Book Review : The Story of Malaya

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The Story of Malaya by W.S. Morgan
Published 1956 by Malaya Publishing House Limited

By Lim Yi Leen

I decided to do a little research on the history of Malaysia given the ongoing debate of the Malays and their claim on land rights and privileges. I was not disappointed with this book, to say the least.BRIEFLY:

1) The Malays belong to a Mongolian race that arrived first at Kelantan, and then Terengganu from the Indo-China continent. Descendants of early Malays were a tribe called Jakuns, which later bred with (mainly) Indians, but also Chinese and Europeans that visit Malaya for trade to give the current Malay race. The lives of Malays were enriched by the Indian settlers that were driven by war to Malaya, causing the Malay language to assimilate many Tamil words such as ‘pepper’, ‘rice’ and ‘ginger’.

2) The first ruler in Malaya was a Javanese called Parameswara, that stumbled upon Malacca while escaping a lost battle in Singapore. His title as ruler of Malacca was given by the Emperor of China. It also seems that the royal colour (yellow) was first initiated by the gift of a yellow umbrella to the Parameswara by the Emperor of China himself. Parameswara became a Muslim through marriage. The Sultanate empire started when Raja Kasim, relative of the royal family became king after plotting the murder of the rightful heir to the throne.

3) My most favourite part of the book was the detailed descriptions of the Sultans that ruled the states. In general, they were mostly indulging only in their pleasures (drinking, sleeping till the late of day)/ failing to run their land/ are unconcerned about their people/ sadists/ made very bad decisions during war. Ironically, there was also a lot of resistance from the rajas and chiefs in accepting British Residents to help govern the Malay states, as they preferred the old lawless days when each chief was his own master.

4) Sir Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company was considered a saviour to the Malays after the Dutch and Portugese invasion. When the British East India Company took over, the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca, Singapore) could not have flourished without the genius for thrift and hard work of the Chinese, cited as not only the largest, but most industrious and useful part of the population. The Malays were said to center at Province Wellesley and Malacca as they were not interested in the hard daily drudgery of shopkeeping and trading in Singapore and Penang.

5) Malaya appeared to have been tittering on debt post Japanese occupation and the Communist Emergency due to destruction of tin mines and rubber plantations, introduction of bad rice seeds, coupled with the concurrent investment in infrastructure, health and education.

There was also a pinch of patriotism reading the last two paragraphs of the book:
“In the last resort, therefore, Malaya’s development and prosperity and the winning of all good things of civilisation, of comfort, culture and good living, depend on the ability of the people of Malaya to help themselves by hard work, thrift and a sound understanding of its problems. The future of Malaya lies in the hands of its people. Much of its soil is poor for farming but it is otherwise blessed with many riches and there is no shortage of land or lack of room in which to live and work. Science has made Malaya healthy, and it is a sunny warm land in which it is easy to be happy and friendly. In the friendship of Malaya’s races lies the hope of Malaya’s future, for if they do not learn the secret of common unity and loyalty there can only be trouble for all. There are people in each community whose aim is to excite hatred and discontent. They must be spurned, because the country can only thrive in spirit as well as in goods if Malays, Chinese and Indians and all the other races in Malaya are inspired to see good in each other and to work together in amity. All the races of Malaya have fine qualities to contribute to the common good, qualities of dignity and courteous manners, of tolerance and forbearance, of good sense and humour, of generosity and loyalty, of industry and thrift. Let these virtues be blended with the will and desire of all races to become one nation, and Malaya may face the future with confidence.”

With its simple and direct English, this book is more interesting than any of the history books in the Malaysian education syllabus. It gives an account of the Malay, Chinese and Indian culture and origin prior to the establishment of Malaysia from the British point of view and is highly recommended to get a different perspective of how the country came about.

Feel free to message me on Goodreads/Facebook if you want a digital copy of the book. I have taken the liberty of scanning the book (original copy is property of the Australian National University library) for sharing/ reference purposes.

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