Ignorance on Bumiputeraship

The Prime Minister of Malaysia went to some community event and said that the Siamese community in the country will be looked after just like other bumiputeras.

For those who don't know what a bumiputera is, it's basically a term invented to describe a person who receives some preferential treatment and special privileges by the government of Malaysia systematically because their ancestors arrived to the land earlier than others.

Hearing the news that the Siamese get the bumiputera treatment, some of my friends were outraged and showed their disagreements on Facebook. On a popular local newspaper website, the news headline tells the readers that this is something new.

Hello, Malaysians! Get to know your fellow Malaysians, okay? Siamese have long been acknowledged as bumiputeras, most probably ever since the term was invented. It is NOT news.

Some of my friends don't even know the existence of the Siamese race in Malaysia. They thought the Siamese as reported in the news are immigrants from Thailand, and that they are getting citizenships and becoming bumiputeras instantly.

Being born and raised up in Johore at the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia, I did not know about Malaysian-born Siamese from the north too, until I went to the university and mixed with the northern people.

Malaysian Siamese (in Malaysian English; or in British English, Siamese Malaysians) are pretty much like Chinese and Indians in Malaysia, are descendants of their immigrant forefathers. The term Siamese, Chinese and Indian I'm using here does not refer to their nationality but their ethnicity. Siamese descendants in Malaysia have a long history, even longer than those of some Chinese and Indians in Malaysia. Much like, Kristangs (Malaccan-Portuguese) and Baba-Nyonyas, they migrated to and settled down in Malaysia earlier than typical Chinese and Indians. Their historical root here makes them worthy of their bumiputeraship. Most of them are Theravada Buddhists, which practice Buddhism differently from the typical 'Chinese' Mahayana Buddhists.

But for me not knowing the existence of Malaysians in these ethnic groups before I went to university, for my friends not knowing about them even after they have gone to a university, and for a popular local newspaper not knowing about them mean something is not right. I would say it's the failure of our education system to acknowledge these minority ethnic groups, especially when there are matters pertaining 'special privileges' that may be sensitive because some may question the fairness and appropriateness.

But then again, for a 8th-generation Chinese Peranakan (Baba-Nyonya) descendant in Malaysia to be given less privilege than a 1st-generation Indonesian immigrant who decided to become a Malay or marry a Malay in Malaysia does not make sense to me. With so many generations that we have been through in Malaysia, there are still no sign that this system will be slowly replaced with a more sensible one. I'm sure many, even the bumiputeras themselves, should be aware of the limitation of such system but why hasn't anyone spoken of it?

Anyway, my main point of this post is about the ignorance of us as Malaysians to recognise ourselves—there're so much to learn about our fellow Malaysians. So don't hate our fellow bumiputeras for their special privileges but understand more about each other. If there's really someone in fault for all the alleged unfairness here, it should be the policymakers who fail to recognise and acknowledge the limitation of such system.

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