Wednesday, August 31, 2005When this country achieved independence in 1957, I was in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. I did not understand yet the political significance of that day even though "Merdeka" was shouted years before throughout the Malay Peninsular. It was even shouted in Merang, my mother's village and where I was born. One of the local politicos was a friend of my father. This gentleman, for one reason or another, could not straighten his arm - a condition diagnosed as deko in Terengganuspeak. So, whenever he exhorted the people with shouts of "Merdeka!", the response was always a resounding "Deko!"
On this year's Merdeka's Eve, I was switching channels to follow the live coverage of the concerts in Dataran Merdeka and in KLCC. At one point, Dataran Merdeka had music and dances that Malaysia can proudly claim as hers. When I switched to KLCC, I would be forgiven if I thought the concert was to celebrate the Fourth of July. I saw young people singing rap and break dancing. Some of them were wearing shirts with American states like Arizona and Indiana on them. Call me old-fashioned or out of date but Merdeka to me means having your own mind and your own culture and being proud of both. The only explanation that I could find was maybe the American culture was in deference to an American company that was one of the co-sponsors.
Do not get me wrong, I am not against anything American. I enjoyed my swig (and burp) of Coke now and then. I also enjoyed the Tex-Mex food at Chilli's. But to have rap and break dancing at a Merdeka concert is something that I have to accept slowly, if at all. It is perfectly alright to have Bhangra or to have Hilmi singing a Chinese song because some Malaysians are Punjabis or Chinese and we are proud of our heritage and our cultural diversity. Where does Afro-American street music figure in this equation? Let me remind you that long before rap came on the scene, we already had our own rap. It is called Dikir Karut or Dikir Barat.
As a person born before Merdeka, I am proud that our country is no longer colonised by any foreign power. We should do our best to be "Merdeka". This includes not being colonised in spirit and in mind. By all means adopt or adapt all the good things that the rest of the world can offer but we do not have to be like them. Let us march to our own drums, to our own beat. Unless we forget that we are Malaysians or , worse, we are not proud to be Malaysians.
I guess those people in Merang were right after all. Our arms are still not straight after all these years. So, "Merdeko!"