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Of late we’ve been served numerous hate fueled content either in the form of news articles, social media posts, videos, images that touch on race and religion in Malaysia.
Majority of them left a bad taste in our mouth. We felt compelled to get involved.
Initially, we thought we should be angry. Pissed off. Outraged.
But would being angry really work?
We realised we wanted to understand the situation better. And the simplest way to do that is by sharing stories. Our stories.
Stories have the power to produce lightbulb moments. And we experienced that when we posted this question onto Eksentrika’s Facebook page recently.
It went something like this:
The response we received were amazing!
There were so many eye opening stories that were heartening to read. Some of them made us chuckle. Some made us tear. Many left us speechless.
We decided to feature these awesome Malaysian origin stories on Eksentrika in conjunction with Malaysia Day because now, it’s your turn to have that lightbulb moment we had.
Here are the stories in each individual’s own words.
“What race are you?”, a question I’m so used to hearing that I don’t even bother to explain in detail anymore. To this question, my answer will always be “I’m a ‘rojak’.” A term I use to explain my rainbow-like heritage.
This colourful background started more than a hundred years ago when a girl met a boy. As the story goes, these ancestors of mine were individuals who came from two different cultural backgrounds in India. One was a Muslim and the other a Hindu.
The former, my male ancestor named Munshi Wajid Khan, a court interpreter who spoke 12 languages, was hired by a Thakurain (the word Thakur means ‘lord’, ‘god’ or ‘master’) to tutor his beloved daughter, Thakurbali.
When they fell in love, Thakurbali’s father feared the retaliation of his family and the villagers, so he secured a ship for his daughter and her lover and sent them off to Malaya. As soon as they arrived, Thakurbali asked my male ancestor to build her a small temple as a wedding gift. The Sri Kunj Bihari Krishna temple is still standing tall in Penang Road, Georgetown, Penang.
It’s now regarded as a holy shrine of sort.
As my family grew, so did our heritage. I dare say that my family is the epitome of a one Malaysia family and it’s something that we proudly embrace. So on this Malaysia day, I hope that after reading this story of mine, all Malaysians are reminded of how important it is to accept and love the variety of our nation because at the end of the day, this is really what makes us Malaysian.
My great grandmother on my mother’s side had an argument with my great grandfather and decided to run away…all the way to Malaysia!
She boarded a ship to Penang, bringing her children with her. My great grandfather later followed suit in search of her. They found each other, made up and settled down.
So yes, my great grandparents came to Malaysia because of a domestic squabble.
On my father’s side, my Nyonya great-great grandmother married a Chan from Heeren Street and adopted my great grandmother (from Penang) because she was childless. Her husband then got a second wife so she moved out and founded Bee Cheng Kor temple near Jonker street. Her portrait used to be framed there but has since been removed a few years ago.
The furthest I can trace my lineage in what is to become Malaysia is through my mother, through her mother, up six generations to one Kadi Abu Su’ud, a son of a Banjarese preacher, who, in the 1710s had his ship stopped in the harbours of Kedah. He was on his way back to Banjarmasin in Borneo after performing the hajj.
According to our family’s own and several academic researches, Kedah was then at war with the Siamese kingdom and the sultan at that time. Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Mu’adzam Shah II ordered a blockade of ships crossing the Kedahan waters. Having heard that Abu Su’ud is the son of a well known Banjarese preacher, and being a freshly made hajj as well, he ordered Abu Su’ud to stay in Kedah and teach Islam to the state.
Since then, Abu Su’ud and his descendants – having married a Kedahan lady and settling down – continued teaching Islam. He was instrumental in the opening of several madrasahs and sekolah pondoks in Kedah and the surrounding northern states.
His fifth descendant, my great grandfather Haji Ahmad Tuan Hussein – while continuing the family tradition in teaching Islam – contested in the first Malayan General Election in 1955 under the ticket of the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party in the constituency of Kerian, Perak. He won his seat, making him the only opposition to Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Alliance with its 51 seats.
Looking at it in hindsight, it’s fascinating to think that I am here because there was a war, and Abu Su’ud’s ship was stopped by the Kedahan navy some 300 years ago. Had there been no war and had their route taken them away from the coast of Kedah, or had his ship capsized earlier, I would never have been here. It goes to show how much impact ‘luck and chance’ can play on how one ended up where there are.
The fact that I know I’m the 9th generation of Abu Su’ud to be on this blessed land does not make me feel that I am more entitled than others who perhaps only recently arrived on its shores. It proves that, I too, was from elsewhere. Perhaps there are more surprises had I known my lineage from my other branches, but it’s fun to imagine and wonder.
