Our Malaysia of the 70’s


January 26, 2013

Our Malaysia of the 70’s

by Dr Azly Rahman @www.malaysiakini.com(01-25-13)

funny_monkeyWith the state of racial and religious things entire in our beloved Malaysia today – rumours of a festival of Bible-burning, continuing humiliation of the Malaysian Indians especially, the death of critical sensibility in our public universities, the devastating revelations of the ‘Sabah IC-gate’ plot, the issue of ‘stateless Indians’ and the criminalisation of children not able to be schooled because they were born ‘stateless’ and a host of other issues Malaysianly unbecoming.

I have decided to travel down the path of nostalgia. I am quite sure many of you reading this column would agree that the late sixties and early seventies presented a good frame of reference of what it means to be Malaysian and what ‘national identity’ could be about. Names upon names came back to me as I conjure fond memories.

There was a certain kind of magic, innocence, and sincerity to foster a Malaysian identity,Dato Soh Chin Aun back then. It didn’t matter what race you were, one could love to one’s heart’s content folks like these: P Ramlee, AR Tompel, Aziz Sattar, Saloma, Siput Sarawak, Ayappan, Lim Goh Poh, Andre Goh, Kartina Dahari, Orchid Abdullah, soccer players like V Arumugam the ‘Spider Man’, Soh Chin Aun ‘The Towkay’(right), Shaharuddin Abdullah the cool guy, Mokhtar Dahari ‘Super Mokh’, Santokh Singh, and many other great names that helped make Malaysian Malaysia proud.

One could laugh at the comedian-ventriloquist Jamali Shadat’s jokes, remember names such a V Sambanthan, Khir Johari, the great statesman Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tan Siew Sin, Temenggung Jugah (the man with a really cool haircut I so wanted one… ), Aishah Ghani, and of course the reluctant but down-to-earth and benevolent multiculturalist-statesman Tunku Abdul Rahman  with his famous uncontrollable blurting of Malay curse words and his philosophy of “oil and water can never mix”. A simple, yet profound life was back then…

The TunkuThose were the days before today… when hell is breaking loose. What happened to the ethos of that genre, I wonder. Growing up in the early 70s, different words to describe reality, practices, and possibilities were dancing happily around me. Perhaps those street names tune us to calmness… Jalan/Lorong Aman, Sentosa, Bahagia, Rahmat, Syukur, Ne’mat, and Merdeka…

All these shaped the child’s mind, such as that of mine growing up with a fascination of names, as if living is about being taught names and being able to “read the self and the word” in order to be liberated.

There were also words related to spirituality; words such as ‘sembah-Hyang’, marhaban, berzanji, kenduri, berkhatan, and bersugi gigi…  There were also cool words related to Malay magic such as jampi serapah, tangkal, kemenyan, dukun, pawang, and of course the “mambang laut-mambang darat-mambang udara” trinity/trio”…

Smooth-sailing seventies

Back in the day of the smooth-sailing seventies people were happy wearing what ought to be simple fashion and accessories… kebaya, baju kurong (not a straitjacket mind you), baju Melayu Telok Blangah, terompah, selipar chapal, selipar Jepun… manik koran, and all kinds of Malay, Chinese, and Indian ‘bling bling’ to adorn oneself with cultural niceties

Growing up in the kampong, I was not attuned to hearing totally foreign words, imported from elsewhere to denote and connote the self, spirituality, and salvation, and “saving the soul of others”; words such as solat, dakwah, ushrah, tarbiyyah jihad, muzakarah, jubah, serban, hijab, purdah, burqah, niqab, Arqam, tabligh, Ayatollah, muktamaar, buah tamar, or even Daulah Islamiyah

Not that I knew or had even heard of… until the beginning of the eighties when these words like Karl Marx would became technologies of the “body, mind, and spirit” that changed the social relations of production and the ideological landscape of the country and the consciousness of a segment of Malay people… And  I never heard anyone wanting to burn the Bible nor shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) when scoring goals in a friendly kampong football match.

hew kuan yew new book bruce leeAnd the beauty of living back in the day was how the self was constructed out of the early introduction to pluralism/ multiculturalism such that in me, every time the Chinese spirit of Bruce Lee possesses me, I could just go out and beat up my best friend Fook Shiang for example. We could then walk to town and overdose on the Indian food tosei and capati. Along the way we would stop by breezy Lido beach to grab a bite of the Javanesse soul food tauhu (tofu) sumbat.

Next, we could stop by at our teacher’s house and listen to his stories of Malay spiritual powers and magic called ‘Ilmu Budi Suci’ where the energy within possibly called the ‘chi’ can be harnessed so that one could kick like Bruce Lee without even touching your enemy!

Then, back in the day, we could go home after that to watch Joe Bugner got punched outDr M at Perdana into outer space by the ‘Black Superman’ named Muhammad Ali. I could still remember the words of the announcer … “Annnddd in thissss corneerrr… weighing 220 pounds… from Louisville Kentucky… the undisputed world champion… Moooo hammaaaad… Aaaa Liiii… Aaaa Liiiii… Aaaa Liiii…” to the sounds of the audience gone berserk.

I could go on and one with this nostalgic; a trip down memory lane of the seventies especially, just by recalling words and words that were synonymous with a world that was about to enter globalisation but was dealing with a strange brew of modernisation and uneven development – a Malaysia before Mahathirism.

