Sunday, November 4, 2007

Chemor is still relevant today

Okay, so I have a soft spot for old towns and places with a bit of history. They're a window not just into some sepia tinted era that has little relevance to today, but they show us how the people who came before us lived their lives even as they built for the future – that it, built the world we live in now.

We are inextricably linked to the past, individually and collectively; linked even to those who are not family, who lived in places far away, in unfamiliar circumstances. That's why the feature in today's Sunday Star on Chemor, caught my eye. This is a story not just of a town living in some time warp, but a glimpse into the very real and concrete lives of the men, women, teachers, labourers, students, town officials and others in this small Perak town.

The grand Chemor Theatre
The grand Chemor Theatre once staged
Chinese opera and Malay bangsawan shows,
explains Law Siak Hong of the Perak Heritage
Society. – Caption and picture copyright
from The Sunday Star newspaper.

The accompanying story is on the Mandailings, who fled from Sumatra in the 19th century and made their home in Chemor (and other parts of Perak, too). The Mandailings have striven to preserve their cultural identity and uniqueness, an effort that has sometimes at odds with the official project to construct monolithic "Malay" identity/ethnicity.

The political parties in Malaysia, both governing and in the opposition, are formally, or effectively mono-ethnic (the latter may claim to offer a multi-ethnic platform, but their support is often derived largey from one ethnic community), and thus it serves their purposes to perpetuate the idea that "Malay", "Chinese", "Indian" are large homogeneous groups that march to one ethnic agenda and spring from one particular cultural heritage.

This is patently not true, as the Chemor/Mandailing articles and the Johan Jaafar lament that I talked about in my previous post shows (Johan recounts how the Javanese were seen as a very distinct and different ethnic group in his village).

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