My hope for this country is to not look at where a person came from but instead look at how they can take the country forward. As interesting as it is to look at history, we should remember that we are also making history every single day. Let’s leave a proud history for our grandchildren to remember by not getting caught up in our forefathers’ disputes.
My dad side: My great grandpa’s name is Nambiar (my family doesn’t know his first name). He and his wife Janagi were brought here from Kannur, Kerala, and they settled near Port Dickson for a while. He was serving at a local temple. This happened around 1919-1920.
My grandfather was born here in 1923. After my great grandma died, great grandpa decided to go back to Kerala and put my grandpa up for adoption. Grandpa and his foster family eventually settled at Linsum Estate in Negeri Sembilan.
My dad’s mother side: Great grandfather and great grandmother Periyasamy Naicker and Sokkamal were from Karnataka. They too settled at Linsum Estate and my grandmother was born in 1932. She got married to my grandfather at the age of 11.
My hope for Malaysia is for her people to remember that this country is home to all of us and we need to take care of her just the way we take care of our own homes, with a lot of love, care and shared responsibility.
My great-grandparents from China sold themselves along with their four sons as debt slaves to work in an Indonesian plantation estate. They left behind their oldest son and only daugher in China. Once in Indonesia, their headman encouraged them to run off and helped them escape terrible working conditions by getting to Malaya.
Due to poverty, greatgrandfather eventually went back to China with his older children. My greatgrandmother stayed here with the 2 youngest sons. My maternal grandfather, the youngest in the family, was born in Perak in 1930.
My paternal greatgrandfather fell in love with a lady who was not of the same caste and together they decided to escape to Malaya during the British occupation. They had 3 children (including my grandfather) before his family came to take him back to India with his 2 older children. Later on, my grandfather returned to Malaya to search for his mother and younger sibling but never found them (rumour was that they had been killed).
My paternal grandfather’s family is Malayalee but carry the Pereira surname from the Portuguese missionaries who converted Hindu families back in Kerala. Grandfather worked as a store keeper for the Gurkha army throughout the war.
My paternal grandmother’s family came from China, probably together with the rest of the Yap clan. I remember my nenek (grandmother), who was born here, telling us when she was young that her family mined tin, and that they showed her ores, some of which had brilliant colours. She married my atuk (grandfather) who is a Malay.
My mother’s side, meanwhile, has some Bengali blood and a little bit of Pakistani and Middle Eastern origin. Her family also has a little bit of “Malay” thanks to our Patani, Aceh origins. Unfortunately, my mother’s side of the family, who ended up in Penang didn’t pass down any culture or language except, arguably, some dishes.
Likewise, my Chinese grandmother adopted the Malay culture but didn’t pass down her Hakka heritage.I hope Malaysia can be a peaceful boring country with a good boring government. Boring is good. Click To Tweet
My great grandfather came in a boat from Fujian, in China.
Many Malaysian Chinese came from China around that time to make money and explore the new land. After moving to Penang at the age of 17 in the 1890s , he started as a humble hairdresser who worked his way up to single handedly start Ban Hin Lee Bank. It was the first Chinese family owned bank in Malaysia and it grew to over 50 branches nationwide.
He lived to a ripe old age of 85, which is extremely old at the time. Our family house still stands on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah (Northem Road), although it has had a massive Glass extension at the back.
Yeap Chor Ee wanted to make his home into an educational institute with his name and give free education (free as in no need to pay), so the Yeap family name would always be remembered throughout history.
But things changed over time. The house is now Wawasan Open university and although I am proud that it has helped so many people in the pursuit of education – and there is a little statue of him at the front – my great grandfather’s wish for the Yeap family name to always be remembered by naming a school in his name and giving completely free education never fully materialised. I feel this is the reason why our family name has been forgotten by millennials and their children.
My hopes and dreams for Malaysia is for people to not spread or believe fake news that concerns racism.
My grandparents were all born in India. Both my grandfathers have served in the Malayan Army respectively. My paternal grandfather Gurdial Singh, was born in Amritsar and had later served in the Malayan Police force.
My maternal grandfather Sher Singh too was born in the Punjab in the year 1901 and was sent to Malaya by his mother, who was afraid of a family feud. He arrived at Taiping at age 14 and received good guidance and a fairly good education. He got enlisted in the Malayan Army 100 years ago, on 25.4.1919 until he retired in 30.6.1948.
He served with the British forces throughout the tenure of the Japanese occupation and also survived many ordeals with the Communists. He was also president of the Tat Khalsa Diwan in 1952. His eldest son Alam Singh also served the forces throughout his career.
At the age of sixteen he was taken by the Japanese to Burma as labourer and faced many challenges. Once he was bitten by a snake. They had to cut off a piece of flesh from his leg to avoid death. He later took this chance to escape.
