Article by Lim Ee Lin
As Museum Volunteers, we try to “take the mystery out of history” and very often to do this, we not only share the facts behind the artefacts we chose to talk about during the tours. Many of us have personal memories of the museum (building), connections to events we highlight on the nation’s history, the multicultural elements in the artefacts, the places mentioned, and people showcased. It is in this personal telling of stories that brings out the passion in our storytelling.
On reading the narratives in Roots Living Heritage, I recognise the personal pride and passion in the 18 accounts shared. In their introduction, the editors brought up that history writing in Malaysia is presented largely based on official records. However, personal memory is also no less an important source of historical information, capturing the lived experiences which include the more personal experiences, emotions felt, cultures and values practised. It was clear that all the writers were proud to have had the opportunity to formally record their recollections of subjects through a mix of their own personal recollections, memories of friends and family they interviewed, formal reports, and other sources. It is through their interpretation that we now have these 18 vivid insights into our shared history.
Dr Asma Abdullah and Masnoon Bujang already captured the essence of the book’s contents in their review for the Star newspaper. I also concur with their summary that “[a]ll in all, it was a delight getting to know in close proximity the unforgettable events that have taken place in our multicultural setting and their impact on our forefathers. This is our national strength that we must acknowledge, celebrate, and defend.” All the more when I discovered my own connections with some of the people and places after finding one in the first narrative. The six degrees of separation social distance popularised by Hungarian writer Karinthy is real! Many readers will undoubtedly find their own connections to people and places mentioned in the narratives, and not only to the primary subject. After all, these narratives were anchored on personal memory. Some of my connections are as follows:
• Colonel Dara Singh was Uncle Dara. I was introduced to him when my late father’s childhood friend Uncle Mindo returned from the UK for a visit and wanted to pay him a visit. I remember visiting the house in Rasah Jaya, the manner in which he shared some stories from his past in both Hokkien and English, how he towered over auntie, the elephant’s foot in the corner of his living room, which was made into a receptacle for canes, etc. One time, he gave us a souvenir to remember him by – if I am not wrong, it was an enlarged reproduction of a US100 dollar note with his face instead of Benjamin Franklin’s. I have kept it all these years but will need to unearth it from one of many souvenir boxes. I am sure that someone else might remember this and have a copy too.
• Rogayah Hanim’s grandson Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz was Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Malaya when I enrolled. Many of us will have a memory of him jogging around campus most evenings in his singlet, short shorts and headband!
• My grandparents started their family in Taiping. My late grandfather worked in a tin mine in Kamunting and I wonder if he was acquainted with Marimuthu Ammal and descendants whether through business or otherwise. Another blast from the past was in the reference to historian Mr D.M. Ponnusamy. I remember him fondly as he used to send me letters and historical accounts written in longhand when I worked at a heritage NGO. I was fortunate to have met him a few times before he passed away.
• A Headmaster’s Journey is an account written by our own MV President Afidah Zuliana Abdul Rahim, about her late father. I also have been taught by teachers like the esteemed Abdul Rahim Che Teh, who took pride in the profession and whose patriotism drove him to always give more than his best.
In addition to the book’s Introduction which introduced a variety of themes found in this collection, I wish to add another – that of the values held by many of the subjects. Whether because of age or interest, these values resonated with me. While I did not have to live through many of the hard times of the era, the growing (pains) years of the nation, being a 3rd and 4th generation descendant of immigrants on both sides of my family means that I have heard a version of the maxims mentioned/held by the subjects. Whatever their background and origins, it is apparent that all the subjects were willing to give it their all, and work together for the greater good. I hope other readers will also make it a treasure hunt to compile a list of values they pick up from the narratives!
Another element from the book that resonated with me is the idea of interpretation – these narratives of people, places and events are a mix of fact and records with the memory of people. The writers have provided us with their interpretation and readers, especially those who find their personal connections to them add another layer to the interpretation and possibly, emotional connection. As MVs, we are interpreters of history as displayed in Muzium Negara – a history of this nation of immigrants who have laid down roots and continue to grow the nation. We help each other and visitors to make sense of the displays exhibited, so that they may develop understanding, appreciation and enhance their knowledge of Malaysia. Let us not lose our pride and passion for this!
There will be a Book Discussion Event on “Roots Living Heritage” organised by Arkib Negara Malaysia on Saturday 11 March 2023 at 2.30p.m. Venue is the Main Hall, Memorial Tun Hussein Onn, Kuala Lumpur.
*MVs may peruse a copy of the book at the MV Library.