These legends, are every bit as historical in value as many great monuments of history. The Ancient pyramids remained as meaningless structures until Francois Champollian unleashed the language of the Pharaohs in the 17th century and the world over became familiar with the feats of Isis, Heracles and Cleopatra. It is high time we brought our legends forth to be recognised as they offer a glimpse of the rich heritage and diverse legacy we share. For instance, the Chinese Princess, Hang Li Po, gave birth to the unique Peranakan legacy in Malacca which survives until today. Our legends are our very own legacy that preserves the idea of a country…our land that is old, cultured and civilised.

In the past, travellers like the legendary Admiral Cheng Ho were charmed by what they found in our land, most of all our people’s character and gentlemanly conduct. How unfortunate that the great Admiral’s records were destroyed by the Tang dynasty. Writers like Rudyard Kipling, Joe Conrad and Somerset Maugham and historians like R O Widstedt, who researched the Malay Annals extensively, were equally fascinated by the people and the rich history, the tapestry of life that was Malaya.

The Golden Era

For one thousand years, our land has been the choice destination of the world.

The busiest natural waterway in the world was, and still is, our very own Straits of Malacca. This has remained undisputed for the last five centuries, if not longer. Along this wonderful route, people have tasted our hospitality and loved our people. Some stayed on, many returned to their own lands with stories and tales ever fascinating. Ptolemy, the Greek geographer and astronomer circa 150 AD, named this land, Chersonese Aurea – The Golden Peninsular based on the description and stories of navigators and travellers then who constantly sought new worlds.

And stories, the favourite pastime of old were shared throughout the region. As such, there are quite a few art forms that transcend boundaries and belong to the whole Nusantara and beyond – the Wayang Kulit, Mak Yong and the art of Storytelling are among the few. It remains that these stories are generally Malaysian legends, differing from those told in its originating country. The Wayang Kulit’s version of Hikayat Maharaja Wana has undergone layers and layers of assimilation from the original Ramayana chronicles, a far, far spin-off from the original..

For many centuries, all cultures converged in the melting pot that was the trade routes to Malacca. At one point, close to 90 languages were spoken in Malacca by all the different people who populated or visited the ancient cosmopolitan city. The peninsular was a bridge, geographically and rhetorically speaking to all that was the Nusantara – in other words, South East Asia! All forms of daily aspects, rituals, entertainment and business converged here to evolve into our own identity for centuries.

Malaysia is truly the land of a thousand legends, a million people, of infinite smiles. And let us celebrate the millennia that has made our country the unique and beautiful land it is.

Happy Merdeka!

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