I am incredibly heartened by 30-year old Fahmi Reza and his documentary 10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka about the pre-independence nation-wide hartal. It was first brought to my attention by Rachel, and in the aftermath of the Oct 11 march, Tricia asked if we ought to screen it (there’s this group that meets in my home to watch lesser known movies). Why not? I would love to see it on a wide screen.
I felt a deep sense of gratitude and pride that a new generation of thoughtful Malaysians was finding its voice and speaking up for Malaysia, and not narrow communalism. His own research into our recent past has shed light on a little known nationalistic struggle that has been conveniently usurped by the construction of a mythic narrative more suited to the vested interest of UMNO. In his interview, he said,
It’s true that our school history books, for the most part, highlight the role that is played by just one party or group. Other groups are mentioned but are not given focus or are labelled anti-government or anti-something. For me, this happens because, any history at all, and this can probably be applied to any country, history is always written by those in power.
So, if we look at our history, the people in power are Umno and the Barisan Nasional. So, they are the ones who write the history of our nation. So, of course, they will present a historical narrative that sheds a positive light on them. I think this happens in any regime or government. Firstly, in order to legitimise their current position, there is a need to create this myth about their history.
So, if we look at our historical narrative about independence, it’s focused on creating this myth about Umno’s struggle to gain our independence. How Umno was born and how Umno fought for our independence. It’s understandable that there’s this narrative.
So, any other narrative that doesn’t support the (dominant) narrative will of course be left out, because it would challenge or counter their narrative.
Many regimes do one of two things. You absorb the other narrative and claim it as your own. Or you leave out.
Umno’s problem is, because they were there at the same time, they cannot claim that their struggle was part of the left’s because they were on the opposite side. So, the only way left to them is to silence (the other narrative). So, history books are written that way.
Fahmi isn’t the only one, of course, to question this historical oversight (there’s also fellow film maker Amir Muhammad, among others), but notably his work is one more vote for a more fully realized Malaysian Malaysia, one where our shared history is acknowledged and celebrated. We live in interesting times; there is a stirring beneath the surface fueled in equal parts perhaps by a sense of grief and anger at our fraying society, and an unquenchable hope that the tide can still be turned.
I predict Fahmi’s effort is going to gain an even wider audience in the very near future. For those who try to pull the wool over our eyes saying demonstrations are not a part of our culture, or who are deliberately rewriting history to serve myopic ends, this documentary is an eye-opener.
Fahmi's blog: 10tahun
Tricia's take on 11/10 "BERSIH: Democracy Malaysian style"
Bobjots 'The Other History of Malaysia'