Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mai 13 1969 Racial riots in Malaysia

Today marks the anniversary of the darkest day in my country's history. To know more about the incident, see Adrian's post below. What saddens me is that even today, from what I see in various blogs, people would think that the malays and the chineses are still waging war with each other. Don't believe me? Visit or and take a look at the comments section by some (albeit a minority) readers of their blog.

Allow me to speak my mind: Racial segregation is very real in Malaysia. For example, I studied in a chinese school before coming here. My school is called an independent high school as it does not receive any financial aid from the government (because the government do not support chinese as a medium of education, we don't have the same syllabus and that does not promote unity among races etc etc). To make things short, 99% of the students in my school are chinese and I think 90% of us don't have any malay friends. (I was one of them) And I have to admit that quite a number of them are actually racists. Was it their fault? I don't really blame can you appreciate and love someone without actually knowing them? I propose that our schools advertise in malay newspapers and increase the number of malay students studying there. With the advent of China as a world economic superpower, I think that there will be an increasing number of malay parents who will appreciate their children learning mandarin.

Back to the point, it is saddening that even today, our history textbook records little of the actual cause and effect of the May 13 racial riots. Excuse me for saying this, but the authors of our history book, all malays, are quite happy to devote half of the book to Islamic history and civilization. While it is true that Islamic history is very important and their civilization had given mankind some of our most important discoveries, half of book is too much and we lacked other aspects of world history. Our politicians likes to use May 13 as a tool to provoke fear among races (for example: Be careful of what you say, say the wrong things and may 13 will happen again, and I am sure you don't want it to happen), instead of respecting it and try not to repeat history. I want to request forgiveness for those who are offended reading this, I apologize if I have not been sensitive enough but I think racial relations should be something that is open and discussable. I blame the chineses as much as the malays for letting all this happened. Don't get me wrong though, we malaysians still live in harmony and peace and things are not as bad as I sounded :) PS: I personally likes malay cuisine more than chinese one, my family would attest to that.

Anyway, May 13 was bad. It brought out the uglier side of Malaysians. But May 13 also showed us that Malaysians can be compassionate, tolerant and understanding when the situation demands so. Below is a heart warming tale told by Raja Petra Kamarudin of an incident that happended during may 13:

My late father, Raja Kamarudin bin Raja Sir Tun Uda, was a director of Lever Brothers (now called Unilever) during the May 13 era. One of his Chinese managers lived in Jalan Raja Abdullah (yes, THE Raja Abdullah, partner of Yap Ah Loy) in Kampong Baru, the epicenter of May 13. And his family was at home that afternoon of 13 May 1969.

When the Malay residents of Jalan Raja Abdullah heard that trouble had erupted along Jalan Raja Muda, they quickly ‘smuggled’ their Chinese neighbours into their homes. When some Malays started going house-to-house searching for Chinese, the Malays dressed the Chinese in Baju Melayu (Malay costume) and brought them over to the Kampong Baru Mosque -- which by then had become a sort of refugee centre for all those stranded in Kampong Baru due to the curfew that had been imposed. No one could enter or leave Kampong Baru so the mosque was the safest place of refuge.

In the meantime, the Chinese manager was stranded in Lever Brothers’ office in Jalan Bangsar. He could not go home because of the curfew. Anyway, to go home would have been suicide because Kampong Baru and the areas surrounding it saw some of the worst racial skirmishes. The manager phoned the police who went over to his Jalan Raja Abdullah home and found the house burnt to the ground and the family missing. He assumed they had all been killed. The distraught manager did not know they were safe in the Kampong Baru Mosque dressed as Malays. Imagine his relief when many days later he found his family alive thanks to his Malay neighbours.

In Pasar Borong, an all-Chinese wholesale market (then along Jalan Ipoh behind the old Tabung Haji headquarters) it was the other way around. There was this lone Malay trader who was stranded there when trouble broke out. The Chinese traders at the market hid the Malay in some fish boxes, safe from the marauding Chinese who were looking for Malays to kill -- just like what the Malays in Kampong Baru were doing.

He had to suffer the stench for a couple of days but the Chinese kept him alive until it was safe for him to emerge from his hiding place and go home to his family who had given him up for dead.

These are but two though by no means the only ‘good’ stories of May 13. Taman Seputeh was then (and still is, I think) a mixed Malay-Chinese neighbourhood. The residents got together to form a guard unit (equivalent to the Rukun Tetangga before the word was even invented) to patrol the area. When any armed Malays came to the neighbourhood, the Malay residents would go face them to negotiate safe passage for the Chinese and if any armed Chinese came instead, then the Chinese residents would reciprocate. Taman Seputeh saw no bloodshed the entire period.


1 comment:

Amy said...

yeah, i think both of u're rite abt the matter. msian is still considering may 13th incident as a taboo, n with that prefer not to mention about it alot in the history book. we as msians should try to be more open, and learn from the mistakes. may all our ppl in msia live happily together!!