Malay Politics and Ramleeology

February 2, 2013

Malay Politics and Ramleeology

by Azly Rahman @

Alif-Mim-Nun-Wau… sarkis!” – said a character in P Ramlee’s movie Pendekar Bujang Lapok.

He thinksOf late I have been hit by nostalgia, reminiscing and even romanticising the 60s, 70s and the early 80s before Mahathirism took root.

My last column on Malaysia in the 70s was an enjoyable piece of journaling and from the numerous comments I read from all the blogs that carry it – my own blog Between Cybernetics and Existentialism, my Facebook page, Malaysia Today, etc – I feel that there was a  time when a good Malaysian spirit was about to be forged.

This was that sense of a historical block, until May 13, 1969 came, of course; whether it was orchestrated or a victory campaign that went wrong we are beginning to find out, as alternative accounts of it continue to be written.

After languishing in sweet memories of the 70s, I next thought of the 60s; the time when I was growing up in Johor Baru and how the kampong and the city and the school I went to became my “global classrooms”.

My fond memories always go back to a “multicultural Malaysia I knew – especially how I owed my interest in learning and insatiable urge to acquire knowledge through the selfless work of my teachers – Malay, Chinese, Indians, Sikhs, and even my Peace Corps American teachers.

Without them, I would not have been able to write honestly about the need not just to “tolerate” other cultures but to learn from each one of them, embrace the dynamics of each, and to bring out the universality of the values, and next to design good learning systems and environments that will nurture these differences into commonalities and to hybridise the wisdom we will acquire.

This is what has been lacking in our education system – critical sensibility and the embracing of the idea of “cultural action for freedom”, as the Brazilian educational philosopher Paulo Freire would say.

A P Ramlee movie

Of late, too, I have been watching P Ramlee movies – reminiscing my Ramlee and Salomachildhood days as well with my memory of the black and white television, that “machine to call upon far away vision” (tele + vision), or on a more theoretical basis, anthropologists of technology would call “a fantasy-machine in the garden” and in this case, a “TV in a peaceful kampong”.

I watched and “read closely” Malaysia’s great humanist-social-philosopher P Ramlee’s, classic of the 60s Pendekar Bujang Lapok. I found something interesting in there worthy, in fact, of a full-blown dissertation on the anthropology of the Malays. Here is what I discovered about the first 17 minutes of it:

There is an intellectual framework in “reading” this movie; one that could be a hybrid of political-economy of development and underdevelopment (see the work of the Dependenistas/Dependency Theorists of the 70s), World-Systems Theory, Marx’s idea of “technological determinism”, i.e. technology as the shaper of social relations of production (see my dissertation Thesis on Cyberjaya, on the origin of Cyberjaya and the concluding discussion on Marx and technology and culture), semiotics of power, as in the notion of “habitus” (see Pierre Bourdieu’s work on “symbolic power”) and a study of post-colonialism emblematic in the work of Albert Memmi’s Colonizer and the Colonized, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks, and others in the genre of psychological studies of oppression.

Ramleeology as method

Syed Hussein Alatas-The Myth of the Lazy NativeSyed Hussein Al Attas’s work is also instructive of a framework in looking at the idea of how the image of the native is constructed, as lazy, obedient, and imbued with “bebalism” and “tolol-ism “ (feudalistic Malay idiocy and moronism); constructed by the rich and land-owning class that drew inspiration from “divide and rule” – from the British colonials.

Indeed there is a lot to “read” in this movie; provided we deconstruct it to its minute detail (dialogue, characterisation, symbolism, plot, discourse of power, language play, irony, metaphor, etc.). Herein lies the rejuvenation of my interest in developing “Ramleeology” as a “method of cultural critique based on radical social theory that can be applied to a trajectoric landscape of history such as Malaysia of this ‘hypermodern’ era”.

In just that 17 opening minutes. I saw the entire history of the evolution of the feudal and neo-feudal Malay mentality being displayed; from pre-independence to this day as we count the days to a regime change.

P Ramlee showed me what authoritarianism, stupefication, Malay gangsterism, crude kampongism, corruption, and arrogance mean. These can be seen in today’s display of political idiocy, as a legacy of Mahathirism.

But at the end of that “kampong jetty scene” of Pendekar Bujang Lapok, I saw “counter-hegemony” in the form of a revolt of the Malay masses against the oppressors, as if poetic justice must always be with the alienated and humiliated Malays at different epochs of history.

The last “revolt scene”, like a storming of the Bastille, and the overthrowing of Louis Capet and Marie Antoinette, I saw rallies upon rallies such as those we have been seeing in the last few years beginning from the first Bersih rally.

