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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tradition and Heritage

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Walski has a couple of postulates that he wants to throw at you:
Postulate #1 - Tradition is not all good
Postulate #2 - Heritage is not all bad

Some of us might take the two words to mean exactly the same thing. Both are nouns, and their meanings have both to do with our past, and do have some overlaps. But they're not the same thing. Webster's Online Dictionary defines the two words as follows (emphasis by myAsylum):

Tradition - n. an inherited pattern of thought or action, or a specific practice of long standing.
Heritage - n. Practices that are handed down from the past by tradition; or any attribute or immaterial possession that is inherited from ancestors; or that which is inherited - a title or property or estate that passes by law to the heir on the death of the owner; or hereditary succession to a title or an office or property.

By now, your mouse pointer is just about to click the big X button on the top right of the screen, isn't it? Confused? Well, you're not the only one.

Walski wanted to post about this earlier, but other things were more pressing and had to be attended to. What prompted this odd train of thought are two things - namely, the following items from The Star (Tuesday, October 10 - click on images to view the reports):

Image hosting by Photobucket


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The Malaysian has posted on this, and has provided his take on the real reason why Melaka and Penang are finding it difficult to get listed as World Heritage Sites. Walski agrees with what he has to say, the gist of which, is that both places have not been honestly preserved historically to warrant being listed. In fact, there has been a certain level of disrespect for the each of the cities' rich history (read his post to put this statement into perspective).

And to this, Walski would like to add, that the reason for this disrespect is, perhaps, deep down, we aren't entirely proud of our rich heritage. At least not the ones that have to do with the fact that we were colonized once upon a time, or those having to do with the "bangsa asing" amongst us.
(more hereditary traditional thoughts in the full post)

It's no secret that over the years, various parties of influence have been trying to eradicate, or at the very least de-emphasize, certain facets of Malaysia's rich heritage. For example, the fact that before Islam came to the Peninsular, the indigenous Malays were Hindus. More recently, has been the move by the PAS-led Kelantan government to ban certain art-forms because of their non-Islamic roots, particularly mak yong and Ramayana-themed wayang kulit.

And now, they're going to build a 110m revolving Taming Sari shaped tower, whose height would make it taller than any man-made structure, or natural features, in Melaka, possibly including the ruins of St. Paul's Church, on top of St. Paul's Hill, currently the highest point in downtown Melaka (Walski thinks so, anyway). On a clear day, you could probably even see the monstrosity from space. Okay, maybe not - but you get the idea - the f*cker's gonna be huge!

Image hosting by PhotobucketJust to give you an idea of how monstrous the tower will be
(click on image for original tower comparison)

And judging by the other Government-commissioned "art" we see adorning some roundabouts aorund the nation, it's probably going to be quite garish to boot.

But more importantly is the symbolism - that in the end, the Malay Sultanate of old has prevailed, albeit through its current proxy. And damn any colonial or foreign influence that may have come along in the meantime. Somehow, it is almost a hope that a 110m-tall revolving icon will then become a symbolic victory, towering over the rest of history.

Which brings us to tradition - specifically, the tradition of eradicating any trace of non-native history. The most obvious, the height of which was probably in the 80's, is the renaming of "colonial" road names. This tradition, it seems, has been handed down from generation to generation of government, in one form or another.

In a sense, it is a nationalist's wet-dream come true, to not see a single trace of our colonial past. Nevermind that the other non-obvious effects of colonialism are alive and well.

But does it change the historical fact that Malaysia was at some point colonized? And are we actually better off as a nation simply because our road names no longer reflect our colonial heritage? Is having been colonized something to really be ashamed of?

And in the long run, would road names make an iota of difference how we progress into the future as a nation?

In fact, looking at the situation facing our nation today, Malaysia is probably more hampered by tradition (of various social and political sorts), compared to our heritage - trying very hard, but unable to break the Third-World mould and step towards keeping up with the rest of the developed world.

Which brings us back to the two postulates that Walski posed at the beginning of this post. What are your thoughts? Enquiring minds wanna know...