Corruption of our history books

30 March 2007 (Lim Kit Siang’s blog) – Lim Kiat Siang is a leading opposition figure in Malaysian politics. In this post, he features a write-up on how knowledge of Malaysia’s history is only limited to the founding of the Melaka Sultanate in the 1400s – thus ignoring the rich Hindu-Buddhist influences of the time preceding that, as evidenced by clay moulds to form Buddhist stupas and Hindu architecture in Kedah. Note: the term ‘Savarnadvipa’ might possibly refer to the regions of Burma or Sumatra or Java.

Corruption of our history books

In very recent times, the starting date for the study of Malaysian history in the schools has been conveniently fixed around 1400 C.E. It probably coincides with the founding of the Sultanate of Malacca by Parameswara.

Today, Malaysian school children only learn a little bit about the early Proto Malays and then are conveniently taken on a historical quantum leap to the founding of Malacca.

Early Indian works speak of a fantastically wealthy place called Savarnadvipa, which meant “land of gold”. This mystical place was said to lie far away, and legend holds that this was probably the most valid reason why the first Indians ventured across the Bay of Bengal and arrived in Kedah around 100 B.C.

Apart from trade, the early Indians brought a pervasive culture, with Hinduism and Buddhism sweeping through the Indo-Chinese and Malay archipelago lands bringing temples and Indian cultural traditions. The local chiefs began to refer to themselves as “rajahs” and also integrated what they considered the best of Indian governmental traditions with the existing structure.

I learnt Malayan history in the 1950s and taught it in the 1960s and 1970s in secondary schools. All the history textbooks at the time had the early Indian connection specifically mentioned in them. Teachers of that period taught about the early Indianised kingdoms of Langkasuka, Sri Vijaya and Majapahit that existed from as early as 100 C.E.

Anyone can see that Parameswara, the founder of Malacca, has a clearly give-away name that points to the Indian/Hindu influence. No one can deny this, and all our children need to know about this. They have the fundamental right to learn about this aspect of our history too.


Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Nationalism, Politics, and the Practice of Archaeology (New Directions in Archaeology) by P. L. Kohl, C. Fawcett (Eds)
The Politics of Archaeology and Identity in a Global Context (Aia Colloquia and Conference Papers) by S. Kane

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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