The Malays these days, the enlightened ones, in collaboration with their brothers and sisters of different race, religion, national origin have all become the new “pendekars” or “warriors” such a the three “pendekars” headed by P Ramlee.

Dr MBut the final scene is not here yet. The deconstructionism mart is there; Malaysians are able to “read” what has been delusioning them vis-a-viz the dread called “Mahathirism”, the idiocy called “Ketuanan Melayu”, and the rhetoric called “social contract”, framed according to a truncated Malay view and not like a vision suggested by the social philosopher of the  French Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

I  had fun watching that particular P Ramlee movie. I think he is a visionary, somewhat like a modern Malay prophet speaking up truth to power for Malaysians of all races, for the oppressed, for those dehumanised by those who owns the means, methods , machinery, and media technology of oppression.

Watch the movie on YouTube – we Malaysians are all in it!

6 thoughts on “Malay Politics and Ramleeology

  1. Third World Leaders are living in fear of being replaced by some one having, say, the pedegree of President Obama. Hence, you will observe that the education system in these countries is all based on policies that encourage a Race To The Bottom, resulting in overseas educated children of the ruling class having the edge when it comes to taking over the running of the country and occupying position of leadership in the administration. They speak flawless English or French which even the colonial masters have forgotten and pay themselves higher salary on the grounds that they are better educated. Before even we can talk of fixing the problems of Third World countries we must first of all fix the education system to encourage a Race To The Top.

    After alomost 50 years since the liberation of Third World countries, yes, every area of development has become a priority because of neglect and poor governance. We need leaders who can provide an environment that will allow each and every citizen to develop to his full potential without the hidden hand trying to level the playing field. Going back to the 70s and 80s is not an option because times are different now and the demands of our children are different from that of ours. They must be given an environment in which they know that thewy can realise their full potential based on the principles of unity, equity, and merit.

  2. Listen Listen Listen: Web savvy kids have no idea of anything without internet, are graduating. They die without mobile phone. They are into social learning that cross borders. To these netizens there is no first/third world. They are the Generation Z coming on stream, like it or not, anything not techy will be rejected by them. We experienced Ramlee but they only know there is a street by that name. Its like our parents who experienced Mountbatten and we knew there used to be a street and bridge by that name that is now gone from history. Thanks to some jokers for replacing all these names in KL. Fortunately Penang still has these nostalgic historic names.

    PRamlee was liked by all of his time: young/old ALL Malaysians. Those days we pay 30sen in BB Park to jogek on stage. Today a PRC GRO would charge 300rgt an hour in Sg Wang (ex BB Park)…that is 1000x inflation from 1960.
    30sen today cannot buy 1 batang rokok………. that time 5sen can buy a huge 007 brand cigar that never seemed to finish burning.

  3. “Alif-Mim-Nun-Wau… sarkis!”

    Alif-Mim-Nun-Wau….. pronounce UMNO. Then “Alif tendang Wau”. Was the late P. Ramlee political? I guess we have to read in between the lines and as well as along the lines.

    Genius at work:

    A mismatching of Tok Pendekar’s words and Sudin’s words…

    Tok Pendekar… “Ani… angkat kain jemuran… hujan dah turun.”

    Sudin…. “tengah aku shok-shok tengok anak dia si Ros tu berjalan tergelek-gelek… tiba-tiba dia (Tok Pendekar) memekik, Ani… angkat kain.. hujan…. (a short pause) Jemuran dah turun.”

    Jemuran dah turun does not make sense… but Ani.. angkat kain… hujan..
    It has meaning both along the lines and as well as in between the lines.

  4. PR’s vision was not in line with the mahathirist/ketuanans thats why they pushed him aside. they were not happy with a Malaysia for all but a Malaysia for the super race only. TAR or people could not imagine a Malaysia without the chinese and indians thats why he became the outcast.
    if they could successfully erase figures like TAR, Yap Ah Loy and Hang Tuah from history why not P. Ramlee who represented the real melayus, china and indias?.

  5. “In just that 17 opening minutes. I saw the entire history of the evolution of the feudal and neo-feudal Malay mentality being displayed; from pre-independence to this day as we count the days to a regime change.”

    How did P. Ramlee depict all the thugs being Malays? By accident? I don’t think so.

    Sir, you’ve convinced me. P. Ramlee is a great visionary.

    Then enter Ahmad Nisfu. He has to get on to the boat without getting in line and when he is on the boat no one else can be on it. Ketuanan whatever. Yet again this great visionary depicted a mamak (or someone looking like) to portray the Ketuanan. Hairs at the back of my neck stands just thinking about this.



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