That was true multiculturalism without any strand of today’s idiocy. That was our Malaysia with a lot of sense and sensibility.


DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctorate in International Education Development and Master’s degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans Malaysia and the United States, over a wide range of subjects from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.

9 thoughts on “Our Malaysia of the 70’s

  1. Here are something not so nice:

    The Senior Cambridge was replaced by MCE in 1970 and later HSC replaced by STPM in 1976. Univ imposed high quota for non-bumi students. Many students of that era went to abroad as foreign univ offered tuition similar to local policy; Australia. NZ and Canada. Only a handful return. The brain drain started.

    Our University ranking slided when NUS sat among top 3 places in Asia.

    The rgt was valued 5% more than S$ in mid-70s. Now rgt is 2.5x below S$.
    The rgt:yen was almost par. Today 3x lower

    SIA became regional top airline and best managed company . SIA soon went on to team with Southern China Air over last 2 years to transfer mgmt expertise. Meanwhile from 70s onward….MAS offered high drama with Mahathir/Tajudiin high handed mgmt. etc.

    Cars were very affordable. The first generation Honda civic 1200cc two door was about 4000rgt only in 70s. Then came the Proton Saga to be sold in mid 80s for about 18,000rgt and the other non-local car prices have to be hiked up. Inflation was imported and AP started. Nissan taxis soon were replaced.

    Mission schools still have nuns / brothers operating………students with straights As were few but they were genuine As at real GCE O and A levels measures…. today we have plenty of students with straight As but still cannot write English well and their Maths syllabus is a real shame compare to that time.

  2. All of us want to be educated and of course wealthy. Many of us want to reside overseas for its freedom, modernism, and quality of life.

    But what good is modernism and development that enhances the quality of our lives if it is at the expense of our unity, harmony, traditions and culture? What good is education if immorality and corrupt behaviour can be openly accepted as a way of life? What good is in wealth if our own kind can feel nothing but scorn for us?

    For me I would not accept everything that development, modernism, and wealth have to offer. If I have to choose, I will rather choose a life as portrayed by ‘Upin Ipin’.

  3. The downturn of our inter racial harmony came abt when during Tun Det’s reign of terror, where the ketuanan melayu became the slogan of Umno to deceive the general stupid malay folks. This being drummed for more than 2 decades has successfully created a malay society that think this land belongs to them and all others (other than the labelled malay) are immigrants and have no right to the wealth of the nation and have no say and of no use to them, except some dumb immigrants in the like of MCA & MIC, who they managed to con. to support them (with votes) during every GE. Of late they pay the Indiabs with onky 5kg of rice, some sugar and flour.

  4. Dear Dr. Azly, I share your views and sentiments. How I wish those good old days could be here again.
    But I noticed that the ordinary Malaysians, Malay, Chinese & Indians do not hate one another. In fact we do get along very well. It’s the UMNO politicians and some extremists, like the katak ..bramin ali who’s causing all the ill-will and getting away with it. If any of the statements uttered by the katak were uttered by the opposition, he would be enjoying nasi padang in Kamunting; such is the situation in Malaysia now. How sad. God help us all.

  5. ‘A wise man does at the beginning what a fool does unsuccessfully in the end’. ( it is a quote but I do not know who said it) We had world class schools from which our students could study is the best Universities in the world. And the ‘Babyboomer Generation’ that forms the core of the leadership of this country benefitted from that system. It is still not too late. We must stop the policies that encourage the Race To The Bottom and replace tham with policies that will encourage the Race To The Top. Otherwise we will have to employ a ‘buddy’ for every person we employ. In these critical and uncertain times in the global financial situation only enhanced productivity will help us to get out of the Third World Development Trap.

    We have enough examples around us to emulate. And we do not even have to sak their permission to use their ideas or pay them Royalty. May The One God grant the strength to our leaders to make the right decision at lesat 80% of the time based on, like The One God, One Truth. As citizens of this nation we are too proud and do not want to muddle along the middle .

  6. Dr Azly lives in another world of his own, well in the past. He should come back to 2013 and face reality. Malaysia will no longer be what it was in the past. But then, he is now thousands of miles away and is sooooooo out of touch with Malaysia in 2013.

    The masses in Malaysia do not remember any of the names that he mentioned. They are more concerned about what they will become in future, how do they put a roof over their heads, educate their children. Do I want to go back to the good old days that Dr Azly talks about? Well, NO! All I am want to do know is to get rid of UMNO and Barisan Nasional.

  7. I do not know much the time before the 80s but i do know the elders always tell me they prefer leaders from Tunku period. Also, I know the Malays, Indians and Chinese enjoyed the good laughter watching P Ramlee movies. We need leaders whot unite all Malaysians but all I hear from certain retired and current leaders preach about unity of a particular race or religion. This remind me of the Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. I really hope regular folks will not be influenced by this one particular evil politician. Salam

  8. It’s only the neo-fascists and the massively corrupt who promote division and social tension because of ideological frenzy or to protect their ill-gotten gains.

    The rest of us (the vast majority; decent Malaysians of goodwill) only want to live in peace and harmony in a well-governed Malaysia. The recent mass demonstration KL112 illustrates this clearly.

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