OF 'LAZY' MALAYS AND 'DIRTY' CHINESE
OF 'LAZY' MALAYS AND 'DIRTY' CHINESE
Douglas Raybeck, Hamilton College
Unlike mad dogs, Englishmen and the occasional anthropologist, Malays do not go
out in the mid-day sun. They have more sense than that. Instead they take a nap
after lunch and stay out of the sun until approximately three or so for very
good reason.(Raybeck 1992). The heat of the mid-day sun is exceptional and can
easily lead to hyperthermia and even sunstroke. However, this practice of
sleeping at mid-day led the British colonialists to perceive Malays as lazy, a
perception that was strengthened by the reluctance of Malays to participate in
wage-labor situations. The British assumed that Malays were uninterested in
employment because they shunned work, not recognizing that the structured
circumstances of work were unintentionally designed to create embarrassing
situations for Malays. Traditional Malays neither give nor receive orders
directly, instead communication is subtle and indirect, though nonetheless
clear. Further, being called to account for a lack of punctuality, or for other
conflicts between the two cultures, is emotionally very painful to traditional
Malays. Thus, climate helped to foment a classic example of ethnocentrism Ð a
belief in the superiority of one's own practices Ð in which the British
thoughtlessly extended their interpretations of behavior to the patterns
manifest by Malays. The result of this misperception was hardly academic, as it
helped to promote the importation of tens of thousands of Chinese and Tamil
Indians to work in tin mines and on emerging rubber plantations.
Chinese did not enter the Malay Peninsula in significant numbers until the mid-
nineteenth century. Prior to this period, they were often transients who who
hoped to amass sufficient wealth to return home, buy land and marry. In some
instances, they were traders who married Malay women and assimilated, at least
in part, to Malay culture. Britain's development of the area trade and the
concurrent expansion of tin mining greatly stimulated Chinese immigration, as
did events such as the Taiping Rebellion in China. While most immigrants came
to work in the mines, many quickly filled proliferating entrepreneurial
positions and began to import wives from China. This increasing economic and
familial stability encouraged the maintenance of Chinese culture, as did the
establishment of Chinese schools.
Chinese prominence in the economic sphere continued while Malays, with the
assistance of the British, played an increasingly active role in government,
especially the civil service and police. The dichotomous involvement of each
community has continued with each group expressing fear and distrust of the
other (Roff 1967, Wang 1970). In 120 years, the Chinese population of the
Peninsula rose from approximately 1% to nearly 40%. In the process, the
communal tensions between Chinese and Malays increased and became quite a
prominent part of the social milieu.
Kelantan is a traditional, conservative, Malay-dominated state on the Northeast
Coast of the Malay Peninsula. As a strongly Islamic state noted for its
conservatism and for its support of the Malay rights party, PAS, Kelantan is
widely held to be a bastion of anti-Chinese sentiment. This image is furthered
by the knowledge that Kelantan is also more than 90% Malay.
However, due in large part to their small numbers, most rural Chinese have
adopted many aspects of Malay culture, especially in their public behavior.
Erving Goffman, the sociologist who believes people are conscious of their
performances, has made a useful distinction between what he terms 'front
stage,' an area where a performance is given, and 'backstage,' a region where a
performance may be abandoned or even falsified (Goffman 1959). Using this
distinction for the behaviors of rural Kelantan Chinese, it is apparent that
most of the adopted aspects of Kelantan Malay culture are front stage, while
nearly all of the traditional Chinese culture is backstage.
Front stage or public behavior for rural Kelantan Chinese includes wearing
traditional Malay clothing, speaking Kelantanese dialect, avoiding pork and
behaving in a manner congruent with budi bahasa, the language of courtesy. In
the privacy of their homes, however, village Chinese will speak their own
language (usually Hokkien), practice their own customs such as ancestor
worship, and eat traditional foods including pork. Kelantanese have responded
to these efforts by developing a novel set of cultural categories. Unlike
Westerners, even Western social scientists, Kelantanese do not lump Chinese
together in one racially based ethnic category. Instead, Kelantanese
distinguish three Chinese ethnic groups on the basis of cultural criteria.
These criteria, however, more accurately reflect the Chinese behavior toward
Kelantanese, rather than cultural distinctions among Chinese themselves.
The accommodations of the Chinese population have made communication between
the two ethnic groups both easy and common. As a consequence, Kelantanese and
Chinese view each other as individuals, rather than simply as representatives
of cultural categories, subject to stereotyping and marginalization. The
ability of the Chinese on the East Coast to accommodate Malay culture, has led
to significant entrepreneurial activities. The future of Malaysian stability
will depend, in no small part, on the ability of these two ethnic groups to
improve their communications and coordination on the West Coast where the major
business interests lie.
I regard class differences as contrary to justice and, in the last resort, based on force.
Albert Einstein“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere . . . Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”Martin Luther King Jr."All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul.""The True Measure Of A Man Is How He Treats Someone Who Can Do Him Absolutely No Good."Samuel Johnson