Towards a Malaysian Culture: Six DAP Proposals

Speech by Lim Kit Siang in the Dewan Rakyat during the 1974 Committee of Supply debate on the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports

Towards a Malaysian Culture: Six DAP Proposals

One of the stated objectives of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports is to “promote cultural talents among Malaysians with the objectives of creating a national culture by developing the use, as well as promoting the knowledge and understanding in the development of national culture, through which unity and national integration identity can be achieved.”

In working towards a National Culture, we are not conducting an academic exercise but dealing with a vital aspect of the uncompleted Malaysian experiment in multi-racial nationhood.

Before we discuss what National Culture we should work for, we must get the correct principle for nation-building in a multi-racial society like Malaysia.

Malaysia is a multi-racial country, where the world’s great culture of China, India, the Malay-Polynesia, the Middle East and Europe meet in confluence and conflict.

There must be no idea of racial hegemony by any one community, which can only be doomed to failure, Racial hegemony in a multi-racial society is certainly an undesirable principle to be adopted anywhere in the world, but in Malaysia, the very composition of our population also makes it impracticable of realisation, for the good reason that in this country no single racial group can claim to enjoy an overall majority.

The Malays do not constitute a national majority. Neither do the Chinese, nor the Indians, nor anybody else. In other words, any single community in Malaysia, by itself, is outnumbered by the rest.

The national Constitution we adopted in 1957 to gevern the conduct of our independent nation laid the basis, and prepared the possibility, of the emergence of a united multi-racial Malaysia nation.

It is implicit in the Malaysia constitution that, in the very nature of things, Malaysia cannot become a Malay nation, or a Chinese, or an Indian nation. Thus the late Tun Dr. Ismail, had once said:

“Our concept is that we do not intend to establish a Malay Malaysia, but a Malaysia which is owned and will be inherited by all citizens without regard to race or religion.”

The Malaysian Constitution guarantees the preservation and sustenance of all languages and cultures in the country. In other words, the Constitution provides, both in spirit and intention, that no linguistic or cultural group in the country need fear deculturation.

There are two cultural policies open to Malaysia. One is to uphold the Constitution guarantee and recognize that Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-racial nation, practise cultural democracy and allow the diverse cultural strands to freely develop, grow and interact with one another, and let the future Malaysia culture grow out of the creative synthesis of the best of all the cultural traditions to be found in Malaysia. The other way is to choose to promote the hegemony of one culture and the elimination, over the passage of years, of other cultures.
For those who subscribe to the concept of a multi-racial Malaysia, there can be no disagreement that the principle of “Suatu Masyarakat Kebudayaan Malaysia ” enunciated in the Rukunegara should be based on principle and practice of cultural democracy.

It is from this perspective that there is cause for concern for some of the recent development in this field.

Malaysian literature

For many years now, it has been held that Malaysian literature can only be written in the Malay language. It is even held that foreign writings in Malay, regardless of the nationality or loyalty of the writer, must be considered as part of Malaysian literature, while writings in Tamil, Chinese or English by Malaysians expressive of Malaysian life, values, hopes and aspirations are not considered as part of Malaysian literature.

This stand is completely indefensible. Malaysia literature cannot be limited to works of one language if Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural nation. Malaysian literature must comprise all writings, whether drama, novel, short story, play or verse, written by Malaysians, which by emotion, identification, description, social context and involvement, relate to Malaysia whether written in Malay, Chinese, Tamil or English.

Otherwise, we will have the absurd situation where a Malay literary work by a foreigner, preaching against the very values which Malaysia is trying to foster, is considered as part of Malaysian literature; while a literary work by a Malaysian in a non-Malay language, whose use is guaranteed by the Constitution dedicated to Malaysian nationalism and patriotisms, is cast out from the corpus of Malaysian literature.

This, I submit, violates the spirit and intention of the constitutional guarantee of all languages, which confers on them all a lasting place under the Malaysian sun.

I cannot understand how, the other parties in the National Front, like the MCA, the Parti Gerakan of the Dr. Lim Chong Eus and the Dr.Lim Keng Yaiks, and the People’s Progressive Party can accept such a definition of Malaysian culture and Malaysian literature, and become the champions of such a narrow cultural view.

Melting-pot of the cultures of the world

At national and international conferences, Malaysian leaders, from the Prime Minister downwards, are rightly proud of Malaysia being the ‘melting-pot ’ analogy, where all the cultural traditions in Malaysia are put in the melting-pot to undergo integration and synthesis. The final product is not a Malay, Chinese, Indian, European cultural product, but a distinct Malaysian culture comprising the best from all the cultural traditions.

What we should give attention today is to find ways to break down the cultural walls which keep the different racial groups apart and separate. These cultural walls must be broken down, not by suppressing any one cultural tradition, but by opening up all cultural traditions in Malaysia to the understanding and appreciation of all racial groups.

Cultural Conferences

There had been a few cultural conferences or congresses in Malaysia. One common feature, and a common defect, of these cultural conferences is the insignificant participation by non-Malays or representatives from all cultural traditions to be found in Malaysia. The 1971 National Cultural Congress is a good example.

As the Prime Minister, Tun Razak, said on Nov. 2 1972 after his visit to the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports, “National culture is not necessarily Malay culture ” though it was essential that it be based on the Malaysian way of life, the insignificant participation in all the cultural deliberations by representatives from all cultural traditions found in Malaysia is a grave weakness which should be remedied.

The evolution of a Malaysian culture must involve the participation of all cultural groups and traditions in Malaysia, and any changes must not be the result of force or government decree, but through the voluntary acceptance of the people.

He must approach this problem and task with a liberal, enlightened and open-minded attitude and eschew any narrow, obscurantist or irrational attitude.

I wish to make the following suggestion in the evolution of a Malaysian cultural.

1. Acceptance by the government and people that cultural freedom, tolerance and democracy be the basis for the evolution of a Malaysian culture, where no cultural tradition would be suppressed or subject to government inhibition or restriction;

2. Acceptance by the government and the people that the evolution of a Malaysian culture is part of the nation-building process to create a Malaysian consciousness and identity, distinct and separate from Malay, Chinese or Indian consciousness and identity;

3. A conscious and systematic effort in the country, including schools, to break down the cultural walls dividing the different races, not by suppressing any one culture, but by opening up the cultural traditions to the understanding and appreciation of all racial groups;

4. The use of television as a primary media to foster national appreciation of all cultural traditions in the country;

5. The formation of a National Culture Council at national and state levels, comprising representatives from all cultural traditions in Malaysia, to make studies and recommendations on the evolution of a Malaysian culture through the integration and synthesis of the best feathers of the great cultural traditions which have come in confluence in Malaysia.;

6. The establishment of a centre for race and cultural studies in one of the Malaysian universities to research into the question of cultural integration and evolution in Malaysia.