Malaysia– After the Battle on Bonkers Hills

by Azly Rahman

Two Hills were won – Bukit Selambau and Bukit Gantang.

I still remember when I was a child; the name “Bukit Gantang” is associated with a “panglima” or a warrior of fierce look and disposition equipped with the keris, Steroid-pumped up body and a tanjak (headgear). Hence Panglima Bukit Gantang. “Gantang” is a unit of measurement used to calibrate the amount of rice. A bigger unit than “secupak”. The more powerful one is in society, the more gantang one gets. The lower the rakyat is in rung of the “dog-eat-dog world”, the less “cupak” one gets. That’s the ugly side of the language of power/ideology/class of the people of “semangat padi”.

I still remember the word “selamba”, close to the sound of “Selambau”. I know what selamba means — “poker-faced” and no shame in playing dirty games. Selamba saja muka dia … That’s from a Johor dialect I grew up with. Now, “lahabau” is a bad/unacceptable/inappropriate/cuss word used by my friends from Melaka. It mean “jackass”, or worse, maybe. It is actually an affectionate greeting. Truly the Melakkans are good at ‘gangsta-use” of language. They would curse good friends secupak segantang ( a “truckload” of nasty words) when the meet friends who they have not met for months, years, maybe — wondering where this “lahabau” have been all these years. That explains my fear of meeting my friends from Melaka. Fear of being called “lahabau” or “hamlau” or “cilaka kau” in the process of being greeted! Yes– they are the fierce Vikings of Malaya, those modern Melakkans.

So, selambau and segantang are two words that are fiercely affectionate yet contradictory. They represent a face-saving poker-faced situation of anyone who wields the keris and try to take over two hills at the same time. That’s the linguistic-anthropological link between those two words of historical significance and the human condition we Malaysians are in now.

Politicians make the selamba face out of their corrupt past as they show their warriorship hoping to again cheat the rakyat of many gantangs of gold and silver by using the machinery at their disposal — using money, materials, media, and mental manipulation. All these are done as if nothing had happened in the past 50 years. As if the law cannot even touch them with a ten-foot pole.

So, Bukit Selamabu and Bukit Segantang are those two significant battlefields one can see as significant events not just philologically and linguistically but also metaphorically as we dig deeper into the psyche of the Malay.

Now what does these two hills got to do with “Ba Ba Black Sheep” which came to my mind a few seconds ago? Recall the nursery rhyme, Ba Ba Black Sheep. I read it differently now.

Ba Ba Black sheep have you any wool
Yes sir yes sir three bags full
One for my master
One for my dame
But none for the little boy
who lives down the lane

Brilliant message.

One for my master one for my dame and none for the little boy who lives down the lane. And the boy lives down the lane? Indeed, the syndrome of “Atap Genting Atap Rumbia”. Reminds me of Muchtar Lubis’s novel Senja di Jakarta (Twilight in Jakarta).

And what did the little boy do?

He went to the Master and the Dame and demanded his bag of wool. He is not contented with “secupak” which he is not getting. He wondered why others are getting “segantang” and more and he and his “imagined community” living down the lane are not getting any. He is reminded of the New Economic Policy and how it has now become “New Economic Plutocracy”. Smart kid. He must have read Pramoedya Ananto Toer’s “Bumi Manusia” and “Kisah Dari Blora” before demanding those bags of wool from the master – and the dame. The “dame” sounds like Ibu Tien Suharto (of Bapak “Yudistira” General Suharto fame) affectionately called “Ibu Ten Percent” those days.

Hence, the boy grew up to become Panglima Bukit Gantang, and with a band of bloggers took over the hills, installed a new kingdom, arrested the Master and the Dames and put them in the bags with wool and ship them via FedEx to Cayman Islands.

That rhyme inspired the French Revolution. Maybe it did. Just like a child’s whistling of a tune inspire the French to adopt it as its national anthem Marseilles

The Master is one who owns the means of production. The Dame is the female crony of the Master. The little boy are the growing nation that is enslaved and given goodies once in a while but in a Master –Slave sado-masochistically inspired political-economic arrangement.

So there is a history behind our memory of names. It is these moments that bring a child’s imagination into modern day analysis of things.

In June of 1775 The American Revolutionary Army led by Colonel William Prescott, in its battles against King George fought a battle near Bunker Hill. That was a decisive battle with tactical mistakes from both sides, ending in the victory of the King’s army but did advance General George Washington’s plan for the seize of Boston.

In Bukit Selambau and Bukit Gantang it was two battles in one. The revolutionary forces won. Ideologically what does this mean? Here are my early thoughts:

Times have changed. The change is needed now – change that should have happened yesterday. And time is of essence here, since the more time one is given to rule the world the more one consolidates power and do not wish to leave. That has happened in our history – twenty two years was a long long time. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The end of race-based politic is near. If indeed one wants to play around with the R.A.H.M.A.N prophecy, the N-word at the end signifies a short note to the ending. A whimper. It is neither a crescendo nor a fierce Eddie Van Halen or Joe Satriani – like guitar riff. Nor will it be a Pete Townshed act with smashed guitar and screaming amplifiers — a WHO antique. It will be a glorious gamelan ending played by Gangsta rappers from the South Bronx, New York.

The bloggers have become a more powerful force governments can no longer ignore. Band of Bloggers moving from one by-election to another is a scary sight. These are cybernetic legionaries that move back and forth from the Maya-world of cyberspace to the kampongs and urban trenches of Malaysia’s realpolitik-al scenes. Many, like Raja Petra Kamaruddin have become the Nostradamuses of our time – “soothsayers” in a world of “Dragon-slayers”. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight syndrome we are seeing time after time since the Internet was unleashed out of the Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor.