He stayed and travelled through rivers for four days until he reached Siam. Through assistance he got connected with the Subash Chandra Bose’s INA Office and worked there until the Japanese left. When the war ended, he found his way back to Malaya. He too joined the Police force and served till his retirement.
Three of his sons later joined the forces.
Sukhdarshan Singh is with the Royal Malaysia Police, serving in Kuching; Jaswinder Singh, who served in the Army; and the eldest amongst them, Capt. Bhagwan Singh from Royal Malaysian Air Force who today is the owner-operator of a Private Charter for Helicopters. He is known for his dedication and extensive search and rescue missions. He also dedicated his entire team and self in Aid & Rescue in the recent Kelantan floods.
My eldest aunt’s son Sucharanjit Singh, is the seventh member of the family in the forces. He was in the Radio Units. His elder brother, Sukhdave Singh served as Guard at the AIA in the 60s.
On the 4th August 1975, when the JRA, (Japanese Red Army) had seized the AIA building. He had gone to investigate the incident. He got shot in the head as soon as he confronted the Red Army members.
The bullet had hit his eye and exited the back of his head. Sukhdave Singh miraculously survived and is alive today.
Along with the many family members who have served the Armed forces, today we also have some respected and dedicated teachers, authors, artists, scientists and also doctors in the family. In approximately 50 years, I’ve seen many generations before mine and also those after my time who’ve tried hard to ignore the separation between us.
It always seemed like one step forward and two steps backwards. We are NOT advancing as a country or nation with this fear crippling us. It’s not about unity any longer.
We are already united for decades. Make no mistake about it.
This time it’s about a SHIFT & TRANSCENDANCE of a nation that has worked hard for decades. As much as we, the nons, are missing the freedom to live as one, the Bumiputras live with their hands tied, missing out true growth and advancement in their community.
They are missing their true freedom just like the rest. We must at this point shed all our fears together and look forward as one advancing community. The Malaysian Community.
To quote the words of Robert Nesta Marley, “Until we do this, the dream of lasting peace will be a fleeting illusion. It will be a pursuit, but never attained”.
My grandfather’s family were Princes from Java that were exiled. In the 1700s, our first ancestors from Aceh arrived in Ceylon with other members of the royalty and his members. He carried the name, Raden and my own grandfather carried the name Tuan with him when he arrived in Malaya in the 1950s.
His family lived in Kandy, Sri Lanka – and many are still there – however of the family, it was only my grandfather who returned to Nusantara. His name was Tuan Buranudeen Meedin Amit Authonon Meedin.My hope for Malaysia is to see a country that recognises it's multicultural roots and appreciates everyone as equal and deserving of love. Click To Tweet
To see us care more for each other, especially the ones we may have been told not to love, like the homeless people or the people that work so hard to keep our homes and streets clean of rubbish. To drop the race separation completely and be identified as just Malaysians, no questions asked. To welcome all foreigners with open arms as one of us while they are.
I hope to see a country that isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions, to make a difference in what little way we can.
It’s only fair that I share my origin story too. Mine began with murder.
My grandfather was well known in his village in Punjab for his strength. He was 17 when a fellow village teen challenged my grandfather to a wrestling match.
Now, the way Indians wrestle is unlike the stuff you see on WWE. Google Pehlwani and you’ll find that Indians wrestle with each other shirtless while only wearing a cloth as an underwear. They wrestle under the sun on the red hot sand.
In his attempt to beat his opponent, my grandfather had accidentally killed the villager through a choke hold. Realising what he had done, he ran away and hid. In the night he went back to his house and told everything to his grandfather, who had looked after him since his parents had died.
My great great grandfather told him to take the next ship that would be leaving to Malaya. “If you stay here, the villagers will kill you or worse, you’ll be hung. Run away.” So my grandfather packed some clothes, a blanket and a pillow and snuck into a ship.
And that’s how my family got here.
My mother’s father on the other hand was in the police force and had fought the Japanese and Communist alongside the British.
We believe more stories like this should be shared, and spread as we move along towards becoming a nation of the future.It's time we discarded the assumptions that divide us and truly get to know each other from the heart. Click To Tweet
Our ancestors may have got to this country in many different ways, for many different reasons, yet their convergence in this land is has tied the fates of future generations together.
As more of our families are born here and continue to live here, our stories also continue to intertwine.
Stories that ultimately weave a living narrative of Malaysia.
So, what’s your origin story?
*** Header image courtesy of Alia Kearney, Jia Chen Lu and Kamini Rajasingam.
Hey guys, we’re looking to add more origin stories to this post! If you’re from Sabah and Sarawak, please drop us an email at email@example.com. Here’s another post you might enjoy.