October 8, 2014
The Myth of The Lazy Native Revisited
by Ahmad Mustapha Hassan
This piece is an offshoot of the old colonial theory of the lazy natives. But this theory was debunked by the late Professor Syed Hussein Al-Attas in his book “The Myth of the Lazy Native”. It took him seven years to produce this very authoritative book after having done a very exhaustive research on the matter.
The colonial writers during the period of the expansion of imperialism had painted a very poor and degrading picture of the natives in the places that the imperial powers had colonised. This was particularly so concerning the Javanese, the Filipinos and the Malays.
One colonial writer from Germany insinuated that the Filipinos chose to construct their rafts from bamboos so that they could lie down and relax. By this, he implied that these natives just wanted to relax and not do any work. What a silly conclusion!
The natives in these countries were already toiling the land to produce food and amenities for their own communities. The sea had also been their source of food and so were the many rivers in their area. They were already independent economic activists. They needed nothing from the colonialists.
It was the colonialists who needed their services to produce the goods that their home countries needed. They wanted tin and other minerals. And they needed a labour force to produce these raw materials.
The indigenous people were simply not interested in helping the colonialists in their ventures. They would not pawn their freedom and they would not compromise their sovereignty in being independent workers in their own right. They were tied to the land as farmers and they were grateful that the seas and rivers provided them with plentiful fish and other products.
Their attitude was simply a setback to the aims and goals of the colonialists. The only way out for the colonialists was to bring in people from their other colonial territories which had an abundance of unemployed labour force.
In the Southeast Asian countries that they had colonised, there was no unemployment and the people were fully engaged in productive activities. There was no starvation that would compel them to leave the land for some other economic activities.
Royal Professor Ungku Aziz had expounded this elaborately in his writings on rural economics. His students were made to understand the economic activities in the rural areas. The work carried out by the rural folks was back breaking and they were subjected to all types of unkind weather situations. No lazy individual could face up to such a situation.
The environment that they were in and faced did not warrant them to venture into other economic spheres. But the end of colonial power had changed the whole economic scenario in these areas.
Suddenly the new governments especially in Malaya wanted to change this situation and had wanted the Malays to advance like all other ethnic communities in the country.
Thus, the lazy Malays theory had taken a twist.The main cause was the affirmative action agenda. This agenda was the short cut to get Malays to be wealthy.
Thus in the Federation of Malaya, the UMNO government wanted to leapfrog the Malays into a modern setting, creating a new class to be involved in business and commerce. Agencies were set up to provide the necessary help towards creating this new economic class. But the effort failed.
A new approach was made by granting some UMNO warlords contracts to undertake government projects. Not having the expertise and the relevant attitude to undertake these contracts, they sub-contracted these projects to those non-Malays who had the experience and know-how.
A new Malay business class came into being through procuring commissions on the projects that had been given. That was not the desired goal of the scheme.Thus the government itself set up enterprises and employed civil service bureaucrats to run and manage these government established business entities. Public money had to be used to establish them.
Not many of these enterprises met with great success. Many lost money. Thus the Malays had two types of bureaucrats, either they belonged to the civil service or were engaged in manning these government linked companies.
Another phenomenon was to award projects to those one or two so-called Malay capitalists so as to ensure that these projects will not fail. Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar represents this kind of strategy.
All in all, it can be said that the modern lazy Malays had been created by UMNO and the UMNO Baru government.