The middle class is getting more and more agitated with the countless violation of civil liberties. Except from the members of the Malaysian academia that has remained silent on all these issues, other segments of the middle class — lawyers, journalists, artisans, traders, craftsmen, and even the modern indentured serfs and a few aristocrats here and there — have remained louder, clamoring for radical changes. They speak from their heart. Hopefully we will hear more academicians in our public universities playing the role of “organic intellectuals” to guide our citizens out of this Malaysian world of “instrumental reason, human capital, an crony capitalism,” we have plunged ourselves into.

Those hills have eyes. And they did see through the heart of men. Hearts of those poker-faces and patriots alike.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Thursday, 9 April 2009 - 8:59 am

    Not many can write such a beautiful message inspired by a nursery rhyme….like “Ba Ba Black Sheep”
    I believe Azly Rahman friends simply love to invite him and blanja him.. kopi dan bakar roti with kaya… tell more jokes with a serious inspiring message.
    Yes..if one is sensitive…and do not mix around…one may get real offended with an Australian calling his dear friend…a Bastard.
    I used to scold Sheih..the “kickdefella” blog owner with all sorts of filthy words before I start my real message….and we love and respect each other like no others.
    Ofcourse…Sheih being a Kelantanese…very refine…very soft spoken….takes all my insults and dare not respond. seldom hear any Muslims utter foul words….as greetings to each other or in their daily conversations…except from Melaka and Penang…….mostly badly influenced by the ever fun loving….Babas and Nyonas.

  2. #2 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Thursday, 9 April 2009 - 9:12 am

    /// The Master is one who owns the means of production. The Dame is the female crony of the Master. The little boy are the growing nation that is enslaved and given goodies once in a while but in a Master –Slave sado-masochistically inspired political-economic arrangement. ///

    Azly, I thought this article is about Malaysia after the Battle of the Twin Peaks. So, why the reference to Ibu Tien Suharto? I am sure we can find local references.

    There is a third way of reading that nursery rhyme. The 3 characters in the nursery rhyme happen to be the new PM’s worse nightmare.

    Master – Mahathir
    Dame – Rosmah
    Little Boy – KJ

  3. #3 by taiking on Thursday, 9 April 2009 - 9:21 am

    Here is another gift to the world by malaysia (the first being the multimedia supercorridor – now superflop).

    And the gift: ta tra ta ta ta ta tra ta ta – “The Tales of Two Bukits.”

    (Moderator: The captcha word generator seems slow when I click the re-generate word button. At this point in time the site info shows that there are only 92 people online. Pls chk server.)

  4. #4 by k1980 on Thursday, 9 April 2009 - 9:41 am

    Former Chilean dictator Pinochet murdered his opponents by dropping them into the sea, but over here….

    Pakatan Rakyat has claimed that it lost the Batang Ai by-election because several ballot boxes were “dropped into the sea” by helicopters and speed boats ferrying the ballots to the counting centre.
    Opposition de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed the party had proof of this and would help the Election Commission to probe the case.

  5. #5 by ctc537 on Thursday, 9 April 2009 - 10:14 am

    PM Najib has to leave no doubts in people’ minds that he is the real master and not be seen controlled by an octogenarian TDM. For we all know that it is not in the nature of TDM not to meddle in the affairs of his party and government if he has access to it. PM Najib would probably find that the more TDM interferes in the running of the government the more troubles there will be for his administration, the more voters will desert BN in future by-elections.

    Nowadays one often hears people grumble; Don’t waste your precious time listening to what those corrupt leaders and politicians say. Come by-elections or general elections, just vote blue eye, rocket or green moon.

  6. #6 by taiking on Thursday, 9 April 2009 - 11:43 am

    The local press downplayed the by-election results with a loud declaration that “status quo” had remained – as if the results were some mere numbers and hence bore no particular significance. What status quo I ask. It is actually a re-affirmation of the “change message” that voters sounded out a year ago during 308 and an endorsement of the 2 recent by-election wins. What is worse for those clowns is between 308 and now umno has created countless new issues to continue to provoke and agitate and dissapoint the people – the lowest being the power grab in perak. Hence, the two bukit victories cannot be recorded as mere numbers or be dismissed as maintaining “status quo”. The two recent wins would stand on their own as independant and further declaration of pakatan’s strength and the people’s voice of discontent with umno and of change.

    But of course umno would continue to deceive themselves by dismissing the significance of the two bukit by-election results.

  7. #7 by ekans on Thursday, 9 April 2009 - 3:01 pm

    The supporters of UMNO’s BN seem to have short memories, by proclaiming that nothing had changed in the three recent by-elections, but they’ve forgotten that in the earlier Kuala Terengganu by-election, they had lost the seat to PR. So, was the overall status quo actually retained in the five by-elections since GE12?

    At Bukit Gantang, PR’s Nizar was labelled a ‘traitor’, ‘puppet’, ‘stooge’ by UMNO’s BN, trying to play on PR’s refusal to yield to the forceful Perak state government take-over by UMNO’s BN as an act of treason to HRH Sultan of Perak, but in the end, the majority still chose Nizar & PR.

    At Bukit Selambau, the minions of UMNO’s BN in PDRM launched a ‘pre-emptive strike’ with tear gas against a huge crowd at a PR ceramah. The BN-biased mainstream media also played up news of dissatisfied PKR members over the choice of the by-election candidate, trying to make it look like PR was falling apart, but in the end, the majority still chose Manikumar & PR.

    Yes, sometimes we cannot believe everything we read in the newspapers or see on television…

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