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Valar Qringaomis

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Friday, June 24, 2016

The Malay Ideals: Wealth Accumulation and Pessimism

Wealth Accumulation

The postulations that the Malays were disinclined to work are not completely true. Actually, there are reasons for them to lack the motivation in accumulating wealth. This unwillingness to accumulate wealth had always been emphasised to show that the Malays were indolent. Because they were lazy to accumulate wealth, it was purported that they were indolent as a people.

For the Malays who existed centuries earlier, even if they were industrious, the profits would more often than not be confiscated by the Sultans and other leaders for fear that commoners would gather influence and following, and eventually lead to a power strife. Therefore, to a Malay man, even to toil for greater gains would be hazardous to his own existence. The Sultans or the Rajas were preoccupied with entertainment, and involved in vice without any concern for their subjects. Subjects were treated little more than slaves and as such, whatever little wealth the subjects accumulated would be exacted from them, if there was a need. Conspicuous wealth merely attracted the attention of rulers and chiefs who would forcefully appropriate these belongings from the commonfolk. The subjects were not allowed to have fine looking houses, nor the adornment of the self with expensive materials. Beautiful young girls would ultimately be taken away and kept as wives or concubines. The vying for power and of prestige among the members of the aristocracy, and the submissiveness of the commoners resulted in many excesses being committed by the aristocracy. Lawlessness prevailed. The men then became preoccupied with their krisses and the art of self-defence at the expense of work because this was the only way they can protect themselves and their families. There was no security for life nor was there any for property. A folklore telling the story of a pregnant young lady who was killed and then had her stomach sliced open because she was accused of stealing a jackfruit from the tree within the Sultan's premise illustrates cruelty that was rampant and malignant then. Within such an atmosphere, no community in this world could have had any motivation to make a better living for themselves and to accumulate wealth, with the exception of the notables. Man needed a purpose for work, and if you take that purpose away, the most industrious will be the most indolent...

The illogical and irrational connection between an action and its resulting outcome may in a way promote illogical and irrational thinking in the Malays themselves.

It is a characteristic feature of Malay oral and written literary traditions that themes such as family conflict, human aspiration, achievement in education, great success in economic activities are left untreated, unformulated and unmentioned. The nature of the social system and economy, the exclusiveness of the aristocracy, and the intellectually and motivationally stifling environment of the commoners are chiefly responsible for the lack of an awareness of such issues and concerns. A cursory glance at many sayings, similes and proverbs present in the Malay language that are widely used by the common folk will reveal that roughly two-thirds of them have pessimistic or negative meanings discouraging wealth accumulation, suspicion, lack of confidence, class society, sweet talking, irresponsible conduct, and others. These include, ”kalau tak bermeriam baiklah diam" (be silent if one does not possess a cannon), ”seperti anjing menyalak di pantat gajah” (like the dog barking at the elephant’s rear), "kalau tak berlela baiklah meredha” (without the swivel gun, it is best to resign), ”ada udang sebalik batu” (hidden agenda), "air yang tenang jangan disangka tiada buaya” (do not mistake for a calm river not to have its dangers), ”sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga" (as if it weren't enough to fall, the ladder lands on top), "human di seberang laut nampak, gajah di depan mata tidak kelihatan" (germs beyond the sea is visible but an elephant in front of the eyes is invisible), "jauh berbau bunga, dekat berbau tahi" (a relative faraway is always thought of but a relative enarby always ends up in quarrel)... "biar kalah asal menang sorak" (let us lose as long as we win cheers), "biar papa asalkan bergaya" (let us be poor so long as we are fashionable)... "kalau kail panjang sejengkal jangan laut hendak diduga" (if your fishing rod is a span long do not try to test the sea), "anak kucing tak adan jadi anak harimau" (a kitten will not become a cub), "ludah ke langit, timpa batang hidung sendiri" (spitting at the sky your own nose will get wet), ”tepuk air di dulang terpercik muka sendiri” (smacking the water in the tray it will cause it sprinkle onto yourself)... are all negative similes and proverbs.

By comparison, sayings, similes and proverbs that carry optimistic and positive meanings, those that encourage unity, care, sacrifice, industry, self-reliance and thrift for example are fewer in number and not dominant themes in the traditional Malay values. Literary elements that stress upon the importance of knowledge and acquisition of wealth is even a rarity...

There are also sayings which reflect potentially optimistic attributes, denoting strength, courage and persistence for example. But most of these are usually employed exclusively in criticising others i.e. used in a negative fashion. These include ”kancil hendak berak gajah” (the mouse deer wants to imitate the elephant), ”ular lidi hendak menelan naga” (a tiny snake wishes to gobble the dragon)... ”kaki untut dipakaikan gelang” (putting a bangle on an elephantitic leg), and others.

The presence of many negative elements within Malay literature may have been a reflection of the degree of extensive pessimism that plagued the Malay community. They might have been borne out of a community that dreaded reprimanding others directly for fear of repercussions and for the reason of not wanting to cause hurt. Reticence is often required within such a community make up. To circumvent this, elaborate similes, maxims, sayings, proverbs, metaphors, figures of speech, hyperbole, folklore, myths and other oral or written literary inputs, were thus produced, for the the purpose of criticism. This allowed the common Malay man to criticise fellow members within the society indirectly using stories, parables, similes, proverbs and others and thus causing minimal hurt.

The question whether initially Malay philosophical inclinations spawned a mirror image of ideals in its literature, or elements within literature had moulded Malay philosophical standing is not important here. What is of essence here is the effect of the dominance of these negative elements within literature which perpetuates a philosophy of life of the Malays which might be deemed unprogressive by current standards. Customs and habits determine a person's personality. The abundance of negative popular literary elements that are pessimistic and negative in outlook and orientation perpetuates a custom and habit of negativity in the Malay person himself. Negativity reinforces the feeling of inadequacy or inferiority. A state of inferiority complex, malady, despondency, and doubt will have crept in. Children and adults pick up these elements from their community's frequent usage of the oral literature. Children learn from their parents and grandparents. Adults absorb them from other adults. Literary elements are internalised by the Malays. These become informal "teachings" or "advice" which will affect the character of the Malay person over time.

--- The Malay Ideals / Asrul Zamani
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